United Pilot Announces Passengers Must Keep Politics Off the Plane, Whole Cabin Cheers

The captain of yesterday’s United flight UA1212 from San Francisco to Puerto Vallarta made an announcement that many people feel the country needs to hear right now. It’s been a crazy week. We all were exhausted by the election and looked forward to our Facebook feeds returning to puppies and kittens. Now shut up about politics at least if you’re ‘in a metal tube at 35,000 feet’.

The announcement came after two passengers on the flight had to be separated when,

some kinda scuffle broke out where an individual with a ‘plaid shirt and a capo cap’ said something racist (about being ‘glad to have kept his guns’) to an African American lady, and she began to cry and freak out,

The captain points out that ‘nobody is going to change their mind’ and asks passengers to ‘keep their opinions to themselves.’ He suggests that it’s simply too soon for these conversations,

When cooler heads prevail and we can talk and realize that we’re all human beings and we can all stick togehter and we can all pull for this country in our own way then that’s what we should do.

And he lets passengers know that if they cannot live with that, they can get off and fly to Mexico the next day. The plane breaks out in applause.

The irony here, of course, is that United itself is highly political. They lobby the federal government to limit competition for their Washington Dulles hub. They’ve sought government-backed loans. They lobby the government to keep out competition from Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar. Like all US airlines they’re heavily subsidized. They believe that US cronyist policies aren’t cronyist enough. And their last Chairman and CEO was even ousted after bribing a government official in exchange for favors for the airline. But don’t talk politics on United.

A content-neutral restriction on fighting with other passengers makes sense. Not talking politics onboard where it escalates into disagreements with other passengers makes sense. And so does not seeking political favors for the airline at the expense of passengers, of course. United management should listen to their pilot.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m sure the pilot was just making a helpful suggestion. He may have an inflated sense of his own importance, but he doesn’t get to dictate the topics of conversation aboard his plane, unless they are threatening or clearly intended to incite. Free speech is still a fundamental right, even at 35,000 feet. And a pilot is not a therapist or counselor who gets to admonish people that it’s “too soon” to talk about topics of national significance.

    There’s nothing “racist” about a comment about guns–that man in the “plaid shirt” has a right to share his view. Of course, you could say he has a duty to not escalate a disagreement, if his (non-racist) comment offends or agitates a fellow passenger. But nothing in this post indicates that he escalated the situation, taunted the woman or created a security issue.

    I’m more concerned about the lady’s apparent lack of maturity and emotional intelligence, if that one comment caused her to “cry and freak out”. There many mature, balanced passengers who would hear a comment they disagree with, give a civil reply, and calmly continue sipping their diet Coke.

  2. Make America great again. It all depends on why you accept the validity of the underlying premise of that statement and your definition of “great.” Unfortunately Trump’s campaign encouraged many bigots and those who feel threatened by the changing face of America to supply their own twisted definitions.

    When politics becomes as incendiary as the President elect has made it, you won’t keep politics off a plane, out of the workplace, or out of people’s thoughts and concerns.

  3. Thank you very much for bringing this issue to our attention and your thought leadership on the matter.

  4. We used to have smoking and non-smoking sections. Could politics and no-politics sections could make aviation great again?

    It’s shocking how many Americans think that elections are a matter of life and death. As if we haven’t survived dozens and dozens of them. And is if anyone would even be able to tell which party was in power based only on the effect on his or her personal life. It’s a crime to feed such fear to people who are too young to know better.

  5. Typical of United….Someone needs to remind them about the First Amendment….Bunch do sisseys….

  6. Level of education was highly correlated to which way someone voted and more educated people tend to sit in E+ or more so in J, so there is an unintended but fortunate separation of people who are partizan anyway.

  7. Chad: There is no fundamental right to free speech on a private air carrier. The constitution only guarantees against government infringement on free speech. United Airlines is not the government.

  8. Veejay: I never made reference to the constitution, so I’m not sure why you’re introducing that in your reply. Our rights are granted by many institutions–including United’s own Contract of Carriage, which says they will take corrective action if behavior is “disorderly, abusive or violent”. Based on the description provided, the passenger’s statement about his gun rights didn’t meet that description. (On the other hand, the woman’s hysterical response could very well qualify as “disorderly” behavior.)

  9. Whenever someone begins talking politics with me their view tends to be sooo one-sided, like they’re trying to sell me something. So I say we shouldn’t talk about it, which places me in the opposition’s camp. On a plane no one can walk away.

    Disagreements can lead to hostilities. But someone’s right to express themself does not supercede my right to ignore them. So knock it off.
    The captain needn’t announce what topic of the day is off-limits. He should remove those who create problems after the fact. Setting an example is more instructive than a request.

  10. It’s going to worse before it gets better. I think politics and division will be ingrained in society for at least the next generation. Just my personal thoughts.

  11. John P. Sousa IV wrote “Typical of United….Someone needs to remind them about the First Amendment….Bunch do sisseys….”

    You know nothing about the First Amendment. The First Amendment restricts the government’s ability to criminalize speech. It has nothing whatsoever to do with a pilot’s decision to encourage passengers on a private airline to treat one another with civility.

