Many of you have asked for an update on the Qantas situation. So here we go.
To catch you up on what happened:
1) I flew to Australia on Qantas and encountered a racist flight attendant.
2) I complained about it on my website/Twitter/Facebook.
3) Qantas suggested I delete my tweet about the incident “for my own privacy.” Ha ha ha ha. Good one. Then they sent a generic email saying they don’t condone what happened.
4) A reporter somehow found this story and wrote a piece about it, which spawned numerous other news outlets to run the story.
5) A woman named Judy from Qantas called me to profusely apologize, promise that they would take care of this, then offer me free frequent flyer points. Or lounge access. Or an upgrade “if one was available” for my flight home. Which is sort of like saying, “We are very sorry. Possibly. It depends.” Anyway, I told her that I wasn’t looking for freebies/handouts. I just wanted them to make better choices, and that I hoped the guy kept his job. Also, to please keep me posted about their progress and let me know if I can assist in any way.
And that brings us to my flight home from Sydney two weeks ago. Upon checking in at the airport I was given my regular economy seat, which I had fully expected, but also access to their Business Class Lounge. Rather than wait at the gate, I decided to take Qantas up on their offer and hang out upstairs with the one-percenters.
When I got to the gate and tried to board the jet, a buzzer sounded and I was told to visit the podium off to the side. The guy said, “Looks like you’re in business class. This must be your lucky day.” I guess they had room to be sorry after all?
I can’t tell you the name of the flight attendant who was assigned to my section, but I can report that she was friendly and all smiles. But I can tell you for sure that a guy named Mark was another flight attendant in business class.
I know this because Mark (who was “half-Chinese,” as he made a point to explain) came over to my seat to say what an enormous fan of mine he has been for years, how he follows me “on that thing on the internet,” and he proceeded to effusively praise me every time he passed by my seat (which was a lot). He gave me a bag of the first class toothbrush and sleep mask, with a wink and a “shhhh.” Mark even went so far as to say he was sorry that he didn’t get to catch any of my shows in Australia, and it saddened him because when he caught my shows in London some years ago it was the best time ever. And he kept quoting the same joke that he liked from the London show he went to.
There was only one problem: I HAVE NEVER PERFORMED IN LONDON. EVER.
In my mind I began to piece together the mystery. There is a YouTube clip (Paul Ogata vs The British Empire) of a performance where I make fun of British accents. This was shot in Hong Kong, which could be determined by anyone with the reading comprehension of an 8-year-old, or anybody who wasn’t quickly and lazily scanning the internet for ways to butter up a comedian. And it was also the reason why it was the only joke he could quote.
Someone at the airline (Was it Mark’s boss? Someone in Qantas PR? The CEO?) decided to do some damage control by giving this squeaky wheel some oil in the form of lounge access, upgrades and egregiously fawning flattery. Normally, comedians are such whores for this kind of adoration and affirmation. After all, it’s part of why we got into this business in the first place. But this? This was bullshit.
Mark invited me up to have a conversation with him in the galley, where I began investigating (I mean, engaging in friendly dialog) what kind of bullshittery was going on. Despite his continued assault of empty praise, I managed to do my best Lt. Columbo and get as close to the truth out of him as I could.
As I asked about his childhood, I discovered that Mark had lived in various places. I learned that he could speak some Japanese because he lived there as a child with his parents. And then, my Columbo moment. “Ah, excuse me. Just one more thing…” I asked why they left Japan.
He paused a moment, then forgetting to remain character he uttered, “It was because of the Kobe earthquake. I lost my two front teeth because of that thing. I hated everything Japanese since then.” It was such a Scooby-Doo-unmasking-of-Mr.-Jenkins-in-the-ghost-costume thing, that had I not been there I wouldn’t have believed it myself.
A long pause, then he looked up and continued the charade, “Until I saw you in London!” Nice save.
I suspect that someone at Qantas, perhaps the same genius in the PR department who advised me to delete my tweet about Qantas, found in Mark a face they felt would be most conducive to their act. “Okay, half-Chinese guy, get in there and tell this troublemaker that you’re his biggest fan and you’ve seen him before in London. Here’s the YouTube clip, study it!”
Upon my return I emailed Qantas’ CEO, Alan Joyce (firstname.lastname@example.org) to tell him of the odd flight I just took. And when I say “flight,” I mean, “poorly orchestrated house of lies in the sky.” Judy’s pledge to me over the phone that Qantas would take this matter seriously was now tarnished and I was looking for an explanation.
Of course I received a reply from Not Alan Joyce. A guy named Andrew McGinnes (no other identification or job title provided) wrote back with the standard denial. He proceeded to exonerate everyone in the Qantas organization, except the flight attendant. Instead, he offered as highly likely that Mark “had read about your experience on an earlier flight and was attempting to make your next experience a more pleasant one.”
In the audio briefings on every episode of Mission: Impossible, the instructions say, “If you or any of your IM Force are caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Poor Mark. He just got disavowed.
If there is anyone reading this who knows the logistics and inner workings of the airline industry, I’d love to hear whether or not Qantas’ official story checks out. Does a passenger with a last-minute upgrade have his name added to the manifest with enough time for a random flight attendant to research and concoct a fake story such as Mark’s?
The unfortunate coda to this incident is that it seems Qantas is unable and/or unwilling to enact changes in its tolerance/support of racism. I offered to help. Instead, they invested their time and energy into this silly, sad plan. Next time, just have the flight attendant wear Freddie Mercury’s eyeball leotard so we know he’s pretending and we can avoid this whole charade.
“Oh yes, I’m the great pretender. Just laughing and gay like a clown. I seem to be what I’m not.”
— The Platters / Freddie Mercury / Qantas / Mark