We Have Moral Obligations – Do Something

Sometimes I don’t like the world we live in.

I don’t.

It is frequently inhumane, lacks compassion and treats the vulnerable with callous indifference.

Right now, a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions is right under our noses. People as in men, women, children, old and young, fleeing war, oppression and slaughter in countries like Syria and Afghanistan.

The desperation of these refugees is such they will take to anything floating and undertake the perilous journey over water, to reach safety and hopefully a new life. It’s a dance with the devil. You are maybe damned if you do and almost certainly damned if you don’t. Take the risk and die. Stay and definitely die. Would you call that a choice?  It’s being played out nightly on the TV news. Many make it. Some do not. But despite the obvious risk, they come. And keep coming. Desperation makes you crazy.

We see these people arrive in the thousands. A human tidal wave, showing no sign of abating. A human tidal wave, that Europe largely doesn’t want to know, doesn’t know what to do with, or how to stop. It’s not going to stop. If anything it will continue to swell.

But what is really important is our collective response, with few exceptions, to these people who need our help. What has it been? We close our borders, or in the case of Australia, the country I live in, we close our borders, tow them back to their stepping off point or, if that doesn’t work, force to them to go to a glorified prison in some god forsaken rat hole like Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. They used to come in relatively large numbers. Now they don’t come  at all. Our Australian Government takes the credit for this. As if there is credit to be taken. It trumpets the catch cry, we stopped the boats, as if it’s something laudable. I guess it could be if you think cruelty is laudable.

These people committed no crime. Unless you believe asking for help is a crime. And no good pretending we don’t collectively share some culpability for their displacement. They are currently living in a war zone in the countries I already mentioned. And countries like the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Australia are contributing to that war zone by dropping bombs and missiles. Even if you truly believe it is a necessary evil to do this, it doesn’t excuse our responsibility to the people displaced as a result.

Syria is a political and social catastrophe. A catastrophe, in all probability, it may never recover from. I understand that. But we can’t simply shrug our shoulders and pretend we aren’t human beings. If people are in need, we have a moral obligation to help them. I am unable to process how we can simply look away and pretend they don’t exist or pretend it’s too big or pretend that we don’t have that obligation. Sorry but we do. It was one of the things we all signed up for in order to become a member of the human race. Even if you don’t believe what I am saying, then believe this: It’s the right thing to do.

I was looking at a video the other day that made me very sad at what we have become. It showed a homeless boy on the streets of a wealthy and affluent American city begging for help. It was cold and he was dressed in rags and carrying a plastic bag. All he had in the world. He was weak and desperate. It was etched on his face. But people simply kept walking and pretending he didn’t exist. We do indifference so well. In the end, another homeless man gave this young boy some help in the form of donating his own warm jacket. Two desperate individuals but one prepared to sacrifice what little he had to help a fellow human being. It was uplifting but at the same time morally bankrupt.

If you want to abrogate your responsibility, think this isn’t your circus, want to turn a blind eye to the suffering of your fellow humans, fine. But go and live on another planet because you certainly don’t belong on this one.

Airlines Find New Ways To Torture Passengers With Economy Minus Seating

Everything is shrinking. Have you noticed? We can go from one side of the world to the other in an instant. Skype or email, you can reach anyone, anywhere with the click of a mouse or the tap of a keyboard. And it’s not limited to the virtual world. You can stick a pin in a map of any country and be there within hours. That is unprecedented in human history. But if you think this is a plug for the world’s major, or even minor, airlines think again.

It ain’t.

Airline travel has never been more affordable, more frequent, more readily available and more undesirable. Everything the world’s airlines do these days has, what I call, a perverse inversibility. The more they offer in travel destinations, the less you receive in customer service and creature comfort. Whoever said there’s no such thing as a free ride wasn’t kidding. Here are some examples. You think you’ve locked in the final price for your airfare, only to be told it’s going to cost extra should you want to choose your seat. From baggage fees to credit card surcharges, it’s just one more extra fee, airlines are slugging customers, to bring in an extra dollar.

