It has happened to me. I recall once when the Intrepid Junior Blogger, seated beside me, turned to me and said “I can’t believe they just said that”. Nor could I, which is why I called the airline to complain when we got home, to express my displeasure, but I also now know that in the future I will do something else. If I ever hear a flight attendant make that same sort of comment I will push my little flight attendant button and confront them directly – not in an angry way, but in a way that makes clear that this is my home they are joking about. I will ask them if on flights to Toronto they ask if everyone is ready to go “to the centre of the universe”, or if they only joke about Fort McMurray.
And that is a genuine question. Do they joke about heading to places like Yellowknife? Do they make such snide comments about all their destinations? Or is it reserved for places like us, ones that have a controversial media image? And if so isn’t it even more important that they be circumspect in how they talk about us and not feed into the baseless imagery that others use to portray us?
Here’s the thing: we pay their salaries. Those of us who live here pay a great deal for airline travel, and I do not pay to hear sly comments and innuendoes about the nature of the place I have chosen to call home. Perhaps it is based in their lack of knowledge about us, in which case we may want to educate them. Perhaps it is based on their own lack of understanding that this is a proud community, one that stands united and reflects all the best things about our nation – diversity, innovation, creativity, and generosity. And that is why I think maybe these flight attendants could use a little sensitivity training about our home, and think about the things they say about us, and why.So, to the airline traveller I ask this: if you hear a flight attendant or pilot say something unkind about Fort McMurray don’t just sit there and seethe. Confront them, in a polite way, and ask why they feel it is acceptable to make such comments about your home. I suspect they will react with surprise, because I do not believe these comments to be malicious in intent but rather simply made with a lack of thought and knowledge. Then when you arrive home write an email or make a call to the airline, and tell them about the incident, too, and ask that they advise their employees that they need to treat the passengers who call Fort McMurray home with respect, and that this respect extends to how they speak about their home.
And to Westjet and Air Canada, and any other airline servicing Fort McMurray now and in the future I say this: We are a community. We are the home for tens of thousands of citizens. We pay to fly in your airplanes, and we help to pay the salaries of your employees. We pay handsomely for this, and we do not pay to be insulted or to listen to sly comments or snide jokes about our home. We have very low tolerance for these shenanigans, and frankly you and I both know that you are making a ton of money from the flights in and out of YMM, one of the busiest airports in the country. So I think it is about time you ensure that we are accorded respect and dignity – including how you speak about our home, Fort McMurray. We will come fly with you, and we expect to not only reach our destination safely but to do so with our baggage - and dignity - intact.