It was one of those common annoyances that anyone who flies coach on airlines has likely encountered: a passenger reclines their seat, restricting the small space even further for the person sitting behind them. Instead of just breathing a frustrated sigh and rearranging his limbs, however, an offended passenger on the United Boeing 767 bound for Ghana from Dulles International Airport on May 29, 2011, stood up and slapped the offender. The altercation eventually resulted in two F-16 fighter planes escorting the 767 back to Dulles.
This is certainly taking stress and a lack of civility to a whole new level!
The Washington Post1 reported that when the confrontation began, a flight attendant and a third passenger jumped in to intervene. The pilot was then told of the assault. He reported the situation to the control tower, and because the flight was only a few minutes out of the airport, he decided to return to Dulles. U.S. fighter jets at Andrews Air Force Base were scrambled to escort the plane back.
According to the Pentagon, the cost of utilizing an F-16 is $9,000 per hour; two were involved in this event. The Boeing 767 also had to dump thousands of gallons of fuel so it could land safely.2 This was not a cheap response.
Authorities determined, however, that the incident didn’t warrant pressing charges, and the two passengers were released. The flight was delayed until the next day.
This incident depicts a post-September/11 world—one in which even children may be patted down at airport security checks and an offhand joke to a security official could land you in jail. But what struck me most forcefully was the incident itself. Are we so pent up with frustration and stress that a small annoyance ends in a midair fight, scrambled Air Force jets, and a grounded 767?
Saint Xavier University professor Joyce Hunter, who has studied and written about air rage, says that smaller airline seats and an overall decline in civility are affecting our behavior during flights.
“We have a society where people are very frustrated; we have a society of people who feel they have a sense of entitlement,” she says.3
According to the American Psychological Association, one third of Americans are living with extreme stress, and almost half say their stress has increased during the past five years. This is taking quite a toll. The American Institute of Stress claims that 75 to 90 percent of visits to primary-care physicians are for stress-related complaints, with occupational pressures and fears cited as the number-one cause.
But is this ample justification for less civility? For many the answer appears to be yes. Lack of courtesy by store clerks, rude jostling and complaining by people standing in metro lines, disinterest in helping strangers in distress—all are on the rise. Fistfights between parents and referees at Little League ball games are not unheard-of. And even Adventist Christians aren’t immune. A quick look at some of our blogs and Web sites challenges the notion that others will recognize us by the love we have for one another.
What’s the solution to this dilemma? I can think of only one: spend more time with Jesus and ask Him to help us to slow down and reorganize our priorities.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), Jesus tells us. Rest—a comforting, inviting word. Then along with emotional and physical rest may arise a contented spirit that is more inclined to “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matt. 7:12).
2 According to the Post, “a 767 can take off with 16,700 gallons of fuel, and for the more-than-5,000-mile flight to Accra, Ghana, it probably would have needed all of it. The full load of fuel weighs more than 57 tons, and although a 767 can get that weight airborne, it can’t land with it.”
Sandra Blackmer is features editor for the Adventist Review. This article was published July 21, 2011.