The Flight Connection Dilemma, Or “It’s Hell Being An Ethicist”

Increasingly, I find myself wondering whether everyone who travels on business regularly encounters the vast range of irritations, outrages and generally unpleasant experiences I do, or if it’s just me. This time, on an over-night trip to Boston, I had important medicine confiscated by the TSA, got trapped in a hotel elevator, ran out of the house without my computer, injured my mouth when a sharp piece of food pierced a gum, and, of course, my flight was delayed. This time the delay would cause a genuine hardship: I had an important and time-sensitive task to complete involving the welfare, indeed safety, of two family members, and it meant that I had to be home no later than 6:40 pm.

When we finally landed at Reagan National, which is less than a 20 minute cab ride from my home if the lights and traffic break well, there was still a slim chance that I could make my deadline, IF the plane emptied quickly. The flight attendants said that there were several passenger who probably had tight connections, and asked them to raise their hands so everyone could stay seated to help them bolt the plane and try to make their flights.

Being human, my mind filled with rationalizations for raising my hand. I did have a tight connection, sort of. The urgency of my need to leave the plane wasn’t necessarily less than any of my fellow passengers. In fact, it was objectively important. And really, what would be the harm if I raised my hand? What might that cost one of the passengers trying to make a connection, 5 seconds? Ten? And how did I know everyone raising their hands really had a plane to catch?

But crap. I’m an ethicist. Raising my hand would be a lie, and there were no substantial or legitimate justifications for it. So I kept my hand down. I missed my crucial appointment, and it is going to cause me and two family members a lot of unpleasantness. Nonetheless, it was the right thing to do.

Right?

41 thoughts on “The Flight Connection Dilemma, Or “It’s Hell Being An Ethicist”

  1. Not wrong. You probably could have claimed emergency. Maybe not what they meant, but they were trying to compensate for tight travel plans that got delayed. We are planning Christmas travel with two wee ones and Mrs. Gory scheduled return to give us a couple days to recover before going back to work. Even with two kids, I would not blink at someone in a hurry. I want to move as much as anyone, but, we have leeway

    -Jut

  2. You were in slippery slope territory; you did what you believed inside to be right and that sir is always the right thing to do for your character. That little voice in our heads is rarely every wrong when it tells us to do things that maintains our character.

  3. Not wrong, not necessarily slippery slope, and if explained, you likely would have been excused. But explaining and asking for exceptions defeats the need to exit quickly. Clearly, such delays cause legitimate (serious) connection problems, more than just another flight. A genuine business meeting, a train or bus connection, in your case a family connection that would cause genuine hardship for others. Your situation would, in the real world of flying and delays, pass the “intent test” of raising your hand to say, “Hey, I actually do have a situation that requires me to leave ASAP, in front of the majority who leave their hands down for the sake of others. My habit is to nearly always wait until the plane has about emptied, because I usually schedule much added time so I’m not rushed. But when I do have a connection, I will bolt with the best of them. You, Jack, truly had people waiting on you (family, colleagues, associates -all the same), in fact relying on you to meet your connection. I’d say an ethicist, or anyone, who bolts off a delayed flight to meet any true obligation is precisely what flight attendants mean by “passengers who have tight connections.” No questions asked. No excuses or permission needed. No guilt to follow. 5 seconds, 10 seconds, they all add up. Maybe you’d still miss your “connection,” but you tried your best, which is what I’d expect from you. Sorry for all the medication, elevator ride, sharp food, and forgetting your computer stuff. Sleep well anyway. Thankfully, the Red Sox won the World Series. And tomorrow’s another day. (sorry, tomorrow’s not another day …its Election Day).

