The New Fear Is All Around
Yesterday morning I boarded an Easyjet flight in Barcelona, packed because it’s a long weekend there, and two well-spoken smart Millennials sat beside me. We were taxiing out to the runway when one of them got out of his seat and asked to see a crew member. He then insisted on getting off without saying why.
The plane was halted, his mystified friend accompanied him, but the cause of the problem still wasn’t clear. The Guardia Civil boarded the plane and police cars arrived. Meanwhile, the stewardess started searching the overhead lockers, then taking up all the seats around me, looking for a bag.
It transpired that the Millennial had overheard a comment passed between three Muslim guys in the next rows and was seized by a terrorist panic attack. The Muslims had their passports taken and checked, and were then taken off the plane along with the original two. Then an American family panicked and demanded to be let off the plane as well.
The panic spread, and it was decided to return the plane to the stand and empty it. We waited in the terminal and eventually, after a total search of every section of the plane was conducted, we set off for London minus five passengers.
This had the eerie effect of duplicating the opening of the first ‘Final Destination’ film, but the flight was fine, and made less painful by the EasyJet crew, who were superb, and remind me why I rate this airline so highly (so long as you never fly on Friday nights, after the aircraft has been through French air space and racked up massive delays).
The Millennial had seemed normal, calm, bookish, but a stray remark had thrown his world upside down. In his panic he caused hundreds of people to miss their connections, the airline to be fined and delays to knock on throughout the network.
Fear is irrational. Conquering it is a skill that needs to be learned. It’s a problem that must be affecting many of today’s young. Footballers are now having to be taught how to fall, having never fallen over in a school playground in their lives. We grew up playing violent street games and rarely returned without scabs or bruises. Similarly I was aware of death and illness, and the perils of fighting, being bullied or having accidents, all of which I was encouraged to sort out for myself. Questioning strangers and conducting general face-to-face conversations was the norm.
I can’t be annoyed at the panicking passenger. He sat on the tarmac with his face turned from the flight, clearly mortified by what he had done. He lives in a world that has cosseted and kept him at a distance from experience, so that he rarely has to sort out his own problems.
At Victoria Underground Station, when conditions are so horrendous that the platforms regularly need to be shut because of overcrowding, there is no fear because people can take action and choose not to use the place. But the threat of terrorism – something Londoners have lived with all their lives because of the long history of IRA atrocities in the capital – worries Millennials more than most. Perhaps they are the first generation who have grown up expecting their actions to have no consequences.