Saw an item on The Consumerist site today, entitled “United Removes Passenger From Flight After He Asks Whether A Meal Will Be Served.” It contained a link to an original blog post that details the story of one Joe Sugarman, an Internet marketing consultant who was on his way home from a seminar in Austin, Texas (why does this sort of crap always happen in Texas or Florida?). And his blog post tells the story:
I get to the airport, boarded my plane and I’m sitting in first class. The flight attendant was right in front of me and was curious if they were going to serve meals onboard. So I asked her, “Are you serving any meals during our flight?”
She looked at me kinda funny and said, “I can’t answer that for security reasons.”
A little puzzled, I wondered how it affected security but I let it pass as she went into the cockpit. About three minutes later, two armed Austin police officers boarded the plane, looked at me and said, “Sugarman, follow us.”
Picking up the story a bit further down…
Finally a United representative approached me with my bags and said “We are taking you off this flight for security reasons.”
“Why” I asked.
“You apparently asked the flight attendant if the Police were onboard,” said the United representative. We’re not taking any chances and the captain asked that you be removed.”
“But I only asked her if a meal was being served,” I said. Only to be told that it was her word against mine and the Captain was not going to take any chances based on what the flight attendant claims I said.
Thrown off the plane for asking if a meal was being served was ridiculous. And why would I care if there was a policeman onboard anyway?
Strangely, United had a customer service representative ready and willing to book Mr. Sugarman on the next flight, so apparently at least someone in United has common sense. But, as The Consumerist said about the incident,
… WTF, seriously flight attendant? You couldn’t even say, “I beg your pardon” or “Would you repeat the question” to confirm that you had an evil ‘sploding terrorist on board?
Then there is the lazy Captain, who apparently could not be bothered to go talk to the passenger and do his own assessment of the situation.
Mr. Sugarman further comments,
Another thing that puzzles me is that I am what is called a 1K flyer on United flying over 100,000 miles a year at a minimum. I have flown 2.5 million miles on their airline through the years as well. Couldn’t they use common sense and realize that I didn’t suddenly go off my rocker after being such a good customer of theirs. And why did they believe the flight attendant over me when they let terrorists on board with bombs in their suitcase? Can you make sense of this?
Now, when I read Mr. Sugarman’s blog post, I scrolled down and viewed some of the comments, and noticed this one by Robert Clay:
This reinforces something I have observed for some time. It is often said that the United States is the land of the free, and at gatherings people are often asked to celebrate their freedom. But I wonder if this is all really brainwashing. After all, for all it’s many excellent qualities America right now has the largest percentage of its population in prison of any country on Earth. One out of four people, one out of four humans in prison in the WORLD are Americans, imprisoned in America. This excellent TED talk by Chris Jordan really makes the point” http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_jordan_pictures_some_shocking_stats.html
The ridiculous experience you had is another symptom of this. Interestingly I saw a TV program where Russians were being interviewed about why they were seemingly so disinterested in “democracy,” and what came out is that they just don’t need democracy. Nobody bothers them. They get on and can live their lives without interference.
That said, I don’t suppose the authorities would be too impressed if you were a political activist pushing views that oppose their own. But it’s no different in the US. Or Singapore. Or China.
But I agree with you, it’s right to ask what America is coming to when the average person really isn’t as free as they’ve been brainwashed to believe, and freedom and America are far from being synonymous for millions of people.
Mr Clay sort of verbalizes a feeling I’ve had for a long time. When I was a kid, our teachers tried very hard to brainwash us into thinking that America was the greatest country on earth. Of course, the way they framed it was that if we didn’t love America, our only other option was to live in a place like the “evil” Soviet Union, where people might be shot for asking for a loaf of stale bread to feed their families (seriously, you can’t begin to imagine the lies we were told about the Soviet Union as kids – it actually came as quite a shock to me when I finally realized that Moscow was a major city with modern buildings and electricity, even if not exactly up to U.S. standards).
But the worst thing about the old U.S.S.R., or so we were taught, is that the people there had no freedom – the government basically dictated their every move, morning, noon, and night. The U.S.A. was the closest thing to heaven on Earth, while the Soviet Union was the closest thing to hell, and if there were other choices our teachers sure weren’t about to mention any of them. We weren’t even taught anything about our closest neighbors, Canada or Mexico, except perhaps in passing references. According to our educational experience, the only countries that mattered were the United States, England (primarily for historical reasons), Germany and Japan (primarily because of their involvement in then-recent wars), and the U.S.S.R. Occasionally we’d be taught about what we now call a third-world country, like Malaysia (where the natives were still slaving over rice paddies or running around using blow darts to get their food when they weren’t dying of malaria, according to my elementary school education), but probably only to reinforce how lucky we all were to be living in the United States.
This kind of teaching occurred with some regularity throughout elementary and junior high schools, and didn’t really even begin change until about the time I got into high school, when the VietNam War basically divided the country and started causing many people, including some of my teachers apparently, to start questioning whether the U.S.A. always took the most noble course of action. The fact that we had two fairly awful presidents in a row (Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, followed by Richard Nixon, a Republican) probably didn’t help matters any. But then the war ended and the Bicentennial came along in 1976, and that invoked a new wave of patriotic fervor.
But back in 1967, just about the time that our teachers were starting to sound a bit more enlightened, a movie called “The President’s Analyst” came out. It’s probably one of the few movies I ever saw in a theater (suffice it to say that I am not a big fan of the “theater experience”). And at the time, there was a line in the move that impressed me as being somewhat prescient, at least for the U.S.A. No, not the one about everyone hating the phone company, although I did get quite a chuckle out of that one. I actually could not recall the exact line until I went to the The Internet Movie Database, and right there it was, posted in a user review by Merwyn Grote, who wrote,
My lasting view of Soviet-U.S. relations was clearly defined after watching THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST. Soviet spy/assassin V.I. Kydor Kropotkin, played by Severn Darden, explains to kidnapped American psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Schaefer, played by the irrepressible James Coburn: “Logic is on our side: this isn’t a case of a world struggle between two divergent ideologies, of different economic systems. Every day your country becomes more socialistic and mine becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands.” Beautiful, simple logic, clearly stated in a whacked-out, slightly psychedelic satirical farce about Cold War paranoia. A gem of genius in a world gone mad.
The trouble is that, in my opinion, we’re not just becoming more socialistic – we’re also beginning to take on some of the negative attributes that our generation was warned about, only we were warned they would happen if we allowed the “evil Communists” to take over our country. Well, virtually all the recent laws that have seriously curtailed our freedoms were passed during the junior Bush administration, and I don’t think the Republican party is quite ready to take on the mantle of “socialist” or “communist”, though at times they seem to approve of actions that seem not too far removed from something Joseph Stalin would have approved of. Admittedly, the current administration doesn’t seem to be in any big hurry to give us back our stolen freedoms, and that worries me a lot – if we can’t trust either of our political parties to do the right thing, what hope do we have as a nation?
The incident with Mr. Sugarman and United Airlines is certainly not the worst thing that’s happened to an air traveler in our post-9/11 society, but it is symptomatic of how wacko our nation has become, both in that this sort of thing could happen and that most who read about it will think, “Well, that’s just what you have to put up with when you fly nowadays.” Most people in the U.S.A. don’t even blink when TSA screeners do full body scans on children (as this article explains, “In the United Kingdom, scans are not performed on anyone under 18 because they would violate child pornography laws”). And the people of the former U.S.S.R. are probably saying, “Welcome to our world.”