Executive First Class
Mrs. Abby Rothberg
48 North Hill Drive NW
Calgary, AB, T2N 1N4
Dear Mrs. Rothberg,
We were very sorry to receive your letter, dated December 6, and the attached Statement of Claim regarding your filed lawsuit against Canada Air. Please let me offer my most sincere and deepest condolences for your loss. Due to the nature of the upcoming legal proceedings, I must be clear that although I am writing you with the knowledge and care of a Canada Air Communications Specialist, the contents of this note are written strictly from an individual standpoint (from Stuart Tweed the man, rather than Stuart Tweed, long-term Canada Air employee). I cannot speak on behalf of Canada Air, but I was especially drawn to your story because of my own ongoing wariness of flying, and want to address some of the concerns in your letter, forwarded to my department on Monday afternoon.
I hope you’ll allow me to be frank for a moment, Mrs. Rothberg. It seems to me that you believe the death of your son (Andrew Rothberg, God rest his soul) could have been prevented if the aircraft he was on was crash-proof? While this may be true, there is some speculation that your son, Andrew, died of cardiac arrest before the plane even hit the ground. He was entering middle-age and, presumably, did not have the healthiest eating habits, according to the cholesterol levels recorded in his deceased passenger file, which I pulled this morning. Not that I’m judging, mind you—no. I enjoy a powdered donut or extra side of crisp bacon as much as anyone. And, in any case, our aircrafts are not entirely crash-proof. There is no way to make a whole airplane crash-proof, Mrs. Rothberg. Trust me, we’re trying.
As you now know, Mrs. Rothberg—you’ve indicated as much in the second half of the first page of your letter—Canada Air does have a rather new initiative we are all proud of, that offers Executive First Class (EFC) travelers a cabin that is, in fact, 100% crash-resistant. This option, highly praised by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, is available in the Airbraer fleet—the Airbraer 250 (26 planes, phased in 3 years ago) and the Airbraer 300 (40 planes, new this last September)—and seats can be purchased at approximately an 895% increase in Economy Class ticket price. Therefore, if your average one-way Economy Class ticket from Calgary to, say, Montreal, is $260, an upgrade to EFC would cost you around $2327. While this might seem like a lot of money for one flight, I always say you can’t put a price on the guaranteed physical safety of you and your loved ones, can you, Mrs. Rothberg? For me, personally, I can no longer consider—can no longer conceive of considering—flying Economy Class, Economy Plus Class, or even Business Second Class for any journey, after the incident. “Sure,” you might be saying to yourself as you read this, “it’s easy enough for him to say. He probably gets a pretty discount since he works for Canada Air.” But let me stop you right there, Mrs. Rothberg. I pay the exact same 895% price increase as you do. Or I will, if I ever travel by air again, a possibility I am trying to remain open to and positive about.
Not that there aren’t other career benefits to take advantage of. Canada Air values its many employees, and offers a comprehensive healthcare package that allowed me to visit Dr. Gerry Shrimbauld three times a week for the fifteen months I needed to do so, completely free of charge. You show me another national company willing to pay for over $60,000 in mental wellness fees for just one person! Dr. Shrimbauld is a gentle, caring man, and I will attach his card in case you wish to seek professional support during this hard time in your own life. Granted, he’s located in Montreal (rather far from your home) but he is one of the leading trauma specialists in the country. And, Dr. Shrimbauld occasionally conducts sessions over Skype for “severe cases.” Say, for instance, you can’t brave the Metro, or manage to shed your bathrobe, or even turn on any lights, and instead you huddle inside your empty, dark apartment, feeling empty and dark inside yourself too, eating only Ritz crackers and coffee until Mrs. Armstren from next door brings a stew and sets it outside on the cheery red “Welcome Home!” hand-hooked mat you can’t bear to look at—Dr. Shrimbauld can still be there for you, on the glowing surface of an iPad screen. Since your current circumstance is certainly serious, I am happy to pass your name along, as I am still one of Dr. S’s more frequent clients and hold some sway in his office (I brought the reception staff homemade lemon shortbread just last week).
