By now you have heard the latest example of Outrage in the Air, the American Airlines flight attendant running amuck. A video of part of the incident was posted by a passenger, Surain Adyanthaya, who uploaded it to Facebook. Adyanthaya wrote about what she witnessed on Flight 591 from San Francisco International Airport to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, saying,
“OMG! AA Flight attendant violently took a stroller from a lady with her baby on my flight, hitting her and just missing the baby. Then he tried to fight a passenger who stood up for her.”
The basic facts of the episode have been confirmed by multiple passengers, and the altercation has been reported across the news media. Then there is the video. It does not show the stroller incident that Adyanthaya described, but it does show a female passenger standing at the front of the plane, sobbing uncontrollably as she holds her baby, as she says, “You can’t use violence with a baby.Just give me back my stroller, please.”
A male passenger seated near the front of the plane suddenly comes to the woman’s aid, saying, “No, I’m not going to sit here and watch this stuff.” He then stands up and demands to know the male flight attendant’s name. The flight attendant who grabbed the stroller appears, prompting the male passenger to warn him.
“Hey, bud, you do that to me, and I’ll knock you flat,” he says. “Hey, you stay out of this!” the flight attendant shouts back at him, pointing his finger at the passenger. He then steps forward, challenging the passenger. “Hit me,” the flight attendant says, motioning with his hands. “Come on, hit me! You don’t know what the story is!”
“I don’t care what the story is,” the defiant male passenger replies. “You almost hurt a baby.”
Boy, from now on, I’m flying United.
American Airlines said in a statement,
“The actions of our team member captured here do not appear to reflect patience or empathy, two values necessary for customer care. [Gee, ya think???)] In short, we are disappointed by these actions. The American team member has been removed from duty while we immediately investigate this incident.”
The flight attendant’s union, however, is defending its member, issuing a statement that urged restraint before making judgments about the flight attendant while saying in part:
“There are really two stories here related to this incident aboard a San Francisco to Dallas flight. One, we don’t know all of the facts related to a passenger who became distraught while boarding a plane and therefore neither the company nor the public should rush to judgment. Second, it appears another passenger may have threatened a Flight Attendant with violence, which is a violation of federal law and no small matter. Air rage has become a serious issue on our flights. We must obtain the full facts surrounding these incidents. Our passengers and the Flight Attendants deserve nothing less.”
Much like lawyers, employee unions are partisan by definition, and exist to take the sides of their members, even when the members engage in misconduct and may be in the wrong. When they have to side with members who embarrass their professions or trades, like the American flight attendant, unions cement their poor public image and weaken all employee advocacy groups. However, unions also have an obligation to avoid looking ridiculous.All of the good and important work of unions is undermined when they appear to tolerate outrageous member conduct.
Sure, by all means get the facts, but seriously, how much more information does one need to conclude that this was not a shining hour in the annals of flight attendant competence? When a baby is almost injured, a passenger feels compelled to confront what he sees as passenger abuse, and an attendant challenges a passenger to a fight, this is res ipsa loquitur, the Latin phrase meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” In law, res ipsa loquitur is used to describe allegations and charges that require no more evidence than the bare fact that they occurred. Again I am reminded of the absurd TV reporter who, after watching the second plane slam into the Twin Towers on 9/11, cautioned viewers not to leap to the conclusion that it was terrorism.
As it happens, today brought another example of res ipsa loquitur, reminding me of my favorite old court opinion illustrating the principle from Professor Dave McCarthy’s first year Torts class.
The law suit against R.J. Reynolds had involved a horrified customer who had chomped down on a rotted, severed human toe while trying to enjoy a plug of chewing tobacco. He initially lost his case based on the theory of “let the buyer beware,” but won on appeal. On the subject of whether the plaintiff had to prove negligence, the dryly humorous appellate judge wrote (in 1918) that he could
“imagine no reason why, with ordinary care human toes could not be left out of chewing tobacco, and if toes are found in chewing tobacco, it seems to us that somebody has been very careless.”
And so it is with today’s res ipsa loquitur classic: Frozen hash browns sold in nine states by Harris Teeter (including the two where we shop here in Alexandria, Virginia) and Roundy’s were found to include pieces of golf balls as a very special ingredient. McCain Foods USA’s amusing recall notice says in part,
“McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product. Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth.”
You know what? I’d say that those “stringent supply standards” aren’t nearly stringent enough if golf balls end up in my hash browns. If golf balls are found in my hash browns, somebody has been very careless.