Choosing your seat on a Qantas domestic flight is free, but you’ll get stung big time on their international routes. Selecting a general seat will cost you $25. And for extra legroom make that $60. Qantas does  allow you to avoid paying the fee by offering free seat selection within 24 hours of flying, that is, of course, if you don’t mind taking pot luck on where you’ll end up sitting. How generous? A Qantas spokesperson had the temerity to suggest that seat selection fees were designed to avoid passenger disappointment.

Yeah right.

But Qantas isn’t the only Australian carrier loading on the fees. Jetstar automatically charges for seat selection unless you choose not to pay. Its booking system starts off by adding $5 to your fare for allowing you to choose your seat. And if you want a seat closer to the front it will cost you $11 and then it jumps to $24 for an exit row seat.

Virgin’s fee structure offers extra legroom seating from $20 to $70 for domestic and short haul international flights and a whopping $150 for long haul international flights. And it’s happening all over the world. In the United States, Delta, American Airlines, and low-cost carriers US Airways, Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant have introduced charges for “preferred seating”. In Europe, British Airways charges a seat selection fee and budget carrier Ryanair offers specific seats for an extra cost, as does its low-cost rival EasyJet.

So you can imagine my shock, horror and dismay, did I mention shock? When I read that airlines are planning to introduce a whole new level of flight hell called ‘economy minus.’ If you thought there couldn’t be anything worse than cattle class think again. Plans are afoot to sky test a new, even more cramped section in economy class, according to leaks published on an aviation website.

The “enhanced economy” section would have a seat pitch, which is the distance between your seat and the seat in front of you, of approximately 35 to 38 inches (88.9 — 96.5 centimetres). Regular economy would have a pitch of 76 to 78.7cm and the new “economy minus” at under 76cm — but the exact size, meaning how small, is yet to be confirmed.

But many airlines have already reconfigured their economy sections into similar models, they’re just not letting the travelling public know about it. Numerous airline seats already fall under the 76cm mark. And, you might be surprised to know, that all these teensy seats go against recommendations from plane manufacturer Boeing, which released its “magic formula” for leg room in economy class in 2001. The formula, was hailed at the time as the ultimate guide for leg room. It was based on calculations of how many cubic centimetres of leg, rear, end and shoulder space it takes to create a “tolerable” experience for passengers. Boeing calculated it at 81 cm.

Essentially, what we’ve come to know as the premium offering of “economy plus,”which isn’t quite business class, but less of a squeeze, is really just the equivalent of the economy class section from years ago and we thought that was bad enough at the time. The airlines refuse to advertise the fact that seats are continuing to shrink, and the standard economy section we used to know will soon be just a memory. In fact, these days airlines are stealing space from economy passengers to make their premium flyers more comfortable. For example, last year, one airline reduced economy passenger space by an inch (2.5cm) per row in order to give their “economy plus” flyers extra room.

The airlines are being very quiet about it all, but passengers are noticing the difference. One airline passenger in the United States wrote about what she described as the space-stealing problem in a review of her United Airlines experience. This airline has already garnered a reputation for having an unofficial “economy minus” section with leg room of just 78cm on some of its planes — 16cm less than its premium passengers.

“We just ended a miserable flight, “ she wrote. “United’s ‘economy plus’ option, means that for a family not able to afford to upgrade, you are now put in the ‘economy minus’ seats — meaning the least leg room on any flight in living memory. It seems United gives the plus legroom to the economy plus, but then subtracts the legroom from the poor folks back in cattle class.”

Prepare yourself for the brave new world in airline travel.

Major airlines like Air New Zealand, Emirates, KLM and Air France managed to squeeze in a fourth seat in the middle of their Boeing 777 planes. And to add insult to injury they charge the same price as regular economy for a seat that’s narrower than most other airlines.

This is not good news in a world where people are getting bigger not smaller. Airline travel is fast becoming something to be endured rather than enjoyed.