In a post-truth world where “fake news” abounds, I became ever-more jaded yesterday after a startling revelation concerning an American Airlines incident in Chicago.
On Monday, I wrote a story entitled After AA Cancels Her Flight, Woman Left In Wheelchair Overnight At O’Hare Airport.
At the time, the narrative was that Olimpia Warsaw was left sitting in a wheelchair overnight at Chicago O’Hare Airport after her flight was cancelled and the porter went home for the night. Warsaw was forced to ask a random passenger to help her in the bathroom and left alone all night.
AA responded with an immediate apology, taking responsibility for the incident and offering a full refund plus compensation.
But at least one person at American Airlines did their homework. By looking deeper into the allegations and the security camera footage taken that night, a new narrative emerged. As the Washington Post reported:
A timeline released by the airline shows that a representative from the contractor assigned to take care of Warsaw spoke with Coltea [her son] at least twice. Airline officials said records show that Coltea rebooked his mother on a flight leaving Saturday afternoon and that he said he would send someone to pick her up at the airport.
The airline said that after a review of closed-circuit television footage it determined that: “Ms. Warsaw was dropped off in the terminal at 12:30 a.m. CT on Dec. 1, and a family member arrived at the airport to pick her up at 1:13 a.m. CT.”
Warsaw was escorted to a wheelchair waiting area located on the upper level of the airport. Once there, video footage shows Warsaw twice using a walker to go outside to smoke a cigarette before being met by a woman. The woman pushes Warsaw toward the door but then stops to take a cellphone picture of Warsaw sitting in the wheelchair. The woman then walks away and returns two minutes later. The video shows she flagged down a police officer, with whom she spoke briefly. The woman then wheeled Warsaw to a waiting SUV, where a man is waiting. The group then left the airport.
Of course Warsaw and her family are no longer responding to media requests…
The Death of Truth
This story demonstrates how quick (gullible, perhaps) we are to believe a story. In the post-Dao world, I don’t blame American Airlines for quickly issuing an apology, but wow…this incident also so clearly demonstrates that humans, myself included, often lack discernment.
Yesterday, I wrote about a former NBA player suing United Airlines because of a “race baiting” flight attendant. While I never thought this lawsuit had legal traction, I find myself doubting the very story itself today. That’s what fake news does: it dulls your senses, positioning you to make choices based upon emotions rather than facts. How can you make a decision based upon facts when the facts themselves are fabricated or untrustworthy? How can you discern what is true and false when you cannot discern if the news is even being reported accurately?
But then I think of my own incident onboard United…thrown off a plane for taking a picture. There was no other side: the story was just as bad as I reported it and the flight attendant lied to get me off that plane. And while skepticism is often helpful, I refuse to travel down the postmodern path that denies objective truth.
On a personal note, I don’t regret covering the incident in the manner in which I did. After AA verified it happened, I had no reason to doubt its authenticity. But you can bet I will next time, even if I still write about it. Stories like this, even fabricated ones, present an opportunity to remind families of the risk of leaving older loved ones alone when traveling. Even if a flight appears on-time, delays often happen once everyone is onboard and a mechanical issue is discovered or ATC delay issued.
Thus, this story was helpful in giving a platform to the perils of leaving older travelers alone. But this family owes American Airlines a huge apology. I hope AA also re-charges Warsaw for her ticket.
Tragically, we live in a world where emotional appeals holds greater sway than objective facts. We also live in a world in which the one who gets her story out first typically prevails. Let’s all be a little more discerning this day.
image: American Airlines