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TinotopiaLog → BA and Yellow Cards ( 5 Nov 2002)
Tuesday 05 November 2002

BA and Yellow Cards

British Airways have recently announced that they will be showing yellow cards to “disruptive” or “abusive” passengers on the ground. The airline has been using the system in the air for several years.

In a lot of ways, it’s brilliant. Front-line airline employees don’t deserve to be abused — they don’t make the idiotic policies that infuriate the passengers — and the yellow-card system is unambiguous. It works well across languages, makes it clear that you’ve done something wrong, and that you’ll be sent off (though ideally not at 35,000 feet) if you do it again.

However, in all the news coverage of this — all the stories being rewrites of the BA press releases, after all — I have not seen any questions as to whether this is just treatment of a symptom, rather than an actual solution to the problem.

It might profit BA – and other airlines, and the commercial aviation industry in general – why it is that they require special systems to keep their customers from lashing out violently. This isn’t a problem in most other industries; the only ones I can think of where it is a problem are industries like biker-bar management, automotive repossession, and other inherently confrontational trades.

The industry says that their customers get violent much more often than customers of other industries for a variety of reasons: the passengers are drunk, the passengers are uninhibited because they’re on holiday, because there’s not enough oxygen in the plane cabin, because – honestly, now – they carry too much baggage, because they’ve seen documentaries on air rage on television, or any one of a number of other things the passengers have done. (No word yet on why they have to have such a system on the ground, where there’s plenty of room for baggage, lots of oxygen, and no free booze. Must be something the customers ate for breakfast.)

Very, very rarely does the air-travel industry even hint at the possibility that they have a hand in all this.

If you were trying to design a system to trigger the fight-or-flight response (no pun intended), it would be difficult to come up with one better than the modern air-travel apparatus. From the moment you purchase your ticket — which doesn’t actually oblige the airline to do anything, even to carry you from point A to point B at any time — you’re at the mercy of the system. That’s not all that unusual, actually. What’s unusual is how little mercy is actually involved, as well as the glee with which this particular system reminds you that you’re at its mercy.

Posted by tino at 13:29 5.11.02
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