A Lack of Civility: The State of Air Travel Today

When It Comes to Airlines, ‘Caveat Lector’

Cabin crew preparing drinks on Virgin Atlantic

By Jonathan Spira on 16 May 2017
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If you go solely by what you read in Facebook and Twitter feeds, air travel has gone to hell. From a bloodied doctor being dragged off a United Airlines flight in Chicago to an in-flight brawl on an ANA flight to fights over the placement of a birthday cake on JetBlue, one could come away with the conclusion that air travel today is miserable at best.

These, along very public images of a mother in tears claiming an American Airlines flight attendant struck her with her child’s stroller, multiple arrests at a Florida airport after Spirit Airlines cancelled a number of flights, a family being kicked off a Delta Air Lines flight, and a brawl on a Southwest Airlines flight, have had more than 15 minutes of infamy and have begun to drive a dialog about the general state of flying.

At the very same time, it is also driving a decidedly inaccurate dialog that is generating more fake news than the teens in the Balkans who duped Donald Trump supporters with faux news about Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Of course, in reality, these are the exceptions and what the average traveler hears about is far from the reality of the in-flight experience. The outrage following these and other episodes is largely social-media fueled and, with the exception of the incident involving David Dao, the physician forcibly removed from a United Airlines regional flight by airport security personnel, probably would never have surfaced at all.


The actual number of incidents may be insignificant, but when an airline is in the right (such as in the United Airlines “leggings” case, where a non-involved busybody, unaware of employee dress standards, decided to post the episode on Twitter), the deck is stacked: public opinion and video-powered social media versus airlines. Guess who wins?

Further, the increase in the amount of information people consume today and the rise of social-media channels such as Facebook and Twitter as facilitators, albeit unvetted ones, of news and information dissemination, translates into an environment where stories go “viral” and are repeated about as much as a DJ repeats a hit single on a Top 40 FM station.

Information Overload causes otherwise intelligent people to skip reading the details about a particular story before sharing or retweeting it without giving it any further thought.

While we probably can’t stem the tide of social media, it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on how Information Overload and the relatively short shrift we give most stories allows what could legitimately be called “fake news” to be shared as widely as it is.

In July, 1993, a cartoon depicting two dogs, one sitting in front of a computer display, the other on the floor listening to the first, with the caption “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” presaged this phenomenon. Few people know the source of the material they are forwarding (it could really be a dog, given today’s technologies) yet they treat it as gospel because it is on the Internet.

Caveat lector.

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