  4. Sometimes, maybe often, in dicey ethics situations we do not have enough information to make the best decision, so we go with what we believe was best at the time.
    Here, for example, “…the welfare, indeed safety, of two family members…” was at stake. Well, exactly what in the way of safety? Would your being delayed result in severe injury or death? Or, was it, perhaps, something less? Was your presence necessary to avert disaster, or just a moderately bad situation, or would even a phone call have sufficed? If your presence at home was necessary to avoid a really bad situation, then you had an ethical obligation to be at the front of the plane before it got to the gate with a plea to the attendants to let you off first.
    But, we do not have enough information to decide. Presumably you did. Based on the choice you made, I would guess it was not a life/death situation, nor even a serious threat situation, and that therefore you made the right choice. But, that is just a guess.

  5. Ahhw, come on Zoltar; you can’t say that without the proviso that there is an ethical, perhaps even altruistic core to the person you are talking to. We can agree that is the case here; but without that proviso your ‘follow your heart’ statement is a disaster. There are so many throughout history who have followed their heart and been true to their own self who really needed a stake driven through their heart!

    • Paul Compton wrote, “There are so many throughout history who have followed their heart and been true to their own self who really needed a stake driven through their heart!”

      Come on Paul, don’t you think that those are the people that have already slid way, way down that slippery slope?

          • There’s more to Guy Fawkes day than just a movie. There’s bonfires and fireworks and a socially acceptable reason to drink to excess.

            • Oh, I know. But the movie repeated that refrain in all of its promotions, and now all I can think of is that mask, and another wildly over-rated Natalie Portman performance. I can’t help it.

                • No animus, just puzzlement. I find her to be a beautiful non-actress, always boring, never involving. One I thought her Star Wars misadventures were an anomaly. Nope: she is a model miscast as an actress.

                    • I’ve seen that film, which is excellent. She isn’t in it. You may be confusing her with Lilly James, who isn’t quite as pretty, but a much more interesting actress.

                    • I’ve seen that film, which is excellent. She isn’t in it. You may be confusing her with Lilly James, who isn’t quite as pretty, but a much more interesting actress.

                      Again, you missed the joke: Portman was a Zombie!

                      (This supported your assertion)

                      (sigh)

                  • Jack Marshall wrote, “she is a model miscast as an actress.”

                    Very nicely put and I completely agree.

                    I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe a few of the modern outstanding “looking” actresses, that’s the perfect way of describing them.

                    • Hmmm…

                      This category seems to be quite large…

                      Jennifer Lawrence (‘Hunger Games’)
                      Keira Knightley (‘Pirates’ fame)
                      Megan Fox (‘Transformers’)
                      Lindsay Lohan (‘The Parent Trap’)
                      Mila Kunis (‘Oz the Great and Powerful’)
                      Dakota Johnson (’50 Shades’)
                      Jessica Alba (‘The Fantastic Four’)
                      Tara Reid (‘American Pie,’ now ‘Sharknado’)
                      Miley Cyrus (‘Hannah Montana’)
                      Hillary Duff (‘Lizzie McGuire’)
                      Ashley Tisdale (‘High School Musical’)
                      Selena Gomez (‘Wizards of Waverly Place’)

                      Maybe there is something to Hollywood using up people?

                      Anyway, this is a non political post in our overheated world

                    • I regard Lawrence…

                      Have you seen ‘Red Sparrow?’ I thought she was stiff, at least. Maybe it was the role? The content was poor compared to, say, ‘Atomic Blond,’ itself a parody comic book film. I also thought she was inexpressive and wooden in The Hunger Games movies, so maybe I am biased.

                      My comment to my kids: Red Sparrow was “a way to show Jennifer Lawrence’s boobs on screen.”

  6. Reminds me of one of my commercial banker clients griping to me about bank auditors decades ago: “Jeeze, those guys don’t even pee in the shower!”

    I’d have bolted up the aisle of that airliner as quickly as possible as soon as possible in the circumstances described.

  7. A few years ago I would have kept my hand down in your situation. Today, I would have raised my hand, and expressed my situation as concisely and clearly as possible, with the qualification that I would defer to their judgment as to cases more pressing.
    You can’t know where you are in the scheme of things.

