Conservatives Boycotting ‘Woke’ Airlines Over DEI

Conservatives Boycotting ‘Woke’ Airlines Over DEI

Nervous fliers are nothing new, and the fear of air travel is as common as they come. But a cohort of right-wingers have convinced themselves that planes are more dangerous than ever because of airlines’ diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies, which they baselessly argue have put unqualified flight crews in the cockpit. Lately, some have even expressed racist doubts in the abilities of Black pilots or pledged not to fly on commercial carriers that support for the LGBTQ community.

Although DEI has become a favorite boogeyman for conservatives of late — supplanting a moral panic over the supposed inclusion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in grade-school curricula — the focus on planes is the result of actual safety concerns about Boeing’s 737 Max 9 model. One such aircraft, operated by Alaska Airlines, had a panel of its fuselage blow out mid-flight on Jan. 5, causing rapid depressurization and necessitating an emergency landing. Early analysis of the accident has indicated a possible bolt failure, and Boeing is now under scrutiny for possible manufacturing errors. The FAA has meanwhile grounded other Max 9s in service.

Rather than hold Boeing to account, however, some culture warriors have opted to build a narrative around the airlines, accusing Alaska and others of creating unsafe flying conditions with initiatives to employ more women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals. They falsely claim such diversity goals are now the only criteria in the hiring process, over and above the ability to “effectively fly an airplane,” as Michael Seifert, CEO of an “pro-America” online shopping website, put it earlier this month.

There’s zero proof that recruiting pilots who aren’t white men (still the overwhelming majority of the profession) puts airline passengers at risk. The companies also aren’t hiring pilots who lack proper training or credentials. The last fatal commercial airline crash in the U.S. was almost 15 years ago, and a 2020 study by an MIT professor found that commercial travel is safer than ever — 10 times safer than it was four decades prior. And, again, industry experts suspect the Alaska Airlines incident will trace back to Boeing, whose troubles with this generation of 737s date back to two crashes abroad in 2018 and 2019 that killed hundreds, costing the company billions in fines and legal fees as they redesigned a faulty maneuvering system.

Yet the anti-DEI crowd has used this latest frightening episode (which the flight crew handled expertly) to air grievances over what they view as affirmative action for the workplace, painting bogus scenarios of how “woke” corporate branding could potentially bring down a plane with you and your family aboard. Initially, far-right influencers trained their attack on Alaska Airlines: Chaya Raichik, who runs the anti-LGBTQ hate account “Libs of TikTok” on X/Twitter, on Jan. 11 shared clips from the company’s Pride promotions and complained that they were “making their planes gay” and “having drag queen flight attendants” rather than ensuring customer safety. “If you’re on an Alaska plane, just pray their diversity hires don’t screw up,” she added.

The scope of the outrage only widened in the following weeks, with nearly every major airline blasted for similar marketing and diversity programs. Canadian alt-right podcaster Jeremy MacKenzie tweeted footage of an Atlas Air Boeing 747 cargo plane that made an emergency landing in Miami after suffering an engine fire on Jan. 18, writing, “The industry has become too dangerously incompetent to survive,” and “Guess you should have hired for skill and ability rather than DIVERSITY.” After a wheel came off a taxiing Delta Air Lines jet Boeing 757 at the Atlanta airport on Saturday, conservative influencer @MJTruthUltra shared a video about it on X, asking “Who’s Flying DEI this year?” Virgin Atlantic, which had a flight canceled on Jan. 15 when a passenger noticed screws were missing from the wing of the Airbus A330, drew condemnation for their Pride commercials.

On Monday, Mike O’Fallon, a conservative blogger whose website endorses the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, fumed on X that the airline JetBlue’s ad partnership with RuPaul’s Drag Race was part of a “Neo-Marxist DEI strategy.” In a streaming panel discussion Tuesday, Turning Point USA director Charlie Kirk said, “I’m sorry. If I see a Black pilot, I’m going to be like, ‘Boy, I hope he’s qualified.’” (Facing backlash, he later defended the comment as a “logical statement.”) The same day, Donald Trump Jr. warned in a tweet that “woke insanity inside airlines is putting us on a collision course — literally.”

With all this bashing of brands, it was perhaps inevitable that one would be singled out for the Bud Light treatment — that is, a full-on boycott based on resentment over liberal values. United Airlines happened to fit the bill, not only because CEO Scott Kirby said in a 2021 interview that United had a target goal of women and people of color making up 50 percent of the classes in their pilot training academy (Elon Musk was among those to criticize him for these efforts), but because videos of him in drag at Halloween parties in years past started making the rounds on far-right social media.

Comedian Rob Schneider tried to get the ball rolling on an official boycott Sunday, announcing via X that he would no longer fly United due to a belief that “diversity” was endangering passengers. He cited a 2022 incident in which miscommunication between co-pilots led to the rapid descent of a plane that narrowly avoided crashing into the Pacific Ocean, but got the date wrong, tagged a defunct account, misspelled “decent” as “dissent,” and was evidently unaware that the two pilots on that flight were male.

Still, he garnered support from like-minded followers, with more than a few saying they would avoid flying on United and other “woke” airlines — or quit flying altogether. “Until DEI is over, my family and I have agreed to no longer fly,” read one reply to the X account @EndWokeness, yet another influencer pushing the line that such policies make air travel riskier.

Short of chartering private jets, that seems to be the one option for those opposed to “diversity” as a concept in the aviation industry — since basically all the big commercial carriers have adopted messaging and strategies aimed at inclusivity and demographically broader hiring pools. And, since ill-conceived right-wing boycotts rarely tend to hurt the businesses they target in the long term, it’s entirely plausible that the true outcome of this backlash is fewer passengers spewing toxic politics to their seatmates. Friendly skies, indeed.


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