I was on a United Airlines flight from Chicago to San Diego and somewhere over the Rockies I just couldn’t sit any longer, so I took a stroll to the galley at the back of the plane. Half-squats, twisting and tugging this way and that restored circulation, and I felt considerably better.
This happened about a year after the first United Airlines bankruptcy filing, so after my physical contortions I struck up a conversation with a flight attendant. I asked about morale, now that all the employees had taken a 20% blow to their wallets. She rolled her eyes and said, “Not good.”
She continued, telling me that the CEO had just taken a multimillion dollar bonus, while none of the employees had received back pay, nor restoration of pay rates, both of which had been promised. That pretty much killed any “we’re in this together” spirit. Employee give-a-damn level was down here, she reported, with an ankle level gesture and a glare that could laser cut her CEO’s investment statements.
I travel quiet a bit, delivering workshops and keynote presentations all over the United States and Canada, so I have the opportunity for lots of, shall we say, airplane adventures. Some are influenced by airline employees whom I encounter directly, like that flight attendant. Some of those adventures are influenced by airline employees whom I will never meet but whose work products affect me on every flight.
For example, when I cannot get a preferred seat as a perk of my frequent flyer status, I sit in aluminum tube steerage. I’m not a big guy, but I do want half of the elbow rests and 100% of my seat width. Both of those are compromised when a 370 pound seatmate shows up. Fully 15% of my seat back is occupied by his shoulder and the armrest has disappeared into a sea of flesh. I have lots of stories about trips with interesting seatmates. They encompass all the senses and are not uniformly pleasant.
It is well known that we Americans are an overweight bunch. So, while the FAA standard human being weighs 170 pounds, that number is exactly that – a standard – meaning some people weigh lots more than that. The seat designers know that, but they engineer the seating in their planes as though we all weigh 170 pounds, which gets me buried by my over-sized seatmate. The designers also engineer leg room as though we were all no taller than 5’8″, which makes my greatest fear of flying that the guy sitting in front of me will recline his seat back and smash my knees. Memo to commercial airliner design people: Some of us are taller than your standard and some of us are wider and that impacts lots of people.
Here is the connection between flight attendants’ low morale, portly seatmates and the knee crushing machine: These conditions continue because we tolerate them. The flight attendants continue to work for less and the flying public continues to reward the airlines for stuffing us into insufficient space. That is to say, corporate management does what it does because it can.
It is exactly the same with our government and our politics. The NSA is snooping on you and will continue to do so because you allow it. Congress acts as though confrontation and stagnation were virtues. They do that because we tolerate their behavior by electing those who create the confrontation and stagnation. The NRA strong-arms congress and everything is voted as they like and not as you like. That happens because we elected the fools who would do that and we will continue to get exactly the same kinds of results as long as we tolerate it.
“The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity,” advises Harlan Ellison. We have to be smarter than the people who do the things we don’t want them to do and strong enough to stop tolerating their behavior.
Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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