  8. Increasingly, I find myself wondering whether everyone who travels on business regularly encounters the vast range of irritations, outrages and generally unpleasant experiences I do, or if it’s just me.

    I’ve had similar experiences, some with travel in particular, some with just life in general. I really do wonder how much of it is real and unique, and how much is self-fulfilling sabotage.

    Case #1: Walmart.

    Every “durable” good I have ever bought from Walmart had to be returned as defective within weeks of purchase. Dress pants wore out at the crotch. VCR’s ate tapes (am I dating myself?). Three different hand-held sewing machines leaked pink goo. A cigarette-lighter-powered tire pump repeatedly burned out the cigarette lighter fuse. Laptop died within a year. I’ve learned to only buy consumables at Walmart, but when I think, “Nah, it should be fine”, I end up adding another entry to my list of failed products. It is the largest retailer in the world…

    Case #2: Parking in New Haven.

    I go to New Haven weekly, but my destination usually has a private parking lot. The few times I’ve ventured downtown to enjoys arts or culture, I’ve been over-charged or ticketed. First time, I went to a trivia night, parked in a parking garage to avoid having to feed a parking meter. Went to the bar, found out trivia was cancelled, picked up my car, and had to pay $5 for 10 minutes of parking. The meters are $25 for 15 minutes. Fortunately, the ticket authority refunded the charge. Two months later, I went to church on a weekday, parked in front of the church, and got a ticket because I misread the sign and thought they didn’t charge after 5. I messed up and paid the fine. Two weeks later, I was with a large group going to spend money at a city pizza place. I had to leave at 5:45, so I over paid slightly, and noted I was good until 5:51. I got held up, because big groups are a pain. I got back to my car at 5:54, and found a ticket issued at 5:52. $25 dollars for three minutes! The appeal is pending, but I no longer understand the appeal of downtown New Haven….

    Case #3: Traveling in New Jersey, a fate I would not wish on anyone. Without an EZ-Pass, the state seems like one big racket to collect miss toll fees.

    Why else would they put a sign up that says “Toll, Half Mile”, when you have to cross three lanes of New Jersey traffic to get to a cash lane? I went to Atlantic City a few years ago, and somehow missed one toll entirely, ended up in an exact-change only lane on the highway when I only had cash, and later ended up at an off-ramp that (without warning) ONLY accepted exact change, when I ONLY had a credit card. I threw cash into the change bin the first time, and was forced to blow through the toll the second time, as there was literally no other option.

    I looked up online what to do if you miss a toll, followed the instructions on how to pay by mail to avoid a fine, and mailed a check along with the requested explanatory letter. A few weeks later, I got a letter saying I missed two tolls, and owed a fifty-dollar fine on $1.50 in missed tolls. I mailed an appeal letter, showing that I followed the website instructions AND included a copy of the cancelled check showing that it was deposited (New Jersey, of course, never send a receipt for the funds it acceptecd…).

    A few weeks later, I got a nasty letter stating that they rejected my explanation. I had to write to the Honorable Christopher Christie himself in the middle of April 2016 to avoid having my car impounded the next time I crossed south of the NY border, as I was not paying that fine.

    Each case, I’ve concluded, only exists because the actors are in fact shaking down the clients, and counting few resisting. I’ve returned every broken item to Walmart, but their business model counts on consumer exhaustion. I’ve appealed every unfair parking fee issued by New Haven, but their model counts on people paying to avoid the hassle. New Jersey seems willing to exploit people who will desperately pay any amount of money to just to leave New Jersey.

    Being an ethical citizen means standing up to corruption and incompetence. This is, unfortunately, a hassle most people avoid, dumping the burden on those who are the most burned and exhausted by it all.

  9. You had every right to leave and get to your needed appointment on time. I would have raised it after the last person so they could make their flight first.

    Sorry all that happened.

