Outrage in our time of universal connectivity and instantaneous communication is a fire than starts itself, is fanned by self-interested and ill-informed bystanders, engulfs the news cycle, and incinerates truth. By the time it emerges that some awful thing never actually happened, we’ve all moved on and the damage can’t be undone. You can’t un-fry the egg.
The other day, United Airlines allegedly told some teenage girls they couldn’t board their flight and had to change clothes, as the “leggings” or “yoga pants” they had on were inappropriate for travel. Another passenger waiting to board the flight overheard this, took to twitter, and, well, I’m sure you know the rest of the story, because you’re alive and have access to the internet (or else you’re reading this with some superpower that I need to get right now – these broadband fees are killing me).
ZOMG! How can this happen? Those poor teenage victims! That awful sexist corporate behemoth, always oppressing the righteous and free! Those old white men, at it again! Who are THEY to tell US? A boycott must be called and the Evil Empire that is United Airlines must be defeated! #leggingsgate
OK, everybody – slow your roll. Turns out none of it happened. At least not the way the Internet Justice League understood it. There’s more to it than the uninformed impression of the First Tweeter, which spontaneously ignited the conflagration. There usually is.
Turns out the two “victims” of this oppression were not told anything at all by the gate agent. Their family overheard the gate agent telling someone else they couldn’t fly and assumed it applied to them. Then yet another person took the non-existent cause of the outraged girls to the internet, and the rest is history.
OK, but what about that first oppressed leggings wearer, yearning to be free? Wasn’t she a victim? Isn’t the outrage still justified?
No. She was a “nonrev”, flying free. See, airline employees and their families can fly standby from anywhere to anywhere else for no cost. They are non-revenue travelers, or nonrevs. It’s really the only benefit worth having for a lot of those airline jobs, which are pretty awful and poorly paid when you get right down to it.
The only thing the nonrevs have to do for this valuable privilege is adhere to a well-understood and apparently reasonable dress code. Here is the full United Airlines code for nonrev travel.
– any attire that reveals a midriff
– attire that reveals any kind of undergarments
– attire that is designated as sleepwear, underwear or swim attire
– mini skirts
– shorts that are more than three inches above the knee when in a standing position
– form-fitting lycra/spandex tops, pants or dresses
– attire that has offensive and/or derogatory terminology or graphics
– attire that is excessively dirty or has holes/tears
– any attire that is provocative, inappropriately revealing or see-through
– bare feet
– beach type rubber flip-flops
The airline does this because the nonrevs are, in a way, representatives of the business and it’s thought they should look professional, or at least, not offensive to the average paying flyer. It’s bad enough when you’re crammed into that middle seat in Coach to find out someone is up there in First who hasn’t paid a thing. And if their demeanor, including their appearance, is somehow objectionable, well, you’re an unhappy flyer and we don’t want that.
Now, perhaps you want to keep your outrage going despite this new evidence, and get on United’s case for their neanderthal nonrev policy. Well that’s a subject for another blog, the title of which might be, “Do employers have the right to demand anything at all from employees?”, or, maybe, “Is the concept of vulgarity obsolete?”
Today’s point is that journalism is dead. Fact-checking is dead. We prefer the internet, where everyone’s verison of things is as good as anyone’s, and, best of all, it’s faster than facts.