Vinay Menon: Bill O’Reilly’s airport meltdown is a preview of what travellers can expect this summer

A JetBlue employee has learned what TV viewers know: Bill O’Reilly has a bad temper.

An airline employee learned what TV viewers know: Bill O’Reilly has a bad temper.

This can’t be a peachy time to toil in customer service. I don’t know if it’s pent-up aggression from the pandemic or creeping inflationary fears or a glitch in the 2022 simulation. But man alive, there is a lot of anger out there.

Airports and airplanes are now hot zones for public meltdowns.

So after watching a video this week published by the Daily Mail, my heart went out to the calm JetBlue staffer inside New York’s JFK Airport. One second, this poor guy is scrutinizing manifests; the next he’s getting harangued by O’Reilly.

Per the Daily Mail: “‘You f–ing scumbag!’ Seething Bill O’Reilly is seen threatening JetBlue worker as his flight to Turks and Caicos was delayed for FIVE HOURS …”

OK. A five-hour delay would be aggravating for all awaiting boarding. I get it. What I don’t get is O’Reilly’s misplaced hostility. I recall sitting inside an Air Canada plane in the dead of winter that needed to be de-iced. There was a lot of grumbling in the cabin. But as I looked out the window, watching workers in reflective vests firehose the wings with what looked like grape Kool-Aid, I didn’t grasp the moaning.

Yeah, it’s a bummer to not reach our destination on time.

But would you prefer we not reach our destination at all?

They are not de-icing this plane for de-fun. I had the exact same reaction watching this O’Reilly video. Why is he trying to intimidate this guy behind the counter? O’Reilly, with his mask pulled down, shouts: “You’re gonna lose your job.”

Bill, this dude upon whom you are funneling wrath, this patient man holding up his badge so you can accurately identify the correct employee to be terminated, is not the pilot. He’s not doing safety checks. He’s not in air traffic control. He’s not responsible for delays to your tropical vacation that may or may not involve loofahs and falafels. Numbnut, he has no say when your flight leaves!

I fear we are morphing from a viral pandemic to a rage endemic. I see it on the roads. I sense it in line at the ATM. I hear it in grocery stores. Sometimes, I feel it in my own soul, though that’s mostly because my wife sends me to market with a list and she has the handwriting of an ER doctor and suddenly I’m squinting at a piece of paper and trying to decipher if I’ve been dispatched for spaghetti or succotash.

Why can’t we just order Chinese tonight? I don’t have time for this food Sudoku.

It’s almost as if this pandemic has flipped a switch and given the green light to bad behaviour in public. It’s almost as if some people have been cooped up so long, they have amnesia to the very idea of civilization. On Monday, I got a haircut — my third during the entire pandemic — and two guys on the Danforth were jawing at one another. I have no clue what triggered the dispute. But it seemed intense for 10 a.m. I thought about intervening, but then remembered I’m a coward and quickened my pace. I’ve been watching too many videos of people violently losing their cool.

The other day, TMZ posted a video from a hockey game in our once peaceful city: “A Toronto Maple Leafs fan ruthlessly pummeled another man — raining punches down from the full mount position — in one of the most violent fan fights ever, and the altercation was captured on video.” I was shocked. I remember going to Leaf games as kid and it was like being at church. Everyone was sitting on their hands, not balling up their fists and wailing on bespectacled fans in the aisles.

Earlier this month, on opening day, a Jays fan was arrested for punching a cop.

What is going on here? Why are people totally out of control? And why is air travel ground zero for a spike in unhinged disturbances? For crying out loud, Wikipedia now has a page titled, “List Of Air Rage Incidents.”

This includes an “incident” this year, in which a 29-year-old on a flight from Dublin refused to wear a mask and then “exposed his buttocks repeatedly to passengers and staff,” before throwing an “empty beverage can at a passenger and charging into first class to complain about the food in economy.”

Remember when crying babies were the biggest horror of air travel? Good times.

I now read more stories about “air rage” in a month than I did in my entire life. It’s frightening. My wife really wants us to do a family vacation this summer, maybe take the kids to Europe to make up for the two-plus years they endured during this pandemic black hole of misery. I’m already dreading getting to wherever we decide to go.

If you encounter road rage, you can at least drive away from the maniac. I once witnessed garden centre rage. It was oddly amusing to see someone get so worked up over a flyer misprint of black soil pricing. But there is nothing amusing when you are on a plane at 30,000 feet and a fellow passenger is vowing to storm the cockpit if he is not given a 10th gin and tonic and crypto.

Just when you thought it was safe to fly again, the flyers are bonkers.

Make no mistake: Bill O’Reilly’s antics this week were not an aberration.

They were a trailer of what’s to come this summer.

Vinay Menon is the Star’s pop culture columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @vinaymenon

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