    As for your suggestion that this makes United pilots “sisseys,” I’ll leave leave others to interpret what that says about your world view.


    That being said, United is not a “safe space” with a puppy room and unicorns unless you get gored by my Emotional Support unicorn.

  13. I think those who regularly read View From The Wing know that deference to the captain is sacrosanct. No need for armchair quarterbacking.

  14. Wait, has anyone heard of freedom of speech. When did United Airlines get the ability for me to control my speech about an matter. As long as I’m sane and lucid, I can say whatever I want to say. If it upsets someone and they react violently, that’s on that person. It’s not like I’d go grab the mic and start pontificating. No, that’s not how it works…either in the USA or in México for sure…especially in México.

  15. @Keith: “Freedom of speech” isn’t just three words.

    The First Amendment limits only the government’s ability to suppress speech. It provides that “Con­gress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”
    For example you generally don’t have free speech rights in the workplace.

    “As long as I’m sane and lucid, I can say whatever I want to say. If it upsets someone and they react violently, that’s on that person”

    Maybe. You can’t use “fighting words.” But, I”m sure you are just saying you have the freedom to express your opinions ; however, other people going batshit crazy may get you removed from a plane out of expediency.

    I doubt you’d deliberately antagonize someone repeatedly, but this response was just to point out where freedom of speech originates and , at least in one context, ends.

  16. @iahphx except for its birth in subsidy, its Narita hub that comes from the spoils of war, the billions in pension obligations moved from its balance sheet to the government’s, and the billions it continues to receive all of which is well explained and documented and post after post including ones linked to here. Your continuing to see no evil, hear no evil doesn’t change the reality.

  17. First off for those of you who said the captain over-stepped his role, “first amendment rights” don’t apply when someone uses threatening language about guns on an airplane.

    Second, wow the bias in this article is glaring in the last two statements. Do your homework about subsidies, Gary Leff. The billions the US airlines received in subsidies over 112 years related to starting mail carriers for remote towns. The airlines now contribute to the federal fund, essentially the airlines pay for airport structure and improvements. Middle Eastern airlines are heavily subsidized for the sole purpose of outcompeting other airlines. They also block US airlines from serving their airports. A more accurate account to follow this biased non-information from Gary Leff:

  18. Also Gary, pilots LOST their pensions, they were not transferred to the government. Their pensions were reduced from potential millions to tens of thousands. You are far from a fact-searching reporter. You are definitely an opinionated blogger at best.

  19. TM: There’s no evidence that the person’s comments were “threatening”. You invented that detail, apparently out of nowhere. And of course, if they were, there would have been more drastic action taken.

    From the evidence provided, it looks like he made a political statement about gun rights and a woman became hysterical. I think many of us of have heard people say things aboard planes that we disagreed with; however we did not react dramatically. (If every political statement on a plane was considered “threatening”, then there would be a LOT of people removed from planes or banned from airlines.)

  20. @Chad, You have no idea what the man said or how he said it; you you are blaming the woman for her reaction without any basis for doing so. Of course there is evidence that the man said something threatening or intended to incite unless you think scuffles normally break out and people ordinarily start crying over polite conversation. I think the man got the reaction he was hoping for.

    Unfortunately, this will not be the last incident as now a number of Trump supporters will feel emboldened to harass and intimidate minorities. At east these bigots are coming out of the closet. Many of their buddies are still in there.

  21. We can only go on the details provided at this point. The only outlandish behavior documented is the woman’s reaction. If it does come out that the man threatened her in some way, harassed her or victimized her, I’ll be the first to agree that action was appropriate.

    Yes, anyone who has lived in American society longer than two days knows that scuffles do break out and people do have overblown emotional reactions—all the time–without there being an “incitement”. But the era of perpetual, self-proclaimed victimhood is fading, and personal responsibility is gaining traction.

    “Intended to incite” is subjective. And you’re suggesting that this man “harrassed” and “intimidated” a minority, which, of course, there is absolutely no proof of. (And if he did, wouldn’t there surely be more of a reaction than a friendly PA announcement?) Surely you’ve seen people have overblown reactions to someone’s calm, non-threatening statement of their beliefs. (If not, just watch cable news for a few hours.)

  22. To be clear Chad. This man is a bully who was looking for trouble. Too bad you can’t see that. But it is not surprising. Why would he feel compelled to expound on his views on guns to a Black woman he had never met? Did he figure that his guns and his mouth would “show her who’s boss?” That is not something new to the collective memory and experience of Blacks. Nothing you’d understand.

  23. You’re making massive generalizations about a man based on scant details that have been provided. (A behavior which, by the way, is remarkably similar to the racism that we all hate.)

    It’s obviously unfair to call the man a bully without something to justify that; but I guess to some people, you’re guilty until proven innocent. (And it’s also a generalization to assume the woman would be offended by a comment about gun rights simply because of her race. There are plenty of black gun owners in America who would have wholeheartedly agreed with the man’s comment, and enthusiastically continued the conversation.)

  24. Yep Chad. It was probably just Aunt Flo, and nothing he said. We know how women get sometimes. Right Megyn Kelly? When you get your head out of the sand, have a nice day at the beach.

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