A couple of angry American Airlines passengers stranded on an Austin runway for nine hours during a thunderstorm, have been making the rounds of the morning television shows, seeking a passenger bill of rights. They want Congress to write legislation which will prevent the indifferent, callous airlines from repeating their horrible experience of being locked inside a large airless jet for nine endless hours without food, water, functioning bathroom facilities, circulating air, medical supplies, or simple information, while the remedy for it all - the simplest of solutions - bringing the passengers to a nearby gate - was totally ignored. Clearly a dumb and indifferent Captain was in that cockpit. It took a diabetic patient to make it evident to him that this was a dangerous situation, needing attention after nine hours. When the passengers were finally allowed to deplane they found no assistance in the airport to help them complete their journey. Give or take a few details this is not an extraordinary story, it is just another horror tale from the unfriendly skies of America's commercial airlines. Given the power of the airline lobby I don't anticipate much success for the passenger's rights people. But one can hope.
The airline lobby has grown enormously in power since the years of deregulation, power meaning the trimming of such services as customer relations and demonstrating ordinary human behavior in dealing with passengers. Nothing is quite as lonely as being in an airport with a problem and finding that there is no customer service to approach, no interest on the part of the airline in helping the passenger complete a journey without further stress. We all have our own horror stories. I will never forget my nine hours waiting for the arrival of my son at LAX, twenty five years ago. My eight year old boy was traveling alone on a short nonstop flight from a school friend's house in Lake Tahoe, Nevada to Los Angeles, when he disappeared from the passenger lists for nine hours. His departing plane was cancelled, he was put on another flight, one that would take him to LA by way of San Jose, he was delayed in San Jose, and we, the anxious parents were given no information as we waited in LAX with no help from American Airlines. These were pre cell phone days, which means another world. I had the kind of paternal fit which would get me arrested in an airport after 9/11 but it worked in those innocent times. I just kept shouting and threatening until someone provided us with the necessary information, and after hours of demanding they track the boy's whereabouts, we finally found the gate where our son was disembarking. Since that time I have been convinced of the structural indifference of airlines, a carelessness bordering on cruelty; and nothing can change my mind about it. Losing luggage is one thing, but losing a kid, quite another.
I was thinking about those people stuck on that runway for nine hours, and it struck me that their lot was much like America today. Only instead of nine dreadful hours, we have two dreadful years of being stuck with the Bush presidency. We are unable to continue on our individual journeys, or our collective journey as a country, as long as this man presides over the welfare of this country. Like it or not, he is our pilot, and he cannot change course and release the passengers. He has neither the skills nor the heart to do so. We are told that impeachment is no longer a choice. I agree. Forget choice. It is a necessity. Nine hours on the tarmac are nothing compared to two more years of real war, and provocation for more war, as we sit silently waiting for change to come, when the only change possible under George W. Bush is more disastrous climate change. None of the Democratic candidates are willing to take up the challenge of impeachment, and until I hear someone raise the possibility of such action, I am left with the nagging sense that the meek may inherit the earth, but that they are not fit to lead it.