A hanging at sea (below the American flag, at the boat’s stern) dated from the mid-19th Century. Could an airline pilot have you hanged in flight for having an opinion??
There was a time when, at sea, the captain’s word was law. If he didn’t like the way you looked at him, or the fact that you whispered something to a shipmate, or that you complained about wanton flogging of the crew, he could hang you from the yardarm, like that.
The hanging depicted in the picture above occurred in 1842 aboard a ship called the USS Somers. The hanged men were almost certainly innocent. You can read the horrifying tale of the paranoid captain and the hapless sailors here.
Now both Southwest and Jet Blue airlines seem to want to renew the practice of giving captains and themselves God-like legal powers over people aboard their vessels – air vessels in this case, to stop them from posting opinions on Twitter.
And no, the passengers are not tweeting threats. They’re not tweeting Al Qaeda or ISIS propaganda. They’re not tweeting remarks about bombs.
Instead, they’ve been tweeting how unhappy they were with airline personnel, and service.
For this, the passengers were forced off their flights. I suppose the authority to do this dates from that old rule of the sea, the one that enabled captains to hang people aboard their ships: the captain’s word is law.
Before I go on, I should point out that I like Jet Blue, one of the two airlines whose philosophy seems to be, “throw ‘em off the plane if they’re unhappy” Or at least I used to like Jet Blue. I’ve flown them several times. Their seats are roomier than comparable seats on United, which I’ve also flown in recent years. Their employees, at least when I’ve flown the airline, always seemed to be in better humor and consequently more courteous and accommodating to their passengers. My baggage got handled correctly and promptly. I wasn’t nickeled and dimed the way other airlines chisel their passengers.
But in one recent case, a planeload of passengers were delayed because the captain took umbrage at a tweet that questioned his sobriety Which leads me to wonder if there wasn’t really something to that passenger’s tweet after all. I’d be pretty plastered before I’d turn a plane around in mid-air and fly back to the airport to give myself a sobriety test and have a passenger taken off the plane for criticizing me.
Worse yet, although Jet Blue offered a paragraph full of long-winded gobbledygook, it in fact provided no rational or specific explanation at all of why the tweeting passenger was put off the plane. Here’s the reported full text of Jet Blue’s explanation.
It is not our practice to remove a customer for expressing criticism of their experience in any medium. We will remove a customer if they are disruptive and the crew evaluates that there is a risk of escalation which could lead to an unsafe environment. The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly. If we feel a customer is not complying with safety instructions, exhibits objectionable behavior or causes conflict at the gate or on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane or will be denied boarding especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of accelerating in the air. In this instance, the customer received a refund and chose to fly on another carrier.
So which was it, Jet Blue?” “Not complying with safety instructions?” “Exhibits objectionable behavior” by silently tweeting an opinion? “Causing conflict at the gate or in the aircraft?” Or more likely, just saying something about Jet Blue on Twitter that screws up the image you want to project, whether it's an accurate image or not?
In the Southwest Airlines case, a man and his two little kids felt he had been treated rudely by a gate agent and tweeted that opinion. And then,
...after he boarded, an announcement came over the plane asking his family to exit the aircraft. Once at the gate, the agent said that unless the tweet was deleted, police would be called and the family would not be allowed back onboard.
Note, what Southwest, with less than a sterling reputation objected to was not the man’s behavior on the plane, but the text of his tweet. And that tweet was hardly unique among Southwest’s present and more likely former customers. I mean, Southwest has a problem. I mean, a big problem. I mean, a horrendous problem. I mean…well, you get the idea.
Southwest’s solution to customers complaining about mistreatment? Don't stop mistreating them. Just yank ‘em off the plane if they refuse to accept the Southwest party line.
Thie behavior raises a question. If the captain or his employer can hark back to ancient laws of the sea to put you off a plane simply because he’s in a paranoid, or drunk, or simply cranky enough mind to, or because the airline doesn’t like to get caught misleading the public, why can’t the captain hang you in midair?
And what makes you think it will never happen?