Mexicana de Aviacíon Gets a Frequent Flyer

Squirrel Cage to the North Needs Warranty Work

May 31, 2007

It was May 29 and I was coming through Houston on the way back from the Galapagos—kind of long-way-around routing, but what the hey. I’d gotten up at three a.m. in Quito to take the flight out so I was running on coffee and hope. My flight, Continental 2099, left at 2:20. I was ready to get back to Guadalajara. Swarm aboard the Embraer, fasten seat belt, haul out book.

Normally the stews go through the usual about overhead bins, seatbelts, and the rest. They have to do it, everybody has heard it a thousand times, but the crew is polite about it.

Not this time. The pilot, a woman, got on the horn in a nasty voice and began dressing down the passengers as if they were recent arrivals at a reform school. We got a lot of stuff like if we didn’t sit down “I’ll yell at you, which is fun for me but…not so much for you.” In a joking tone, this would have been over the top—you don’t lecture adults you don’t know as if they were feebleminded louts—but she wasn’t joking. She was bullying. We got more of this as the flight went on. “Don’t get on my enemies list.” And then (why was I not surprised?) “You’ve got a woman driver, and I’m a little reckless.”

“Just fly the plane and shut up, how about?” I thought.

They were nothing short of poisonous, uniquely so in my experience. In forty years of fairly heavy flying, I have never run into an obnoxious pilot nor, really, an obnoxious stew. Sometimes they look tired and exasperated, as my god who wouldn’t be in their job, and infrequently a tad cranky. Though on thought I do remember one exceedingly disagreeable stew, a guy, on American. That’s total for forty years.

This was something new.

Who the hell did the dyke-bitten little bitch think she was? Air passengers aren’t ill-bred children in need of discipline by some snot-nosed drill-sergeant wannabe. They pay good money to fly from A to B. That’s all they pay for. If they wanted to be treated like first-graders, they would presumably repeat first grade.

Why do these sorry twits behave as they do? In part because the American zeitgeist encourages them. American women usually carry The Chip, the anger that so many have. They’re not going to Take It, whatever It is. They seem to be looking for some of It not to take. Some seem to equate bitchiness with manhood. Men of course do not behave that way, the cost of dental restoration having become prohibitive.

But they do it in large part because they can. In the first place, what can a passenger do? Write a letter to Continental? The result would be a mouse-click form letter: “We at Continental appreciate your comments and will look into the issue you have raised. We strive daily to provide the best….”

In the second place, I suspect that nobody at Continental is about to discipline a female pilot, who would immediately file a five-million-smacker H-and-D suit. (Harassment and discrimination.) The airlines are desperate to stuff women into cockpits, which would be fine if these were required to meet the same standards as the men, to include being civil. Any female pilot knows she can face down the CEO if she needs to.

So far as I know, only North American women are forever coiled to strike. I meet all manner of women from other countries—Mexico, France, Israel, Italy, Thailand, China, on and on. Many have responsible positions, run their own companies, what have you. If you gave them a hard time, you would probably get one in return, but they default to civility. Which is all that is required.

In times past, unpleasant behavior had unpleasant consequences. Officials of many sorts had to wear name tags and, if the people upstairs got a lot of complaints, the responsible party would hear about it. Now, no. Management is afraid to discipline people who fall into the various categories of special privilege.

In the Galapagos I was aboard the Santa Cruz (which I recommend). I’d arrived in Quito expecting to do a week on horseback in the mountains, but that fell through. By dumb luck the Santa Cruz had a cancellation so I grabbed it.

It’s a sizeable ship, carrying I think about eighty passengers, who have to be put into Zodiacs twice a day to go look at big-ass turtles. Of the three officers who ran this complex dance, two were Ecuadorian women. All three were unfailingly courteous. They were also efficient and solved the problems that invariably come up as people lose things, can’t swim, want to do something else, and such. Everything worked because they knew what they were doing and did it well. But they weren’t bitches.

My group had as guide Joanna, a native of the Galapagos, twenty-seven, a complex mixture of Spanish, Chinese, and Indian, who had learned English in eight years of working as a guide. She had a larger vocabulary in speaking than most American college graduates do in writing. I say this carefully, without exaggeration. Her husband, a Swiss, was helping her learn German. When I corrected her English, as she requested, the corrections immediately showed up in speech. She knew her biology cold, having picked it up by reading. In short, she was an impressive self-made young lady. She knew the islands as most of us know our back yards.

Every day she took about fifteen people, averaging over twice her age, to the islands. To do this she constantly had to tell people what to do, including the guys who drove the Zodiacs. She (like the other guides, probably half of whom were female) was completely in command, and had to be, as otherwise people would have been falling over cliffs, stepping on sea lions, and drowning themselves.

And she did it without a trace of the aggressive abrasiveness of that godawful Continental creature. It is perfectly possible to be a woman, to have a job carrying large responsibility, to handle subordinates and the public, without being a mouthy termagant in a padded jockstrap.

When you fly Continental, the telescreens descend and you get a message from the CEO about how dedicated the airline is to improving service, etc. He could start by telling that crew to cut the lip. Or have their vocal chords removed.