Apples, Trees and Social Responsibility

April 12, 2007 

Abigail Van Buren once counseled that, “If you want children to keep their feet on the ground, put some responsibility on their shoulders”.  To this I would add that you should also keep sick children out of airline cabins. 

On March 27, a Continental Airlines pilot ordered 16-year-old Rachel Collier off of a plane in New York because she was uncontrollably coughing.   This was a scheduled 10 hour nonstop flight to Hawaii. 

As Stephanie Collier, Rachel’s mother, explained it, “Upon boarding the plane (Rachel) was asked to leave by the pilot because she had a little bit of a coughing spell.”   

Rachel’s classmate Avya Tawfir said, “I was behind her she started coughing like I heard she couldn’t breathe and it felt like something was in the back of her throat”.  Avya did not elaborate on how she "felt like something was in the back of her (Rachel’s) throat”. 

ABC news filled in some of the missing clues by reporting that, “Moments after Collier was seated, she began to cough uncontrollably -- suffering from a cold she caught from some of her friends earlier in the week... Collier’s classmates said several of the students on the trip had been sick and a few had gone to the hospital.”  

At first glance, this is another “same old...same old” example of a callous airline inconveniencing an innocent passenger.  These instances are easily resolved by the inconvenienced passenger’s heightened sense of umbrage and the threat of litigation...Ipso facto...the airline throws enough freebies at the angered passenger and all...if never forgotten. 

And, this is exactly what did happen.  NBC news reported that, “Rachel Collier and her teacher (escort) were left to find their own hotel for the night and had to buy clothes and toothbrushes because their luggage was already on the plane.” 

Rachel’s father, Randy Collier, expressed his concern for his daughter’s health by demanding to know, “'Who's paying?  I wanted to know who's going to pay for their clothing, hotels. They just left them in the middle nowhere (NYC?). They didn't provide anything.  They just said they were going to pay for the hotel.”  

All was forgotten when Rachel’s mother announced that, “Continental has agreed to reimburse her daughter's expenses incurred during the extra day, including the cost of the hotel.” 

Isn’t that nice. 

Maybe the Collier family would also like to have Continental pay for Rachel’s cough syrup? 

This isn’t just another case of a passenger performing as expected only to be nailed by an inefficient airline. 

This is a case of an airline acting exactly as it should in the face of a grossly inconsiderate passenger and irresponsible teacher-chaperone.  

This is a case of a common-sense airline captain effectively telling a passenger that we are not allowing you to inconvenience an entire flight full of people for your convenience. 

Sound a little mean and unfeeling?  Well, think about it. 

Continental usually flies a Boeing 767 on this route.  That airplane seats about 235 people.   

If one person on that flight is knowingly sick, that one sick person knowingly puts 234 other people plus the flight crew at risk of contagion.  Even if the sick person does not pass the illness through to the rest of the passengers, the thought of a sick and coughing person in your cabin for 10 hours is extraordinarily unsettling.   

Let’s look at this another way. 

Let’s assume that Rachel was not sick that day and that she was seated next to Bubba Jones, a fictitious football star.  Let’s also assume that Bubba had a raging case of tinea cruris...also known as “jock itch”. 

Let’s also assume that Rachel was subjected to Bubba scratching his groin for the entirety of the 10 hour flight.   

What would Rachel’s daddy be saying? 

It is beyond comprehension why some people think it perfectly acceptable to patronize confined public spaces when they are knowingly spewing infectious diseases into the air that everyone else has to breathe.  And that, if they are not allowed to do so, they should be compensated for their own inconsideration. 

How happy would you be if you saved up for the cruise vacation of a lifetime only to be ravaged by a norovirus putting you and hundreds of your fellow passengers in the pot for the duration of the excursion?   

Would you be so forgiving of the ship’s sous-chef’s explanation that he was only a little sick and tried not to cough on the salad dressing? 

Or, would you be screaming for compensation because the cruise ship management was negligent in allowing a contagious employee to spread that contagion?   

In many ways this is no different than the arguments about smokers creating liability with their second-hand smoke or an HIV positive individual knowingly practicing “unsafe” sex. 

If you were a newlywed couple on that Continental flight headed for an Hawaiian dream honeymoon and dearest Rachel, with her teacher-chaperone’s knowledge, infected you and ruined that honeymoon...who is supposed to compensate you?   

The airline for allowing an obviously sick person the opportunity to pass her contagion or the obviously sick person for gross inconsideration...if not gross negligence?  

Consideration begins at home.  If the parents can only see the world through the lens of their agendas, it is a good bet that the children will follow in their footsteps. 

Didn’t someone once observe that the apple never falls far from the tree? 

And neither do inconsiderate and self-absorbed people.  But I guess it will take an influenza pandemic to bring that point in for a landing.


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