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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Up in the Air. . .with Cellos

The other night, "The Colbert Report" featured a story about Lynn Harrell, a classical cellist embroiled in a dispute with Delta Airlines:

I enjoyed the bit, and I hate to nitpick. . . Well, that's not true, I enjoy nitpicking, so here goes:

I wanted more from this story than just the spoof of traditional right-wing hysteria over threats to "traditional" marriage.  I want someone to confront Delta Airlines over the treatment of this wonderfully strange but apparently good-natured individual--who happens to be absolutely right in this dispute with Delta.

I have never bothered to enroll in any "Frequent Flier" programs: I fly infrequently enough--and with no particular regard to which airline I choose--that I would never accrue enough mileage to make enrollment worthwhile.  At the same time, though, I assumed I had a basic understanding of how these programs work: A passenger accumulates miles based on the distance he or she travels.  Airlines offer frequent-flier miles as an incentive for loyalty: The more often you fly a particular airline, the more miles you accumulate with said airline.  Of course, the airline benefits from this arrangement, too, as frequent-fliers continue to fill the coffers of their preferred airline as they accumulate miles.

Now, Delta's position in the Harrell case is that a cello--even one so adorably named as "Cello Harrell"--is not a human being and thus cannot accumulate frequent-flier mileage.  Apparently, Delta executives are unaware that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not include frequent flier mileage. 

(DIGRESSION: Surprising, but true: When the Declaration was being drafted, the authors debated long and hard over whether to include frequent-flier miles.  They opted to include "Freedom from arbitrary arrest and exile" instead, and we have had to live with the consequences ever since. EOD)

More to the point, if the purpose of frequent-flier programs is to encourage passengers to fly repeatedly with one airline--in other words, to buy more and more tickets on that airline's flights--then what possible difference does it make to the airline whether the ticket being purchased is ultimately used by a person or by a cello--or, indeed, by no one and nothing at all?  The airline still reaps the financial reward it sought when it offered the mileage program in the first place.

My suggestion: If Delta wants to declare that a cello deserves none of the rights and privileges bestowed upon human beings--because it's not a human being--then that's fine. But then the Delta corporation--which is also not a human being--should not receive any of the rights and privileges afforded to human beings, either: No voting rights, no rights to make political contributions, etc.

Looked at this way. . . . Well, Lynn Harrell may just get his frequent-flier miles back, after all.  You're welcome, Lynn.

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