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Kirby's Disturbing History: Flying the unfriendly skies can be 'plane' scary — and lucrative

Published April 21, 2017 11:51 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Editor's note • Every Saturday, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby digs into the past to enlighten and explore the present. Have a story to share? Visit Facebook.com/DisturbingHistory, or email rkirby@sltrib.com.

On July 29, 1906, thousands of spectators at the Salt Palace — then located near 900 South and State — watched Joseph M. McMahon plunge 200 feet to his death while giving a parachute demonstration from a balloon.

It wasn't just a simple jump. McMahon had been loaded into a cannon, which the balloon lifted. When sufficient altitude had been reached, McMahon and his parachute were fired out of the cannon.

It was quite the spectacle, including the part when his chute didn't open and he screamed all the way to the ground. He lived for several hours with all sorts of broken bones sticking out of him.

I can relate. I've been injured while being hurled from an airplane. It happened at Fort Benning, Ga., during jump school. I wasn't hurt leaving the aircraft. That part came when I hit the ground going way too fast, which was technically my fault.

In 1977, I was bumped from a flight in Chicago for no other reason than because Big, a guy I was traveling with, wouldn't shut up.

As we were boarding, the airline security people decided to hand-search the duffel bags of our group before allowing us to carry them onto the plane. They did it on the floor right there at the gate.

Because we were traveling in military uniform, this peeved Big, who started complaining about the airline's need to search the luggage of three sterling defenders of freedom such as ourselves.

He kept it up even when the airline people warned him — and the rest of us pleaded with him — to shut the hell up.

He didn't. So they bumped all three of us. We waved goodbye to our plane and waited through the night before we got seats on another flight.

Another time I was actually pulled off a flight to Washington, D.C., after I had boarded. "Last on, first off" was all the explanation I got from the nice woman who said my seat was needed.

Finally, I was bumped off a flight from California years ago. Half a dozen other people were also asked to deplane. The airline didn't give us much of a reason then. It gave me a motel room, dinner and $300. I slept in the bed, ate the dinner and didn't tell my wife about the money.

There's a point to all of this. Give me a minute, and I'll remember what it is. Um ... oh, yeah. With the exception of the time in the Army, I never once got my butt kicked while being removed from a flight.

It could be argued that it's because I'm clinically indifferent, a pushover, or because I always followed the directions of the flight/cabin crew, including the time it was a small older woman I could have easily beaten up even if she had known kung fu.

After the public relations fiasco of United Airlines removing a passenger from a flight while he screeched like a warthog being neutered, I may have to change my travel strategy. There might be real money in it.

The passenger, who was dinged up a bit while resisting his removal, has been tentatively awarded, by the Appellate Court of Social Media, a compensatory sum equal to NASA's annual budget.

And that's why I will continue to fly United Airlines, people. That and because with all of you vowing to never fly United again, there should be plenty of legroom.






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