Flying While REALLY Angry

October 15, 2004

So, I’m back in Ohio – yes, Swing State central – getting more and more disillusioned by the number of Bush/Cheney signs that I’m seeing everywhere.

The last 48 hours has consisted of a full day in airports and planes, gorging on the delights of my mother and aunt’s cooking, and trying – in my broken Bengali – to explain to my aunt (a retired Geography professor from Kolkata) about how ridiculously mythologized Thanksgiving and Columbus Day are. On a good note, I did just watch the collector’s edition DVD version of The Sixth Sense. The bonus materials include extensive interviews with M. Night, who talks a lot about being South Asian and how that influences his life and filmmaking -- plus a little outline of clues to follow through the movie. I know Night’s kinda silly and Hollywood, but I can’t help but really appreciate that man and his work.

Anyway, even though my flight back to Ohio the other day was relatively uneventful – except for me missing my flight because I was lying bed and listening to NPR at 6 a.m. – airline discrimination continues to be a major problem in this country. One, as a South Asian woman, I can’t seem to ignore. I remember feeling so stunned when writing this article about Ashraf Khan, a Pakistani American man who got ejected from a Delta flight right after Sept. 11. Now, three years later I am completely uncomfortable when in airports and on planes because of the level of insecurity and fear emanating from everyone.

Just this summer I sat in front of a couple of late 20-something white people on an Air Trans Air flight from Atlanta to Dayton, OH who began to discuss – in graphic detail – the Nick Berg “beheading” right after the seatbelt sign was turned on for our descent. Far from buying into the hoax theory, these people were out for blood. Their conversation went something like this:

Woman (with LOUD nasally voice): “Those people are such barbarians. I can’t believe people are against this war. We should turn [the Middle East] into a giant crater.”
Man (with somewhat of a Southern accent): “Wow, you seem really excited about this.”
Woman (laughing): “Oh, you have no idea. I get so pumped about this stuff. Go troops!”

The woman went on to say how rude Mexicans are for always speaking Spanish around people who can’t understand it; that black people are lazy, etc.etc.etc. At that point, I -- honestly -- was ready to find a parachute and jump out the window or actually make a serious complaint to a flight attendant because I felt really uncomfortable by their conversation. But the seatbelt sign was on and I was afraid I might get taken for being threatening. I wondered what would have happened if I had been having a really loud conversation about the Nick Berg beheading with the black man who was sitting next to me.

This -- combined with a flurry of other incidents that my friends and I have experinced lately -- made me look into what has been happening with all the lawsuits that the ACLU filed, back in 2002, against four major airlines for discrimination. Most airlines have settled by now, paying up to $2 million in damages. The ACLU filed another case just this year against the no-fly list that has been targeting South Asians and Arab Americans since 9.11. Here is the latest on that case.

And just to help piss y’all off as much as me, here is what Ann Coulter had to say about these lawsuits in her column back in May. I try not to pay any attention to what she says, but her continual jabs at Norman Mineta for not racially profiling really make me want to punch her in the neck.

Anyway, stay tuned for more stories about airline woes. In the meantime, read this BBC article about whether “integration is a two-way process”. There is another blonde chick with some killer quotes.