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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Another horrible airline saga

How I wish it were a mere coincidence that the man who was dragged off United Airlines Flight 3411 had Asian roots.

David Dao, who refused to be offloaded the plane to give way to employees of United’s sister airline, was dragged out of the plane by police officers called in by the airline crew. Dao, an American doctor of Vietnamese descent, suffered severe concussions on his head, lost two front teeth and had a broken nose.

The video of the incident that went viral shows that he was treated worse than a suspect being arrested for a crime who is even read his rights and shielded from harm. Netizens have crafted slogans for United Airlines that say: “Board as a doctor, leave as a patient,” “We beat the customer, not the competition,” and “Not enough seating? Prepare for a beating.”

The fate suffered by Dr. Dao does not seem isolated, however. My family and I witnessed the equally revolting discrimination committed nonchalantly by Emirates Airlines, a supposedly five-star airline, against Filipinos. In our trip home from Argentina Thursday last week, the flight was fine until we took the leg from Dubai to Manila. There, everything changed. The gate was opened only about 30 minutes before flight time, making the passengers mill around the area standing up or finding seats far from the gate. Then, when it finally opened, the chaos began. Quite unexpectedly—because this was never done in all the other Emirates flights we had taken in our South American journey—the hand-carried pieces of luggage of every passenger were being weighed. If they exceeded 10 kilograms, the passengers were made to pay for the excess. The overseas Filipino worker right before us was charged 100 US dollars for the alleged excess weight of her hand-carried luggage. It was unimaginable why she was charged that much— but she had no choice.

Next, instead of entering the plane through a tube attached to it which is the norm for international and even domestic flights, we were made to ride buses that had only a few seats, making the bigger number of people stand up, sardine-style. Babies were crying and children were fretting as the crowded buses stopped on the tarmac for some 20 to 25 minutes before heading off to the plane some kilometers away. Upon reaching the plane, there was no crew to meet or assist us or direct us which stairs to climb to board the plane—the one at the front or the rear. Carrying heavy pieces of luggage, the passengers had to climb the stairs. Some of those with seats at the back of the plane unwittingly took the front stairs and those with front seats took the rear entrance, causing chaos at the narrow aisles of the plane. The flight attendants offered no help; one merely said that next time they will try to be more organized. If you avoid budget airlines because they are not comfortable, think again after reading this through.

During the nearly eight-hour flight, we could not help noticing the arrogance of the attendants directed against the Filipino passengers. A Filipino who was seated next to my daughter, who had a baby on his lap, was ordered by an attendant to put in the overhead bin the blanket that fell on the floor as everything had to be stowed away for those seated at the bulk head during takeoff and landing. When my daughter spoke for the docile OFW, and asked the flight attendant to please do it for him as he could not stand because he was carrying his baby who was sleeping, the attendant said arrogantly, “I can’t, I have no hands,” even if she was holding nothing. My son-in-law had to be the one to help the man instead.

At meal time my daughter requested that the bassinet be installed so that she could lay down her own sleeping baby in it while she ate. The supervisor refused, saying that bassinets are only for infants and her baby exceeded an infant’s weight, even if my daughter explained that in our earlier flight from Argentina she was given the bassinet for her baby. The supervisor still refused, saying they had nothing to do with the policy in another flight. At this, my daughter suggested that the bassinet be put instead for the man beside her whose baby was smaller than hers so he could eat. The supervisor rudely retorted, “Why, is he hungry? Do you know that he is hungry?” then left.

My friend who was with us in the same flight, for her part, noticed that the attendants serving food were skipping Filipinos and serving the whites first. She ordered the meal which was also ordered by the white man in her row. He was given his order promptly while she had to wait to be served the same thing.

It seems what we experienced was not isolated. My daughter who was so upset narrated our Emirates experience to her best friend who is now living in Belgium with her American husband and daughter. Her friend told her that she and her husband have been noticing this too, as they always take Emirates in coming home to Manila. She said that flights are fine from Belgium to other destinations but when the destination is Manila, for some unexplained reason, the passengers are given the worst gate in the airport and the most ill-mannered and most inefficient crew.

Dr. Dao’s experience with United Airlines may have been more violent and horrifying but, at least, it caught the attention of the world and will probably not have a repeat. The bullying and the maltreatment of Filipinos, who are mostly OFWs working in the Middle East, by Emirates Airlines apparently have been going on. It is likely to continue; Filipinos are, by nature, nonconfrontational and docile.

This is revolting. Even if the volume of air traffic and the business that overseas Filipinos give Emirates should merit them special consideration, all they ask for is a decent and equal treatment. This is a right they are entitled to as revenue passengers.

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