No Shoes, Please: Flying those 'Friendly Skies'

We’ve all seen the video of Dr. David Dao being booted off a United Airlines plane, his face bloodied, his abdomen exposed.

Due to the company’s already well-deserved reputation for abysmal customer service, frequent flyers and the public at large regarded the incident as shocking, but not particularly surprising. Therefore, when a man in his late 60s gets dragged down the aisle of an airplane – suffering a concussion, damage to his sinuses and the loss of two teeth – plenty of people sardonically viewed it as part and parcel of “Flying the Friendly Skies.”

We don’t seem to get much right nowadays. During last year’s presidential race, we often heard the phrase (from then candidate Donald Trump), “America doesn’t win anymore.” Well, I don’t know about that; however, it does seem to me that America doesn’t think anymore. We behave reflexively, and often with maximum force. We have become so anxious to respond decisively and quickly before anything gets out of control that we often lose that very thing, control – either of ourselves or the situation at hand.

The United Airlines debacle is only one example, and there are worse. Recently, a 21-year-old African-American man in Georgia was pulled over for a broken taillight. One arresting officer punched the man – whose hands were in the air – in the face. The man was then forced to the ground and handcuffed, whereupon the other officer scurried over to kick the prostrate man in the head. The incident was caught on tape, and the officers were immediately fired. But the incident still begs the question: What were those officers thinking, if anything at all?

I remember back in the day when rap and hip-hop music were blamed for a lot of social woes, particularly “gangsta” culture in which violence and misogyny had become normalized and idealized. Currently, reality television seems to be the explanation behind empty-headed values and an overall lack of civility in American society. The ubiquity of Facebook is an oft-cited reason for the proliferation of unchecked fake news stories and a misled public. Gerrymandered voting districts explain why politically popular ideas – like small steps toward gun control, for example – might never be debated and voted on.

There are reasons for everything, but it isn’t easy to boil down an explanation of human behavior into one or two impactful causal links. And for me, it turns into a “chicken-egg” debate. Are we becoming more violent and sexist, less courteous, more intellectually lazy, increasingly powerless because of the aforementioned phenomena, or are they only a reflection of what we’ve already become?

The answer is way above my pay grade, but I ask the question anyway. In the crudest terms, what prevented United from, for example, throwing a bunch of cash at already seated passengers before opting for the rough stuff?

I don’t mean to oversimplify; money doesn’t solve every dilemma. But we also don’t have to think too big or too outside the box. We can offer incentives and positive reinforcement. We can take a minute to think before responding. We can follow the Golden Rule.

High-pressure jobs require level-headedness and detachment, or an insanely cheerful disposition. Brute force will only get you so far. For optimum results, there’s nothing like cooperation and respect, required on both sides. Absent that, we’re left to negotiate sticky situations, competing interests and prickly, recalcitrant personalities. But that’s just life. And we’re going to have to learn how to deal with it.

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