Search This Blog

Friday, June 27, 2008

Airline Discrimination

Complaints about airlines have reached an all time high for good reason. Ticket prices are soaring, planes are packed and often dirty, service is terrible, and flights are delayed or cancelled at the last minute. Airline personnel are subjected to a great deal of stress and face the wraith of angry travelers. In short, flying anywhere is now a routinely miserable experience. This is hardly a news worthy observation. Horror stories abound and once in a while a particularly terrible story emerges. This week's horror story concerns a mother and her autistic child. The mother and child were thrown off a Raleigh-Durham out bound American Airlines flight. According to various news agencies a 2 1/2 year old autistic child had a "raging fit" prior to take off. The mother does not deny that her child had a major melt down. The mother and airline disagree over why the child had a fit. According to the mother, Janice Farrell, the flight crew made a bad situation much worse. The flight crew apparently kept fussing with the child's seat belt and ignored the mother's pleas about how to handle her son. The mother also claims one pilot further aggravated a bad situation by issuing her a stern warning that pushed her son over the edge. This led the pilots to return the plane to the terminal and announce to all passengers they were doing this because a mother had an "uncontrollable child" on board.

The above story is far from unique. It follows on the heals of other stories such as the autistic boy who was banned from attending his church or another autistic child that was voted out of his kindergartner class. These stories have made me realize two things: first, the prevalence of autism is increasing and society is ill prepared to deal with these children. Second, airlines are aggressively discriminatory to disabled people in general and all people that do not "fit in"--those that do not do what they are told, when they are told and how they are told.

I do not know much about autism. However, when skiing in Vermont with Vermont Adaptive the last two winters I have been able to observe and interact with children that have autism. Based on my limited experience, the autism spectrum is remarkably diverse and the problems associated with these children speak volumes about society's inability to accept those who are different. This is exactly what airlines detest--difference of any sort. Why one is different is not relevant as the airlines fiercely protect their total control over who is permitted to enter their planes. If airline personnel deem a person a "threat" or think they may compromise the safety of a flight they will without hesitation remove this person from a plane. Historically, airlines have used flight safety to harass and ban disabled people from flying. In recent years airlines have become increasingly aggressive in preventing people they deem objectionable from boarding. One's difference is not relevant--anyone out of the ordinary is subject to intense scrutiny and blatant discrimination. Given this, the experience of the autistic child and mother symbolizes a much larger social problem--specifically American's increasing lack of tolerance. Difference and dissent of any sort is deemed not only objectionable but somehow Un-American. All those that are either physically different or hold contrary views are stigmatized. This is a form of social oppression that has spread and been cultivated by George Bush since was elected. Simplistic views that boil down to to the belief that "you are either an ally of America or an enemy" appeal to our basest instincts and have filtered throughout our society. No institution or individual is immune--not even a mother and her autistic child. Depressing thoughts for a beautiful June morning.

No comments: