Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blowing In The Wind

The July 19, 1963 issue of TIME Magazine reported that Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind as recorded by the great folk singers Peter, Paul & Mary was "the fastest selling record [Warner Brothers] has ever cut." TIME explained to its readers that "all over the U.S., folk singers are doing what folk singers are classically supposed to do -- singing about current crises. ... They are singing with hot-eyed fervor about police dogs and racial murder. Sometimes they use serviceable old tunes, but just as often they are writing new ones about fresh heroes and villains, from Martin Luther King to Bull Connor."

Our current crisis is the horror of flying, and the question is, what are we going to do about it? We, the passengers, I mean. Let's review the history of human crisis that inspired Bob Dylan.

The Civil Rights Movement was reaching its crescendo in those momentous years, the nineteen-sixties, as America's black citizens demanded to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality, just like the United States Constitution promised. We all know that they ultimately prevailed, and we are all better for it, because it was the right thing to do.

The Movement was successful because people organized and then protested, with a singular front and message, against unfair inequality. They demanded that their federal, state, and local governments become proactive in GIVING them their rights and then PROTECTING their rights. Most of those protests, and all of them led by Martin Luther King, were peaceful, passive, and nonviolent. In the end, despite the vicious dogs and the fire hoses used by Birmingham police chief Bull Connor, despite the church bombings that killed innocent children, despite the murder of MLK, right prevailed.

The will to protest and to organize into a cohesive group earned those rights. (That said, I want to clarify that there is NO moral equivalency at the airports to the Civil Rights Movement. See my comment below.)

In the past few years, as flying has deteriorated into the utter misery it is this summer, I have often wondered why we seem to have lost that fire in our bellies that our fathers and mothers had forty years ago. Why do we tolerate being treated like prisoners who have lost all rights on the other side of the TSA security checkpoint?

Then I read Joe Sharkey's report in the August 14th New York Times. It began:

"On July 29, Continental Flight 1669, a 737-700 with about 120 passengers aboard, was bound for Newark from Caracas, Venezuela, when bad weather caused the plane to be diverted to Baltimore. It sat there for about five hours with passengers on board as food and water ran low and toilets became filthy."

Joe went on to describe the nightmare for those people as they waited for hours. But then a surprise! Finally they organized themselves and began clapping in unison and demanding to be treated like human beings.

Faced with such a novel situation, i.e., their passengers ORGANIZED and PROTESTING PEACEFULLY, the pilots radioed for help. The passengers were eventually let off the plane into a secure area at BWI.

Once inside the airport, however, Joe Sharkey reported that one passenger told this story: “As we walked down the hallway, we were yelled at like we were scary criminals by this female cop who had a dog. She kept yelling: ‘Stay against the wall!’ ” Another passenger said: “We had to negotiate” with airline agents to obtain wheelchairs for passengers needing them. One of the police officers told passengers of a report they received saying that "passengers were violent and out of control.” Yet the passengers were all peaceful, if disgruntled.

Reading Joe's report, I was encouraged. Perhaps, FINALLY, we who must fly frequently have begun to organize ourselves and protest the abysmal, inhuman conditions we must face at the airports these days.

Suppose all 17,000 people stranded on the tarmac at LAX last weekend because of a computer glitch in the immigration software had organized themselves and protested instead of meekly submitting to that torture like sheep. Some waited as long as 10 hours under horrible conditions, much as has been described ad naseum lately on many airport runways.

I wish they had. Such a mass demonstration would have sparked the first step toward real change in mandating air travel rights under deplorable conditions.

To be effective, peaceful demonstrations against inhuman conditions must, however, be accompanied by specific demands. In both the above examples, and perhaps in most runway strandings, I suggest the following demands are reasonable and doable for strandings in excess of two hours:

1. People have to drink and eat. Airlines should be required to cater, and re-cater, and re-cater again, for as long as it takes, ample food and drink (fruit juices, water, soft drinks, but no alcohol). Perhaps they can provide it for sale if they don't want to give it away, but the point is that it should be made available.

2. People need to be made comfortable. Airlines should either (a) hook up stranded airplanes with adequate independent heat or A/C, or (b) ensure each one is refueled so that the APU or engines can heat or cool the passenger cabins.

3. People have to relieve their bladders and bowels. Airlines should be required to bring their honey wagons out to stranded planes to empty and replenish the toilets BEFORE they are full, clogged, and overflowing.

4. People need to be calmed. Airlines should provided playing cards, books, DVD players, whatever they could find, to keep the passengers from going stark raving mad. Again, they could charge for these things.

Aside from being the commonly decent thing to do, the good P.R. alone would be worth its weight in gold.

I never thought of myself as an organizer, but I am asking you to think about this: Next time—and there WILL BE a next time—that you are stranded on an airplane for a long time, suggest to your fellow travelers that you should organize and then demonstrate your unity by clapping and chanting for your basic human rights.

We have to do something. Our politicians are weak, often corrupt, and out of touch. They are insulated from airport woes, and in the thrall of the airline lobby. I don't want to rant, but my point is that we cannot wait for them to help us. We must organize ourselves, and then protest peacefully.

We need inspiration to help us. Where is Bob Dylan when we need him? Please, Bob, write us a protest song! If not Blowing In The Wind, then how about:


"I'm sittin' on a jet plane and thinkin' of home;
But I'm not goin' any place, I feel so all alone;
We've been stranded on the runway for nearly 12 hours;
I could have driven by now and be drinking whiskey sours.

"Oh Lord, I just want to get to altitude and cruise;
But I'm stuck here on the ground with the Tarmac Blues.

"I got lots of seatmates sitting closer than ever before;
Their bad breath and their sweat stench is hard to ignore;
We're all hungry and real thirsty and bored out of our minds;
We're shivering and cold but there are no blankets to find.

"Ms. Flight Attendant with the sneer and too much rouge;
Won't you please, please help me, I got the Tarmac Blues.

"My bladder is bursting, but I just can't go;
They say all the toilets are clogged, never seen such woe;
It's bad when none can even answer nature's call;
I swear I am witness to American civilization's fall.

"Mr. TSA man who makes me take off both my shoes;
Can't you help me just a little, I got the Tarmac Blues.

"Airlines run so badly they haven't got much left to lose;
Oh, please, won't somebody help me! I got the Tarmac Blues."

(With sincere apologies to every folk singer and composer who ever lived.)


Blogger William A. Allen III said...


There is NO moral equivalency at the airports to the Civil Rights Movement.

And there is NO discrimination. We're being treated badly regardless of race, color, creed, or class of service.

I meant it to be an example of how civil liberties, which ARE being violated at the airports, can be reclaimed through organization and protest.

8/15/2007 7:29 PM  
Blogger Juli said...

I believe that passengers may have recourse to being detained on the tarmac in over-heated aircraft with insufficient water, food and toilet facilities by filing complaints under the local laws for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. (Saw a t-shirt on a recent trip, "People are animals too!", suggesting that environmental protections had gone too far.)

According to California bill SB1806 that became law in 2006, the airline could potentially be fined $100 per passenger for the first offense and $500 per passenger and up to 6 months in jail for subsequent offenses. To quote:

"Specifically, this bill :
1)Provides that no person shall leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, or lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability or death to the animal."

8/27/2007 2:05 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

You really think that the top "musicians" of today -- the hip-hop so-called "artists" -- even have a clue about the problems of airline passengers? Yeah, I'm holding my breath waiting for "The Tarmac Rap."

9/07/2007 2:32 PM  

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