    In these circumstances I think you qualified. You had a flight to make, in a cab, you needed to fly home and make YOUR connection.

    You’re an honest person. Letter of the law vs. heart of the law in this case, imo.

  10. Not looking for the name of the medicine, Jack, but I’m curious as to how it was packaged or what other objection their could have been to it. Can they take someone’s life-saving meds too? Are there any limits to their authority at all?

  11. I assume you have TSA PreCheck with all your travel. Clearly, the hassle of being investigated by the police, the FBI, and Interpol to get a “Known Traveler Number” (i.e., deemed ‘not a terrorist’) only obviates one problem — the long lines at the TSA desks and at least an hour checking in at the airport. The rest is not government protection against terrorists: it is poorly run airlines, bad management at airports, and the naivete of believing that either of those entities will actually perform on at least an average basis.

    I think you did the right thing, by the way. It sounds as if it was more a severe inconvenience to your family, not really life or death. I think your hand would have gone right up if it really was life of death.

    On the other hand, since they cavalierly delayed your flight, why is making a connection more important than any other problem caused by the airlines’ delay? People miss connections all the time. Who cares if a timely arrival has impacts beyond making your next flight? Apparently, no one. Except the honest person squirming in his/her seat trying to get out of there to make a sincerely important connection of another kind.

    Kudos to you. But yes, it’s really a bitch to be honest and ethical sometimes. How did your family make out?

  12. You have taught me two basic ethical tests, the golden rule and the Kantian imperative. Raising your hand in that situation does not break either ethical test. Its certainly not a golden rule breach, and you getting home may have been more important than some of the connecting flights. I think raising your hand would have been the correct thing to do.

    • If everyone who had critical non-airline appointment raised his hand, the universals impacts are on necessarily disproportionate.

      However, the issue, mostly unknowable to lay people on the plane, is whether other flights were held for an extended period to allow connections to be made. This is risky, as it might mitigate earlier mistakes if they stay within the scheduled recovery time, but could also destabilize the airline’s operations for the rest of the day or longer if the delays propagate.

      There is still moral luck as to whether strategic delays made by the airline help or hurt the system overall, but individual passengers tipping the scales towards chaos in an already unstable situation is not particularly ethical.

      • Rich in CT wrote “However, the issue, mostly unknowable to lay people on the plane, is whether other flights were held for an extended period to allow connections to be made. This is risky, as it might mitigate earlier mistakes if they stay within the scheduled recovery time, but could also destabilize the airline’s operations for the rest of the day or longer if the delays propagate.”

        Over the years I’ve been wondering if the perceived increase in non weather related delays keeping people in airport terminals is an intentional ploy to increase captive audience in-terminal sales. Get passengers there really early to get through TSA checks and then hold them there longer to make more terminal food & drink sales. Conspiracy theorists might concoct a theory that for airlines to get their airlines into a city that they must have between a 3%-5% annual overall delay rate to increase terminal food & drink sales.

        How’s that for a deflection? 😉

      • If everyone who had critical non-airline appointment raised his hand, the universals impacts are on necessarily disproportionate.

        Why is this discrimination allowed? The airline is only willing to alleviate the negative results of their actions if the delay will further harm the airline. How is that ethical?

  13. I think I question the premise… Before we ask the question of whether or not it would be ethical to raise one’s hand dishonestly, to which the answer is “of course not”, perhaps we should ask the question of whether the airline was ethical to offer connecting flights on such a tight schedule, and then purposefully inconvenience customers who are not taking that connecting flight. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but if the airline expressed to me that it was their policy that I jump on one leg down the tarmac, I’d probably not participate.

  14. You actually had a better justification for needing an accommodation in that case than many I have heard in recent years. It was nice that you were willing to let others go first, even though you know some of those who raised their hands had no real need at all. I have students every year ask to take their final exam a week early. When I ask why, the #1 answer is: “I don’t want to stay for finals week.”

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