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So Let Me Get This Straight

Oct 23, 2021

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been describing my experiences during the Wuhan Flu lockdown and how I instinctively leveraged my POW training to maintain my self-respect and sanity during these most incredible times. I described a key element in that training called “Little Wins” where you resist and be as non-compliant as you can and when you can, all the way up to the point that serious consequences result.

Now, let me clarify one point here, and that is how one defines ‘serious.’ This can only ever be a personal, subjective judgment. In terms of a real POW situation, it translates to how much pain or discomfort a prisoner can withstand before he must submit. And to be clear, we all have our limits and to pretend otherwise is a fairy tale told by Hollywood script writers. Because I have built up my tolerance for “social pain” over the years my threshold is fairly high. As a result, I am willing to push and test (more on ‘testing’ later) the boundaries farther than most though not as far as others. We all bump up against our own limits from time to time (if we’re living a full life) and there is no shame in shrinking away from meeting those limits. Why? Because the attempt itself provides strength for the next attempt. It is, quite literally, a no-lose situation. Moving on...

Continuing our story from last week, I had just boarded the first leg of my Southwest Airlines flight from the People’s Republic of Portland to Orlando, Florida. I was dutifully wearing my mask, not because I agreed with any policy or mandate, but because I simply had no leverage yet to not comply. Yes, I could have driven my car across country as part of my permanent move to Free Florida or maybe even taken a bus. But because of the wildfires, I had simply run out of time before my scheduled start date for my new job. As a result, I accepted my condition of diminished options and decided to strategically comply, but only when absolutely necessary.

Now, when I purchased my ticket, I sprung for the extra $50 for the ‘privilege’ of boarding first. As a result, I was among the first to board and I chose a seat as close to the main cabin door as I could, row 1 or 2, if I remember correctly. This will become important later, but at the time, I could never know how important this choice would become.

Now, as I took my seat, I kept my mask on. I did this for the exact reason as I wore it to board the plane: I had no leverage (yet); we were still on the ground, and I was certain that these air-waitress Karens would kick me off the plane at the first indication of any non-compliance if they could.

Once boarding was complete, the aircraft pushed back from the gate, taxied and took off normally with nothing unusual occurring. However, once we were in cruise, I decided to start testing the boundaries of what was ‘permissible.’ I took the water bottle from my knapsack, pulled my hat down to feign sleep and, with my hand firmly on the bottle resting on the tray table, pulled my mask down like a normal human. Why? I was testing the limits of what they would enforce while in flight, in search of more Little Wins; I refuse to be my own jailor and will constantly be on the lookout for opportunities to carve out just a little more Liberty for myself.

Within moments, the Air-Karen waitress attempted to get my attention from the other side of my closed eyes saying, “Sir? Sir?”

Ha! Well, that didn’t take long...

I was ‘asleep,’ so I ignored her, of course. It was then that she actually reached across the passenger to my left and ‘woke me.’ “Sir, you have to have your mask covering your mouth and nose completely.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I lied as I pulled my face diaper back up over my face. Now, from my perspective, this small test of their boundaries was a resounding success! The point was not to defy, it was to test. I now knew exactly how far I could push the rule and I knew exactly where/when they would enforce it. And boy, howdy. They were Johnny on the Spot with what little stolen authority they had.

Yes, I could have made a fuss and proclaimed how the air-waitress was a fascist or how Southwest Airlines was acting without authority. And I would have been absolutely correct in all of it, but could I call it ‘surviving’ if the flight landed early jut to kick me off and charge me with a felony?

No, their leverage over me was still in play because I had a connecting flight in Denver. There was nothing that precluded Southwest Karen Airlines from denying my ability to board in Denver and continue my journey to Orlando. So, while I had successfully tested their boundaries, I was still under their thumb for the time being. And then I wondered: If I continued to flout their silly rule, how committed were they to be enforcers beyond just the first request?

So, just as soon as the self-satisfied Air-Prison Guard returned to the back of the aircraft, I immediately pulled the face mask back down to my chin, carving out a little freedom for myself and continuing my test. Not long after, she returned, again instructing me to make sure my mask fully covered my mouth and nose adding, “I’m not going to tell you again.”

Well! Looks like this Air-Karen was feeling her fascist oats! I think I just had an up close and personal lesson on what the effects of no accountability are on the employee/customer relationship. This Air-Waitress had translated her very minimal responsibility to make sure passengers can properly operate a seatbelt and have a satisfactory supply of mini pretzels into a prisoner/guard relationship complete with implied threats of violence. Thanks Southwest Airlines!

Needless to say, this cat and mouse game continued all the way to Denver. After we landed, this particular waitress was at the main cabin door and, when she opened it, I stood up, made my way to the door ensuring that she watched me remove my mask and then departed the aircraft. And, as before, I walked through the Denver terminal to my next flight completely maskless. Nobody stopped me or made one issue with it. Little Wins.

My connecting flight from Denver to Orlando went in much the same way. I wore the mask during those times that I had no leverage and tested the limits of what the air-waitresses were willing to enforce throughout the flight. I think the most amusing part of the entire leg was when the Air Waitresses posted an actual guard next to my seat to watch me for the duration of the flight.

Yes, you read that correctly. They actually put a male air-waitress at my row where he stood just watching me. Yes. He stood there for the remainder of the flight, approximately 45 minutes, just standing there like a prison guard.

When our flight finally arrived in Orlando, I did the same thing as in Denver, removed my mask while on the plane, and left. How could I remove my mask before deplaning, you ask? Because Southwest Airlines’ leverage over me had just expired. So why continue complying when they have no leverage? Little Wins.

In spite of the small challenges on my trip, my arrival in Orlando was a resounding success. We can call it a success because I implemented my POW training and “survived with honor.” Specifically, I “survived” because:

  • I was NOT being arrested on a felony charge of “interfering with a flight crew” charge and
  • I had successfully completed my trip all the way from Portland to Orlando while carving out as much freedom as I could while en-route.

How better to define success?

But the story doesn’t end there! There was much more Liberty to find before I left the airport!

You see, because my flight terminated in Orlando, Southwest Airlines leverage over me had expired and once that leverage evaporated, so too did my willingness to comply with the SWA prison guards’ requests. But Karen Airlines wasn’t done with me just yet.

But more on my arrival in Orlando and the SWA gate agent who attempted to intimidate me using the poor Orlando police as a prop next week!

Robert Altomare

Founder of BreathEasy, the tool that crowdsources non-compliance, coming soon!

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