The Brancatelli File



Dear readers: The American Civil Liberties Union last week filed lawsuits accusing several airlines of discriminating against travelers who were ejected from flights based on the prejudices of airline employees and passengers. These incidents first occurred in the weeks immediately following September 11. I launched JoeSentMe, tenuously and extremely crudely, on September 27--and my first Brancatelli File commented on these incidents. I know the vast majority of you weren't here for our humble beginnings, so I offer that column again today. -- Joe

September 27, 2001 -- One day soon, when our hearts have begun to heal, we will speak about the unspeakable events of September 11. For years to come, when we fully comprehend what we have done, we will lament our government's disastrous decision to make a gift of $5 billion in tax dollars to the airlines.

Before all that, though, we must address the cowards and the traitors within our own family of business travelers.

You know who they are because you have heard about their despicable behavior in recent days. They have refused to fly with passengers who somehow "look" Middle Eastern. At least a dozen times, they have demanded Arabic looking passengers be removed from planes. They have conspired with pilots and cabin crews to eject their fellow travelers, even though these vaguely Arabic passengers held valid tickets, had been cleared by security and, in the wake of the events of September 11, had probably been profiled within an inch of their lives before they ever stepped on the plane in the first place.

I tell you now what you know in your own heart: These frequent flyers are ignorant. They are bigots. They are cowards. They are traitors. These frequent flyers are American Taliban and they must be stopped. Because, if they get their way, then the America that we are trying to defend will be lost forever.

For the first time, I know business travelers and frequent flyers who are afraid to fly. This is strange and uncomfortable, but I understand it. For more than the first time, I know companies that will not let their employees fly. This is odd and distressing, but I understand it. There is no shame in being afraid to fly now or being told not to fly now.

But people who go to the airport prepared to fly--pilots, flight attendants, frequent flyers--and then start profiling other passengers and demanding they be denied their right to travel because they look "wrong," these people I do not understand. These people are shameful.

As is always the case, these people are also wrong in their ignorance and bigotry and cowardice. Not a single person put off a plane in the last two weeks due to another passenger's "discomfort" was anything other than a normal human being trying to fly from one place to another. Not a single flyer driven off an American, United, Delta, Continental or Northwest jet because of his looks has been anything other than one of us, a garden-variety business traveler living his life on the road. Absurdly, most weren't even Arabic.

These are dangerous and difficult times. Just as it was dangerous and difficult when we permitted slavery. Just as it was dangerous and difficult when we interned Japanese Americans. Just as it was dangerous and difficult when America brought forth Bull Connor and Father Coughlin and the Know Nothings. And now, because it is dangerous and difficult again, we are developing a virulent band of frequent-flying fools who are steering us back into the unfriendly skies of intolerance.

What shall we do, fellow flyers? Set up internment centers at every airport and drag away anyone who doesn't fit some other traveler's vision of an American? Or how about Passengers' Courts? We can have a little cabal of flyers denouncing each other at all the major hubs. It'll make a nice show while we're waiting to clear security. Or here's an idea: Let's get some Klansman and deputize them as sky marshals. They can go through the aisles before every flight, pick a couple of funny-looking passengers at random, beat the tar out of them in the galley and then dump their bodies on the tarmac.

Or, finally, this time, couldn't we be true to our better nature and remember what holds us together and makes this a nation worth defending?

We are not tribal. We share no common race or creed or ethnicity or culture. We are Americans only because we say we are. All we have is our diversity--and our allegiance to a set of beliefs that starts with the bedrock assumption that all people are created equal. We are free only because we are all free. We are equal only because we are all equal. Any infringement on those basic precepts destroys the bright and shining dream that we all supposedly share.

As Americans, we need to rise up against the cowards and traitors among us. We need to take our planes back from the hijackers and we need to take our skies back from the bigots before they destroy us.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright 1993-2004 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.