Note to an Airline Pilot

Feminist perspectives part 1

by Sammy Fogel

On January 1st, 2016, I flew home to Vancouver, where I would be seeing my family for the first time in six months. It was a long flight but I was nonetheless in a good mood due to the thought of the smiling faces waiting for me on the other side of the country. I took my seat comfortably by the window, pulled my book out of my backpack, and crossed my fingers that I would be able to sleep through the whole five hours. As the flight attendants were making announcements relevant to safety and other information regarding the flight, one of the pilots was continually interrupting the women to insert small comments or jokes. Because of the way the speaker system functioned, he was able to cut them off at his will. This drew some attention to the situation. He said over the intercom so that every passenger on the flight could hear: “Wouldn’t it be great, gentlemen, if we could always interrupt the ladies in our lives like this?” I heard myself say out loud, "No, it wouldn't." Although slightly embarrassed about talking to myself, I was assured in that moment that I needed to do something about this. There was rage in me and I felt responsible, as a feminist, to speak up. So I did. I wrote him a note (on a barf bag) of why his statement was problematic. It read:

A message from the woman in seat 16F:

Dear the (not so) funny captain of WestJet flight 719,

The joke that you made about women before takeoff was extremely inappropriate and unprofessional. Furthermore, your comment about how nice it would be for men to "interrupt the ladies" in their lives when they please promotes a culture that leads to domestic abuse and sexual assault. Why? Because as long as this type of language is acceptable, the extreme actions that go along with this mentality will be acceptable too. As long as these jokes are validated, so are the actions of men who everyday silence and disempower the women in their lives. Women are not on this planet for any other being's consumption or satisfaction. Jokes like the one you made at the beginning of this flight perpetuate a notion that men should have the ability to use women as they will. It is surprising to me that in 2016 people are still talking like this. Women's oppression should cease to be a source of humour. You can help change the fact that women are subordinate in our society by cutting out this type of language from your life. I hope that this note serves as a reminder to you of the power and privilege you hold as a male in a patriarchal world.

After sending it, I felt accomplished. I had taken action. I had done something on a micro level that could make an impact. I did not have a conversation with the pilot after the flight but I have shared this story enthusiastically and in plenty of forums, in order to educate and hopefully empower others to take actions like this in the future. Fighting the patriarchy involves education and action. It involves individuals and community. It involves passionate people who are ready and willing to speak up. I’ve identified as a feminist for three or four years now. I’ve been able to identify comments, spaces, and circumstances that are oppressive to women. Sometimes I’ve been in situations where I am able to speak out to relatives or friends who contribute to problematic patriarchal culture. This exchange on the plane, however, is the moment I felt the most empowered in my feminism thus far.


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Note to an Airline Pilot by Sammy Fogel is Blasted Tree original nonfiction.

Feature Image by Kyle Flemmer