It seems like you can’t scroll your Facebook feed without seeing a video of outrageous behavior that crosses a new line of what was previously unimaginable. And then a second video a week later, and then a third, captures something similar, and what was inconceivable has become the new normal.
Most recently we have been captivated by bad behavior on airplanes. First David Dao was dragged off a United Airlines flight because his seat was needed for an off-duty airline employee. It is cliché to say you cannot imagine witnessing an incident like this firsthand, until it happens. Recently I was that cliché.
My daughter and I were excited for a girls’ weekend with my sister as we walked down the jetway to an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to Dallas. But as we prepared to step onto the plane, we were stopped short by a sobbing passenger a few feet in front of us, standing between the cockpit and first class. Her face was red and puffy with tears, she was holding a baby, another baby in a car seat was at her feet, and, incomprehensibly, there was a man who appeared to be wrestling with her.
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Before I could make sense of what was happening, a crew member jerked a metal stroller away from her so violently that it almost whacked the baby in her arms. He brushed past me and without thinking I confronted him, saying something like, “What are you doing? You almost hit that baby in the head!”
I don’t know what I expected. That he would snap out of it and apologize? I think I was too shocked to consider what might come next, because it is so far outside our cultural norm to be careless with a baby’s safety. However different we may be individually, we have that in common: We protect babies, children and the infirm.
Whatever I expected, it’s not what I got. Instead, the crew member turned his fury on me. “Stay out of this!” he yelled angrily. “Just stay out of it.”
And that’s not even the crazy part. I told other crew members what I had seen and experienced, and pretty universally they told me to please just move along and take my seat. Both on the plane and in the media coverage after, people wanted to know about the woman’s stroller: Why did she have it on the plane? Didn’t she know you have to gate check strollers?
For the record, I have never taken a stroller on a plane, though I have friends who have. Then again, I have also never traveled alone with twin babies. But seriously: Does it matter? What are the rules of civility these days? Of professional responsibility?
When an American Airlines customer service agent contacted me a few days later to apologize, I asked what job responsibilities are for the cabin crew. I didn’t want to be holding them to unfair expectations. “Passenger safety,” she told me. Everything else is just gravy.
My daughter, who is 8, was terrified to spend the flight to Dallas stuck on plane with a man who had just been violently angry with two moms, including her own. We talked about how scary it is to stand up to a bully, and how much scarier it would be if no one did.
I want to believe that airlines will take steps to make sure we don’t have more viral videos of flights gone bad. We have to insist that they do better. Whatever nastiness we see online or on TV, let’s not let it become the new normal.
Olivia Morgan works at a child advocacy nonprofit in San Francisco. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.