Anyway, as a long-time employee of Canada Air—15 years in February, not including the 13 months that I was off work—I am entitled to discounts in all other sections of our planes, for myself and one “travel friend,” formerly my wife, Janet, God rest her soul. However, Executive First Class costs a lot to keep up, what with the airfare percentage allotted to further research into crash-resistant technologies, and the (somewhat larger) portion put away for lawyers’ fees (for cases just like yours!). The company must fund these unavoidable costs, you see, which explains the absence of an employee discount in this one particular cabin. My point is, Mrs. Rothberg, purchasing a ticket for EFC (something your son, unfortunately, did not do) is, definitively, the best option in today’s travel economy. Would you find it helpful for me to explain the process of Canada Air’s current crash-resistant technologies, so you can better understand the mechanical makeup of the “death-machine that murdered your son” (your words, page 3, right before the salutation) and perhaps, then, re-think your decision to sue our company?
The Executive First Class cabin of the Airbraer models is, as with previous EFC sections, located at the front of the aircraft. It contains sixteen seats, placed 2-2 in four rows. In addition to the curtain that has always shielded priority clients from having to view passengers sitting back in Economy class, there is now also a hydraulic, vacuum-sealable door, made from composite materials similar to those that construct the outer shell of the airplane, designed to close if the aircraft experiences a sudden change in pressure—like when a plane is free-falling from the sky—that then physically separates the Executive First Class section from the rest of the aircraft. I do not know exact calculations on the speeds at which planes fall. There are not a lot of tests that allow various airplane models to free-fall from the sky in the name of science, Mrs. Rothberg, as it is extremely cost-prohibitive, and, as you see from my custom notecard stationery, I am not a physicist. But I can tell you that during the average sky-diving jump, humans can accelerate to a terminal velocity of roughly 55-60 metres per second (m/s)—or is it metres per second per second (m/s²)?—and planes fall more efficiently than humans. I think. Although, if the plane was fairly horizontal, it would meet with more wind resistance than a diver. But remember, planes are streamlined for careening through the air at very fast speeds. I think it is enough to say, Mrs. Rothberg, that when an airplane is free-falling, it is going pretty fast. If you’d like more on this, I can forward you to Sal, my friend in engineering. She’s not in until Friday, or I would call her now.
So, if the aircraft, in this scenario experiencing what we call an “uncontrolled emergency pre-landing,” does not regain a pressure stasis within 6 seconds, the outer hydraulics system also kicks in. This mechanism, automatic and solar/wind powered, causes the sealed-off cockpit and Executive First Class section (which make up roughly 1/3 of the plane’s length) to move upwards and over top of Economy Class (the middle 1/3 of the total length). Simultaneously, large, flat, balloon-like sacs inflate inside and above the now-bottom section of the craft, and serve as flotation and cushioning devices at the time of collision. Emergency wings and chutes unfold from the top part of the aircraft, in order to assist with stabilization, causing the plane to slow slightly and re-gain its horizontal position with regard to the Earth. If the airplane’s emergency landing location is on solid ground, EFC is cushioned by the inflatable sacs and whatever other organic padding matter happens to be below it, which absorb the force of the impact. If at sea, the top part of the aircraft is buoyed, due again to the flotation devices and air-filled cabins below the surface, somewhat like an iceberg.
Therefore, clients seated in the Executive First Class section of the airplane are afforded a 100% chance of survival if the plane lands on ground or in water, as the cabin is also fire-retardant and pressure-sealed. Each EFC seat has stores of oxygen to ensure that priority clientele is comfortable while Canada Air sends rescue vehicles (luxury SUVs on land, and recovery yachts at sea) to the scene. Medical emergencies, such as a later-diagnosed episode of “acute stress disorder and resultant psychotic break, with lasting effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and a tenuous (at best) hold on reality at any given time” can occur in some rare cases, especially if passengers have loved ones in other sections of the aircraft—such as one’s best friend and wife of 17 years—but survival of the emergency landing conditions is guaranteed.
