For those of us in the global travel & tourism industry, to call it, now them, ‘heartbreaking‘ would be a profound understatement. Scenes of airline passengers being abused by staff and, systems.

First it was a medical doctor being forcefully and ultimately bloodily removed from his seat by local police on request of the airline in order to make room for crew. And then, just days later, a mother in tears as a result of an airline attendant aggressively separating she and  her baby from her baby’s stroller, with shouting between the attendant and surrounding passengers thereafter.

One after the other, these incidents have horrified the watching world, the images and audio penetrating the hearts and minds of millions seeing the amateur videos created by passengers watching on being played over and over and over, online and on news networks.

Naturally, and rightly, outrage at airline staff and overbooking systems has ensued. The latter, an economic model that allows airlines to maximise capacity and minimise costs to passengers, is something the travelling public has seen for years, ideally for the benefit of passengers, even those incentivised to give up their seat for a later flight. Never before, however, had it been seen to be applied with such force, directly and violently violating the promise of flying the friendly skies.

The actions of United Airlines in the moment, and afterward, simply fueled the already raging fire. Failure of the CEO to see the suffering of the passenger, rather choosing to protect the airline’s crew, will go down in history as one of the most shameful moments for our industry. As stated by Sir Tim Clark, President of Emirates Airlines, and an elderly statesman of the global airline community,:

“Let me say it was a disgrace. It shamed the airline industry as a whole. We don’t go about our business in that way. Had it been me in that position I would’ve have had blue flashing lights on cars going right through the company to find out how this could’ve been allowed to happen in the first place. That was probably the last thing I do before I resigned.”

Sir Tim’s words capture at a cellular level the depth of disgust felt by those of us in the travel and tourism sector – a sector that we so proudly serve, feeling each and every day how our work is connecting people and places in a way that builds understanding, respect and appreciation of differences at a time when our world so desperately needs to connect in peaceful spirit.

As for the inability of the airline to then apologise for the incident, United’s CEO Oscar Munoz only managing to find the words to rightly own the situation on a third communique? Forget policy. Where was the humanity?

It just takes one. Just one moment of disgrace has the ability to scar a remarkable industry that works across the world to enable, as expressed by IATA Director General Alexandre de Juniac,:

“some 10 million passengers (to) board planes. And 100,000 flights will take them safely to wherever they are going, almost always without incident. That is no less than a modern day marvel of technology, coordination and dedication to safety.”

And now we have a second incident tearing off the BandAid on a still fresh wound. As video continues to replay of a deeply rattled and tear soaked passenger on American Airlines protectively holding her baby, shielding her child and herself from attendant shouts and shoves, once again we hang our heads in shame.

Thankfully, in this case the airline stood up in protection of the passenger, American Airlines immediately owning the wrong, putting forward an unedited apology (and suspending  from duty during investigation of the incident the attendant involved) in hopes of taking a first step to making it right.

It just takes one.

There will never, ever, be an excuse for the behaviour seen recently on aircraft, and that which we know goes happened but unreported/videod. Nothing makes the actions of the individuals involved acceptable. They, in their selfishness, took down the eyes of their companies, and their industry.

Similarly, there will never be good reason for bad behaviour by a disruptive passenger, the ‘right’ to travel taken as permission to become obnoxious, causing an entire cabin to cringe, and making all passengers look ungrateful of the blessing of flight.

What there always will be, through the millions and millions of interactions that take place on the ground, and in the skies, in aviation, and in life in general, is the opportunity to just stop for a moment, and before seemingly putting policies first, putting humanity first.

It just takes one second to say those two precious words: “I’m sorry”.

Then, and only then, can our gaze begin to look to the skies once more.



Copyright: ANITA MENDIRATTA 2017