I’m not a nervous flyer but I am a nervous arriver. I am not a punctual person which is why I find the process of actually reaching the airport so stressful. But once I’ve checked in, of course, everything is fine, or, at least, if something bad happens, it will be a mechanical problem and not something I could have solved by leaving 15 minutes earlier. Unless we hit something, the airline will look after me.
So that’s part of why I find Ryanair’s response – or rather, the lack of one – to the case of Delsie Gayle, the 77-year-old black British pensioner who was racially abused on one of their flights so disturbing.
The incident itself is chilling enough. While the man shouting abuse – named by Mail Online as David Mesher, a 70-year-old retired railway worker – is not young himself he is visibly less frail than Gayle. When you learn that Gayle was returning from a holiday to mark the first anniversary of the death of her husband of more than 50 years, and read that since the incident she has been too depressed to leave the house, the incident becomes even more harrowing.
But Mesher’s behaviour, while shocking, is not out of the ordinary. The biographical pattern painted by his neighbours is what we expect of someone engaging in racist and aggressive behaviour: living alone, with few friends, lacking in either professional or romantic success, exactly the biography of someone with little solace in their own life who instead opts to find it in the “purity” of their own race.
Whereas Ryanair’s behaviour – that’s more unexpected and more chilling. Like all airlines, Ryanair retains the contractual right to remove passengers who engage in threatening behaviour towards their staff or other passengers, and Mesher’s behaviour clearly crossed that line. Forget for a moment the racist element of his behaviour: anyone ought to have the basic expectation that if someone starts yelling at them they are a “bastard” and they won’t sit next to them on a plane, that person yelling will be taken off the plane, as that sanction protects all of us from abuse.
So why did Ryanair not exercise its right to remove Mesher? Was it because as a low-cost airline, the delay caused by removing someone in engaging in foul abuse was a price they couldn’t afford? Was it because, as Gayle’s daughter suggested, they simply didn’t regard an elderly black woman being subjected to an abusive tirade in the way they would have done had she been white?
Either scenario puts Ryanair – who have at time of writing yet to contact the Gayles to talk about what happened – in a bad light. Do they think that protection from abuse is something that passengers shouldn’t have because they are flying cheaply or because they are flying while black? Neither speaks well of them as an airline or a corporation.