The statistics of emergency landings gathered over the last 36 months as part of a study on overall customer satisfaction for Airbraer Canada Air flights (an initiative I was briefly involved in for the purpose of “hands-on experience,” including some quite unexpected “experience” because, Mrs. Rothberg, most planes do not engage in emergency landing techniques at all—and, as an added bonus, the initiative afforded me a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to fly for free in the new and improved Executive First Class cabin) suggest that passengers in Economy Plus Class and Business Second Class, located in the back third of the plane, have around a 38-69% chance of survival in a ground landing and 4-14% chance in a water landing. Economy Class, where your son, Andrew, was sitting, has similar figures in water, 3-12%, and, unfortunately, slightly lower on land, at 0-4%.
While I don’t think you are by any means wrong, Mrs. Rothberg, in seeking restitution for your son Andrew’s death (and I do also appreciate your apt comparison of the physical layout of an Airbraer in emergency landing position to a sort of feudalism) I urge you to reconsider your decision to sue Canada Air. Canada Air has a robust team of savvy, well-trained lawyers, Mrs. Rothberg. Tim, for instance. Tim, who is a nice man when you get to know him, heads up the Legal Department for Crash-Resistant Technologies Consequences (or the “Crushed-Fund,” a little play on words that the lawyers use for these cases when they think no one else is around). Tim and his team were all top graduates from Harvard and Yale. These are very good law schools, Mrs. Rothberg. The best. The Yale Law School coat of arms doesn’t have a greyhound and an alligator for nothing, you know. Tim has this whole joke about chasing down the truth and clamping on—ha, ha, Tim!
Although I am prohibited from going into detail, I can say with confidence that in cases similar to your own, complainants have not had any great successes. You indicate you’re willing to “give whatever it takes” to this case, but I am concerned, Mrs. Rothberg, that you might not understand just how much this company can still extract from you—take it from me. It might seem that Canada Air has already stolen everything of importance in your life and turned you into a hollow shell of the man you once were, but you still have so much more to lose. You did not mention your monetary resources in your correspondence, for example, but the legal team certainly has more. They can (and likely will) bankrupt you, destroying your dreams of a fulfilling retirement as sole proprietor of a small antique store/restoration workshop/ice cream parlour out north of Gatineau. Your mental health is important to retain, too, Mrs. Rothberg, in general and for the purpose of the many trial dates you will undoubtedly need to attend. Trust me. If you are seen as “unreasonable” or “a complete wing-nut” or “unable to follow the simplest instructions,” the judge and the court will not take you seriously. And the more you become obsessed with fighting Canada Air, the more you may neglect your remaining family members, like your husband, Bill, and younger son, Edward, whom you mention on page 2 of your letter.
They might slowly come to resent you, Mrs. Rothberg, and although they were not on the flight and do not understand what kind of guilt that presents for you, they might begrudge the fact that you are the one who made it out alive. Your wife’s sister’s tone might be disdainful when she calls to ask how “your case” is progressing, as if she blames you not only for the plane crash but for every area of tension the family has experienced since, like Jeremy’s fling with cocaine or your father-in-law’s slow descent into alcoholism, but doesn’t she understand, Mrs. Rothberg, that I can’t control every situation? Doesn’t she understand that sometimes we think we know the best path to follow when in fact it turns out to be the worst? And that sometimes airplanes fall from the sky and sometimes it is just better to be rich? And that yes, Mrs. Rothberg, maybe a combined degree in Communications and English was not the most economical decision, but is that really what is to blame here?
What it comes down to, Mrs. Rothberg, is a choice. Your son, Andrew, made the decision to save his hard-earned money—a laudable option, in my opinion—and fly Economy Class. The lawyers at Canada Air will see through all the arguments your attorney will make about mechanical failure, or unfair safety allocation, or the plane’s classist undertones. They will tell you what I am telling you now and what, I think, you already know. Your son, Andrew, chose to sit in Economy Class on Flight 045 to Halifax from Calgary. He even chose his seat, 22 hours before the flight was to take off at 08:56 on November 27. Andrew made a choice and he made the wrong one, Mrs. Rothberg. We’ve all been there. Please heed my advice and try to move on.
Please also accept my offer of a coupon for 15% off Executive First Class tickets for your next Canada Air trip!
Safety and Development Communications Specialist
Jess Nicol’s creative work has appeared in places like filling Station magazine, antilang. magazine, and online at McSweeney's Internet Tendency. She is a PhD student at the University of Calgary.