Topic: Business & Commercial

American Airlines and Proselytizing Pilots: Terror in the Skies
(2/11/2004)

Passengers on board the February 6 American Airlines Flight 34 from LA to New York were reportedly frightened when the pilot asked Christians to identify themselves and asked that they use the flight time to discuss their faith with non-Christians nearby. No wonder: with Muslim terrorists using passenger airlines as their weapons of choice, this strange announcement from the cockpit would have anyone wondering who was flying the plane. They had another reason to be terrified: the prospect of being trapped in a five hour flight while a pilot or a like minded passenger tries to save their souls.

In one of the typical mealy mouthed statements that for some reason corporate spokespeople favor, American said that it "apologizes if anyone was made to feel uncomfortable by the comments of this pilot," adding that "It falls along the lines of a personal level of sharing that may not be appropriate for one of our employees to do while on the job."

"May not be appropriate?" How about "absolutely wrong, inconsiderate, and a violation of trust?"

This is only the latest and the most bizarre of a creeping trend that needs to be identified for what it is. In theaters in New York City and elsewhere, audience members who paid not insubstantial sums are being subjected to fundraising pitches for AIDS research, on the theory that any captive crowd is fair game for a worthwhile cause. No matter how laudable the goal, such ambush advocacy is an affront to those subjected to it, an unwarranted intrusion on an experience that was purchased with specific assumptions, and a self-serving and arrogant misappropriation of other people's time and attention.

Airline passengers buy tickets to reach a destination, not to hear a sermon. Theater-goers buy tickets to be entertained, not to hit up for donations.

There is an ethical way to do these things: inform the target audience before they buy their tickets. In the absence of full disclosure, however, we should feel justified in objecting loudly and emphatically when a pilot, an actor, or a cab driver decides that we are fair game for their favorite cause. American Airlines, meanwhile, had better demonstrate that it understands the seriousness of its pilot's ethical lapse. Now we know that there is more than one kind of hijacking that airlines have to prevent.

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