What Not to Sing on Airplanes


This past week, an American Airlines flight from LAX to JFK made an emergency landing in Kansas City after an obstreperous female passenger somehow made the flight crew feel jeopardized by refusing to cease performing songs associated with the late Whitney Houston. Video footage taken by another passenger (in spite of one of the jeopardized-feeling flight crew loudly, and not credibly, asserting that photography was forbidden on the plane), reveals that the woman caterwauled the Dolly Parton-composed favorite “I Will Always Love You” as she was given the bum’s rush at Kansas City International Airport.

The woman later claimed that her obstreperousness was the result of diabetes. From unpleasant first-hand experience, I can confirm that even diabetics who are wonderfully genial when their blood sugar levels are normal can become deeply unpleasant when they neglect to take their insulin. Some years ago I had in my scripted sketch comedy revue, The San Francisco Hysterical Society, an actor called Matt K—, who couldn’t have been sweeter on a bet. But at the dress rehearsal before our debut at Teatro v. Wade (it’s a pun, and a wonderful one, and all my own) just off Van Ness Avenue, he suddenly decided not to say any of his own characters’ lines, but my characters’, and to sneer at me while doing so, as though to demand, “Whatcha going to do about it?”

But I digress.

I blame American Idol for the flight crew’s being unable to abide the woman. She was, after all, only singing. Had not approximately 45 million future pop sensations performed “I Will Always Love You”, almost always with the utmost tremulousness, on various reality shows in the past decade, there’s a good chance the American flight crew, and the woman’s fellow passengers, would have been charmed, rather than annoyed—would, in fact, have thought to themselves, “Ooh, I do like that one, and vividly remember the much-played video, in which La Houston’s lower lip quivered so expressively during the final chorus,” rather than conspired to truncate her journey. Due to over-saturation, I am willing to bet that the Toni Braxton-popularized “Unbreak My Heart” and the Dusty Springfield-popularized “Son of a Preacher Man” would have met with at least as hostile a reception. (At one point early in this century, it was my view that only male contestants should be allowed to perform the latter song, but my letter to Simon Cowell went unanswered.)

Many people believe that if the American Airlines diabetic passenger had been a much better singer, she might not have been given the old heave-ho, but the ongoing popularity of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, for instance, suggests that a significant proportion of the pop music audience finds deeply imperfect vocals more interesting, engaging, or expressive than those on American Idol and on the top of the pop charts. In my view, MadTV, on which the sublime Debra Wilson used to perform an hilariously cruel imitation of Whitney Houston was, at its worst, around 200 times funnier than Saturday Night Live has been since around 1979.

Though we may not all agree with the actions aboard the aircraft, which culminated with a federal air marshal who “subdued the woman and put her in cuffs and removed her from the plane,” so says Joe McBride, the spokesman for Kansas City International Airport, we can agree that The Beatles’ version of the Wilbert Harrison-popularized “Kansas City” was very much more wonderful for their having combined it into a medley with Little Richard’s “Hey Hey Hey Hey”, and would have made a more appropriate song choice for the woman on board.

Little Richard, by the way, was never thrown off a commercial flight, but made a deal early in his career to stop singing the devil’s music if God would prevent from crashing the airplane in which he was flying between Australian dates.

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Comments (Showing 2 of 2)

  • Dkad at 3:21pm May 15, 2013

    At least this was the Pax.
    The most “interesting” song I have heard on a plane was on MAD-LHR with Iberia: Killing Me Softly.
    This was while boarding with the tune coming out right inside the plane speakers!! It was the most uncomfortable walk to my seat.
    What on earth were they thinking? I get that most of the Pax were Spanish, but hey! Killing softly while boarding a plane is beyond comprehension.

  • roberino at 7:19am May 16, 2013

    Crash! Boom! Bang! by Roxette surely has to be on the list, or Crash and Burn by Nadia Ali.

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