Air rage is in the news. Depending on who is talking, passengers
have lost their tolerance - or flight attendants no longer have
any patience. Everyone has a story to tell, and attention to the
crisis is urged by journalists as well as the authorities.
Yes, air travel has lost all semblance of luxury - gone is the
quiet elegance that was just as self-evident in the economy class
of Pan American 100 (the flight I had taken so many times from New
York to London), as at service counters where the formalities were
completed. And, while it is tempting to take sides and, predictably,
blame air lines for stuffing as many people in the increasingly
uncomfortable seats as they can get away with, there are two sides
to the story.
Alarm signals went up in my brain when clearly well-to-do people
began to show up in special waiting lounges wearing garments that
looked dirty even when clean; when passengers began to arrive holding
beverage cups and looking like Christmas trees - bags hanging from
every side. "Which is the chicken and which is the egg?"
I hear you ask.
True, air lines lose bags, or make you wait for them, and they
are none too quick to serve you anything - if indeed they intend
to serve you anything.
But there is a considerably more sinister aspect to the entire
Once upon a time, perhaps in a previous life, a fundamental difference
could be observed between American and European air line personnel,
especially - though not exclusively - on the Eastern side of Europe.
Since European carriers, typically, represent the state and thus
the state authority, their supervisory role over passengers has
always been just beneath the veneer of polite rigor.
Not so Americans who, invariably, represented private businesses,
competing fiercely for passenger dollars. Fierce competition is
incompatible with fierce behavior toward the customer. Indeed, competition
guarantees the customer is always right.
(Please note: the preceding maxim is not confined to the air line
In that by-gone world, the people who attended passengers during
the flight were known as stewardesses. The occasional male employee
was called a steward; larger aircraft would sport a purser and an
in-flight service manager - male or female.
Something changed when the term "flight attendant" replaced
the previous titles. Few of us notice, but a great deal changes
when labels are altered. People who, like myself, grew up under
evil regimes, learn early to pay attention to changing labels.
For example, we no longer have personnel departments, only "human
resources." We do not speak of business and industry, but of
"the private sector." Illegal aliens have been replaced
by "undocumented immigrants." Every one of these changes
was prompted by a political agenda - one that has always considered
America the arch enemy.
Consequently, today's flight attendants are drastically different
from yesterday's stewardesses. "And about time," the National
Organization for Women would most certainly declare. And that, possibly,
provides the key.
It used to be exciting and exhilarating for young women to apply
for a job in the skies. There were strenuous requirements, and tough
tests to pass. Once chosen, the act of service was executed with
excellence and pride.
Service no longer is an honorable trade. Apparently, it does not
mesh with self-esteem.
I do not know how today's flight attendants are chosen and trained,
but the quality most frequently observed in our time is that the
cabin is in the hands of a variety of previously-oppressed persons.
These previously-oppressed persons have been given power over previously-valued
customers, now simply constituting a herd to control.
To be honest, I have a great deal of trouble with the previously-oppressed
of America - no, not the ones who truly were, but those who are
constantly goaded to see themselves as such. They are the new privileged
class. Offend them, and you lose your job or go to jail. America
has never known anything like it.
The Founding Fathers have created a wonderful place where, sooner
or later, everyone could transcend social barriers. Yes, there was
a kind of privileged class. Yes, there was old money. But everyone
could work toward becoming wealthy and, sooner or later, new money
would become old money. Immigrants could arrive in America with
four years of elementary school as the combined educational history
of an entire family, and send the next generation to college. If
there was a privileged class, it was open to everyone. There was
always a path across, a way up, a course to pursue your particular
brand of happiness. The land of unlimited opportunity was not a
myth; one could become literally anything.
But now, for many, there is no way on heaven and Earth to become
Take me. My generation in Hungary has experienced more oppression
than the current membership of the National Organization for Women
and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
combined. I guarantee it. Yet, being male and of European extraction,
there is no way that my ilk could become anything but the reviled,
condemned representative of the oppressor.
Something has gone desperately wrong in America. Air rage, road
rage, assorted other rages are merely symptoms. The cause perhaps
is that we have switched from evaluating how well a person is doing
to classifying what sex, skin tone, or personal habits someone happens
When that classification becomes the essence of a person's being,
we all are in trouble.