There are two sides to every story, except in the case of American Airlines Flight 893, where there really is only one side.
The tale begins with the flight from Charlotte, N.C., to the Bahamas and a pair of delays — one technical, and one caused by a student (or possibly students) from Winthrop High School refusing to wear a mask. For those who haven’t flown since the pandemic began, when you buy an airline ticket, you are required to tick a box that says you agree to wear a mask during your flight. There’s no rogue Nurse Ratched-like flight attendant roaming the aisle and enforcing this CDC mandate out of pure sadism.
Trust me, they dislike telling you to wear a mask as much as you probably dislike wearing one.
The action of the student (or students), who ticked the mask-agreement box when purchasing a ticket, reportedly prevented what should have been a two-hour flight from ever leaving the airport, resulting in a plane full of reasonable, mask-wearing people to miss a day of their Bahamas vacation when the flight was eventually canceled.
That’s the story. Now let the finger pointing begin! American Airlines issued a statement saying on “July 5, passengers traveling on American Airlines Flight 893 from Charlotte (CLT) to Nassau, Bahamas (NAS) were reported to be noncompliant with the federal mask mandate, became disruptive to other customers, and refused to follow crew member instructions while onboard.”
Those passengers turned out to be around 30 students from Winthrop High School (plus a dozen or so from surrounding communities) who were traveling to the Bahamas under the supervision of a chaperoning company called Breakaway Beach.
Here’s where the discrepancies pile up. WSOC-TV in Charlotte reported that passengers were forced to switch planes after mechanical issues were found on the first plane before takeoff. Once aboard the second plane, fellow passengers said the students became unruly and began complaining about wearing masks. One passenger who said he sat next to the students said “it was bad.”
“First, they were yelling. They were cursing. They were being very obnoxious,” passenger Malik Banks, who was seated next to the group, told the station.
“It wasn’t all of them,” Banks said. “I’d say 75 to 80 percent of them were being terrible kids.”
Other passengers interviewed seemed equally exasperated and agreed that it was more than one student who objected to wearing a mask for two measly hours.
That sounds pretty clear. People on the plane were corroborating the American Airlines report: A bunch of kids from Winthrop were allegedly acting like jerks. It’s convincing enough that the FAA now says it will investigate.
End of story?
Not so fast! The mother of one of the Winthrop High students is casting the blame at American Airlines, saying it wasn’t the entire group of students who were problematic, just one student. The chaperoning company was equally dismissive of American Airlines’ description of the situation.
“The actions of this passenger resulted in the entire group of graduates being labeled ‘unruly’ and ‘disruptive,’ ” Eugene Winer, president of Breakaway, wrote in a statement to the Globe. Again, don’t mention this to Banks, who said otherwise, and whose vacation was disrupted.
Because of the mechanical problem that initially delayed the flight, Winer said, passengers spent about two hours on the first aircraft without a functioning ventilation system and during that time “some passengers including the students may have removed masks due to the no air-conditioning/ventilation, quite unbearable conditions.”
I’m going to interject here and say that if I were on a plane without ventilation for two hours I would complain, but I would not remove my mask. In fact, I’d do the opposite. I’d start wearing as many masks as I could tolerate to protect myself and others against COVID-19. I may be vaccinated, but I’m not stupid. I know how the virus is spread.
But more than one passenger has said that it wasn’t the unventilated flight that was the problem. The students became unruly on the second plane.
A spokesman for American acknowledged the maintenance issue, but said the real cause of the flight cancellation was the rabble-rousing teens who refused to take their seats or wear masks. The airline said the teens were also playing music loudly and using foul language. The delays caused by the teens spilled over into a shift change, meaning the flight could not take off and was finally canceled. This shouldn’t be a surprise. American has had staffing shortages since travel resumed en masse this summer. I suspect they can’t snap their fingers “Bewitched” style and produce a back-up crew.
Passengers interviewed agreed it was the students’ behavior that further delayed the flight. Eventually someone will post a video to TikTok and we’ll finally see what happened, but until then, can we all agree that a student, or group of students, was being difficult?
Now, let’s take a step back and break this down. We have multiple passengers and an airline telling us that the majority of 30-plus young adults were acting like birdbrains. We have the mother of one of the students and the chaperoning company telling us the airline is at fault.
At this point I feel it’s necessary to don my referee’s jersey and sort out this nonsense.
I’ve reported on a lot of bad behavior on airplanes, and here’s what I know: An airline would not cancel an entire flight if one student from Winthrop High was acting up. Flight attendants would ask the student multiple times to put on a mask. If the student remained a noncompliant dimwit, said dimwit would be ejected from the flight. The plane takes off and everyone lives happily ever after.
Here’s another bit of information I gleaned from going to high school: If I were with a group of my fellow students and we were lucky enough to be going to the Bahamas, there would be a lot of self-policing. If one of us started griping about wearing a mask to the point where there was a risk the flight could get canceled, that individual would promptly get the snot kicked out of him or her so the rest of us could go to the Bahamas. You bet I’d throw Madison, Mackenzie, Zach, or Eli under the bus — or, in this case, the plane — to get to the Bahamas.
That’s why this whole story is starting to smell like an airplane bathroom in the last leg of a flight, and why I think there is only one side to it. Even if it were only one student from Winthrop High acting up, it’s still abhorrent behavior. Whether it was one student or 30, the paid chaperone should have intervened. The bottom line is that every passenger (this means you, Harrison) needs to wear a mask. If you’re not capable of grasping that basic concept, you should be going to your parents’ basement, not the Bahamas.
Christopher Muther can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.