A pandemic travelogue
By Robert G. Bonnet
AMBROSE — My wife and I recently decided the coast was clear enough of the coronavirus to take a trip to a North Carolina beach. We figured it was worth the risk of an hour-and-a-half flight to avoid the 10-hour drive. Since we are fully vaccinated, and Covid-19 infections appear to be declining, we headed for Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe for our first flight in more than a year.
At the airport, the most obvious difference from last year was the near universal mask-wearing, though it was a mixed bag of under-the-nose, under-the-chin, too-loose-to-do-any-good, etc. Nevertheless, everybody exhibited a face covering, even if effectiveness varied, depending on the wearer.
The terminal loudspeaker reminded passengers at regular intervals that masks were required, and proper use was essential to avoid consequences. The rules were reinforced by signs, reminders at the gate and acceptance by our fellow travelers. We boarded the nearly full flight.
BEFORE PASSENGERS were treated to the standard, pre-recorded safety spiel about emergency exits, bathrooms, refreshments and so on, a flight attendant prepared to deliver from the front of the plane a live speech about mask-wearing requirements for all passengers. Before she spoke, the attendant slid her mask under her chin.
A passenger in the third row interrupted. Loudly.
“You’re not wearing your mask!” the woman hollered. “Why do we have to wear a mask if you aren’t wearing yours?”
Passengers nearby urged the woman to let the attendant speak. The woman continued her harangue. Other passengers spoke up.
“Shut up lady.” “No one likes wearing them.” “Just keep quiet.” “Let them do their job!”
And yet (I hate to use the expression), she persisted.
The attendant paused, glared at the woman and quietly leaned forward.
“Ma’am, one more word from you, and you are off this plane.”
That triggered another round of loud protests from the woman.
“If you aren’t wearing your mask right, why should we have to if you don’t have to?”
The attendant gestured to a co-worker.
“Go get security.”
A FEW MINUTES LATER, the flight attendant and another staffer (also female) approached the woman and instructed: “No questions. No discussion. You are off this plane. Where is your luggage?”
As the woman reached for her luggage, she continued.
“I was just asking a question. For heaven’s sake! This is ridiculous!”
As she was ushered summarily off the plane, her former seatmates erupted in applause.
After take-off, the attendant chatted with passengers.
“This happens on almost every flight,” she said with some emotion. “It’s extremely stressful. This is no joke. Interfering with a crew member on a flight is a federal offense. We report these people to the FAA, and they may end up on a no-fly list.”
NEWS MEDIA report the mask defiance we witnessed may be part of a recent rise in bad behavior by air travelers. And it could get worse, especially on regional carriers that serve areas where mask-wearing is resisted, vaccines are avoided, the pandemic is downplayed and leaders encourage such behaviors.
Flight attendants say regional patterns may explain bad behavior. Arnold Palmer Regional Airport serves Southwestern Pennsylvania, including Indiana County, where fewer than half the residents have been vaccinated at least once, according to state Department of Health data. Of 67 counties statewide, Indiana ranks No. 56
The past year (or more) has been a long one for all of us. On our flight, we witnessed one result — a retreat from civility, decency and good manners.
Travelers might remember what our mothers tried to teach us about manners. Abe Lincoln, the original Republican, might also be recalled: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” And my father’s favorite quote: “Obedience to law is liberty.”
Good suggestions for good citizenship — at home or on the road.
Robert G. Bonnet, of Ambrose, is a sponsor of The HawkEye through the Falcon Fund.