Sully's World vs. JetBlue Nation

When US Airways pilot CB ‘Sully’ Sullenberger landed his 80-ton Airbus A320 aircraft on the Hudson River at New York City on January 15, it was an historic event. This type of “splash landing” (as opposed to a ‘crash landing’) at an estimated 200 MPH usually results in at least some death and destruction, if not total. Yet all 155 passengers survived, and the plane remained practically intact.


Sullenberger is being hailed as a hero not only by the passengers he saved, but by the media and the public. He was phoned by president Bush and president-elect Obama to be congratulated on his achievement. And you can bet that Sullenberger and his wife and two daughters will be present in the House of Representatives for Obama’s State of the Union speech. He’s that kind of icon at this moment.


And while Sully remained sequestered after the incident, the nation wanted to know more about this remarkable man. One acquaintance in Sully’s Danville, California neighborhood told the media, however, that the pilot was a humble man who will certainly be embarrassed and puzzled at all the national attention he is receiving. And to hear Sully’s wife talk modestly about her husband’s professionalism and cool, you know instantly that the Sullenbergers quintessentially are “the people who make America tick”, and that the so-called Miracle on the Hudson was just another day at work, with a rare bit excitement thrown in.


It also has been revealed that Sully is an expert on airline safety and has worked in the industry for many years as a writer, lecturer and all-around expert. But what else could you expect from an Air Force Academy graduate, and a veteran of the Air Force itself, having flown F4 fighter jets in the service. CB Sullenberger truly is the character of America.


According to chatter after the ‘splash’ it was revealed that most commercial pilots never will experience an incident of this magnitude, nor even much, much less. And just days before the event, America’s airlines reported a momentous achievement – 2 full years without a single passenger death. And this is a statistic that should be noted in context, that in those 2 years roughly 1.5 billion passengers had flown America’s friendly skies.




On Valentine’s Day 2007, another ‘incident’ occurred which reverberated throughout the airline community. That day a massive storm buried the Eastern Seaboard, closing businesses and schools, snarling traffic and delaying flights. And in one of those infamous mini-stories that comes out of every big storm, passengers on one airline, JetBlue, were forced to sit on an airplane for 9 hours, waiting to take off.


The story became a national scandal. Enraged passengers captured desperate cell-phone photos of inconvenienced and thirsty passengers, obviously damning evidence to be presented at the tribunal of JetBlue. One flier publicly decried the delayed start for his vacation in Aruba. After all, what’s an Act-of-God snowstorm when you could be romping on the beach? See you in court!


But in light of the airlines’ amazing safety record, and the heroics of Mr. Sullenberger, we must wonder: What has happened to the rough-and-ready nation that fought for freedom in the American Revolution?


Answer: We have become JetBlue Nation where we focus on the negative, and ignore the less visible positives that make our lives the best in history.


Think of it this way Never in the entire history of mankind have we had it as good as we have it today, in myriad ways. A Connecticut family of four can fly to California and back for the weekend, consuming 500 gallons of fuel for their little jaunt (the plane’s fuel load, both ways, divided by the average number of passengers, times four). In contrast, the average automobile owner in the United States uses about 600 gallons of gasoline per year. So the deregulation of airlines in 1978 opened up air travel to the masses, and they are flying in droves. 2 million people board planes every single day. And it all takes lots of fuel and the combined talents of many skilled and dedicated people you never hear about, folks like Sully Sullenberger.


And rather than give credit to the airlines and the oil companies for making speedy travel possible for us all, the American media and our growing Crybaby Culture select out anecdotes like the JetBlue fiasco – which admittedly was a fiasco, with some poor judgments made – in order to portray the entire airline industry, one by one, as a group of money-hungry devils out to cause existential dread in every traveler.


But as the statistics – and the actions of people like Sully – show, the airlines are doing an amazingly good job. Sure they can be mismanaged, and airports are crowded, but the fact is that flying is basically a science that clashes with the pedestrian nuisances of everyday life like bad weather, mechanical woes, flocks of Canada geese, fluctuating passenger loads, pilot work-hour regulations and, worst of all, an endless torrent of 750 million increasingly demanding passengers annually. Storms in one hub like Denver can wreak havoc with the entire system, as they did around Christmas-time 2006, tying up planes needed at their destinations, which never arrive.


But rather than exhibiting patience and giving thanks for the overall wonder of air travel, and rather than treating their JetBlue interlude as an unfortunate misstep, indignant passengers, so-called consumer activists, and the media instantly made JetBlue the new whipping boy of American commerce, giving temporary respite to Wal-Mart. JetBlue must come clean! JetBlue imprisoned us! JetBlue hasn’t apologized to me!


Now just imagine if JetBlue had returned to the gate after 3 hours, had deplaned all the passengers, and then the skies had cleared and the flight required extra hours for re-boarding and takeoff. Then it would have been: JetBlue delayed my trip! JetBlue screwed up!


In other words, in the Crybaby Culture of JetBlue Nation, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you do. The perpetually indignant among us always are seeking some target, any target, for their ire.


Poor JetBlue even issued a panicked ‘passenger bill of rights’ which has led to the perennial demand that even the United States Congress do the same federally, to somehow codify into law any and all conduct that might ameliorate JetBlue Nation’s rage and anguish. Hey, let’s outlaw snow!


What the JetBlue situation shows is that through our media, we get a picture of only a small and peevish part of our culture with the recycling of a relentless campaign against our Flying Fathers. Why? Because the airlines are free-market companies that have been let out from under the thumb of government. Therefore they must be punished in every way by liberal America. Yet when government-run Amtrak’s thoroughly abysmal performance statistics are revealed, the media ignore them because Amtrak is our lame attempt to emulate Europe.


The JetBlue story is actually two stories. It is about spoiled Americans being enraged at anything that interferes with their perceived “right” to pursue happiness in whatever way, shape or form they may momentarily be pursuing it. The other side is that the real “rights” that offer us a shot at happiness are much less sexy than a flight to Aruba, but infinitely more profound. The important thing is never to confuse the two, which increasing numbers of Americans do every day.


Our real “rights” mean free speech, freedom to practice your religion unhindered, freedom to assemble, and others. To some, free speech means the weighty and God-given right to speak out on subjects of common interest. To others, however, it amounts to their unalienable right to take public any and all grievances, and to have a few minutes of fame like the livid passenger who launched a JetBlue-Made-Me-Mad website.


When the Crybaby Culture and its friends in the media latch onto you, or onto JetBlue, like a dog on a bone, you should prepare to kneel on broken glass. When you wake a cranky baby, you have to pay the price. But after the media frenzy blows over, just go back to doing your best, as JetBlue has done and as people in Sully’s World do every single day. Because in just one ordinary hour you’ll accomplish infinitely more for the common good than the whiners of JetBlue Nation will do in their very finest thousand hours ever.



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