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Please Advise! Who’s Winning the Political Battle of the Skies?

No one, says Dr. Steve. But no one ever wins when the airlines are involved.

Steve Burgess 14 Sep 2023The Tyee

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has finally flown home from India after being delayed by a mechanical malfunction on the government aircraft. The Canadian entourage was grounded for days while the problem was fixed.

Is this a serious embarrassment for the PM?



Dear Sully,

Equipment failure — it certainly sounds like a euphemism. When you get into politics you waive your right to complain about cheap schoolyard metaphors.

Trudeau has had bad luck in India generally — his 2018 visit was even worse.

And surely adding to his pain was the fancy in-flight treatment recently granted to the Opposition leader. Last Sunday on a return flight to Calgary from the Conservative party convention in Quebec City, Pierre Poilievre was permitted to take over the public address system for a little speech.

Poilievre was not acting in a staff capacity at the time. But Dr. Steve is curious about what flight attendant Poilievre would likely say to passengers: “Please unbuckle your seatbelt to free yourself from nanny-state tyranny. We have removed the wasteful government flotation devices from beneath your seats — there is no water in Saskatchewan, and anyway you should have learned to swim. Should there be a loss of cabin pressure a donation form will drop from the overhead compartment. If you want oxygen, give generously. And remember, this was all Trudeau’s fault.”

WestJet defended its decision to allow Poilievre’s actual cabin speech by pointing out the flight had been scheduled largely to accommodate Conservative convention-goers, so it was almost like a charter. But some, like Jann Arden, were upset. “Hey WestJet,” the entertainer tweeted, “You and I will not be doing business ever again.”

While Dr. Steve sympathizes with Arden, he would caution her about this tactic. There are only so many airlines in Canada you can boycott. And the other one throws you off the flight if you complain about vomit.

On an Aug. 26 Air Canada flight from Las Vegas to Montreal, two passengers complained that what happens in Vegas had stayed on their seats. Vomit left by a previous passenger had not been properly cleaned up. In response to their complaints the passengers were eventually escorted off the plane and threatened with being added to a no-fly list.

This incident may solve an ongoing mystery. Viewers of the classic documentary This is Spinal Tap will recall the group’s drummer choked on vomit — “Someone else’s vomit,” as A and members explained. Might the band have been flying Air Canada at the time? They would make great brand ambassadors for the national airline.

It’s been quite a month for airline emissions. Earlier this month a Delta flight bound for Barcelona headed back to Atlanta because some serious shit was going down. Specifically, it was going down the aisles after an unfortunate passenger suffered a catastrophic sphincter malfunction. Back in Atlanta the carpet was ripped out and replaced. The plane was thoroughly scrubbed. And let us hope the in-flight menu was reviewed. It would not be the first airline emergency caused after someone had the fish.

All of this offers a possible silver lining to Trudeau’s airplane troubles. The PM has been down badly in recent polls. Why not lean into his flight difficulties? A photo of Trudeau wedged into seat 37E with a sleeping Defence Minister Bill Blair drooling on his shoulder might do wonders for his relatability. Hopping up and down while standing fourth in line for one of the economy class bathrooms — see, he’s just like you, folks.

As it is, there’s a real sad-sack atmosphere hanging around Trudeau at present. Even the news that he was finally able to fly home had to be qualified — for Canadian prime ministers, home is not what it used to be. Sussex Drive is currently a rat-infested ruin where residents could potentially suffer more falling bricks than they do in question period.

But woe to those who would propose any upgrade to government planes or residences. You might as well ask Parliament for a blood diamond tiara and a human footstool. Seeking funds for improved government facilities — or pay — is like dressing up as Marie Antoinette on Labour Day. No politician wants to risk it.

Lucky dictators — they don’t have such problems. All the same, the prime minister might take a hint from North Korea’s Number One Dude Kim Jong Un, who recently travelled to Russia to meet Putin, and did so in his usual sweet ride — an armoured train. It’s green, both literally and environmentally — just the thing for state visits.

Not suitable for trips to India, you say? Even better, prime minister. Even better.  [Tyee]

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