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Keith Alexander

Puzzling Over Expressions of Faith in Flight

By Keith L. Alexander
Tuesday, March 29, 2005; Page E01

When United Airlines Flight 991 landed at Los Angeles International Airport on March 14, the flight attendant welcomed the passengers to their destination and thanked them for flying the airline.

Then she said something that passenger Ken Bicknell had never heard on an aircraft's public address system. The attendant concluded her remarks with "God bless you all."

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Bicknell was startled and wondered if a flight attendant should offer such a comment in what was essentially a workplace environment.

"I just wondered if it was appropriate," said Bricknell, a San Francisco-based government consultant. "You're a captive audience and you have to listen to what the flight attendant tells you."

Religion in the workplace can be a touchy subject, especially when the workplace is an aircraft 30,000 feet above the ground and hurtling through the air at 500 mph.

Airlines have different policies regarding the announcements permitted by their pilots and flight attendants aboard their flights. Some carriers allow flight attendants to deviate from the standard scripts on safety instructions and gate connections. On Southwest, for instance, flight attendants often offer ad-lib jokes.

Last year, American Airlines was embroiled in controversy after one of its pilots on a flight from Los Angeles to New York asked over the intercom for all Christians to raise their hands. Some of the passengers complained that the pilot was proselytizing. American executives apologized for the pilot's comments.

United objects to their service personnel offering to customers any statements of a religious nature. The airline plans to update its flight attendants' manual to ensure that personal beliefs do not make their way into on-board announcements, said United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski.

"All service announcements are to instill confidence and professionalism, and as we update our flight attendant manual we will ask our flight attendants to not use personal beliefs or overtones in these announcements. United certainly apologizes if anyone may have been offended," Urbanski said.

Bicknell said he wasn't offended, but was curious about United's policy regarding religious or even political comments in the workplace. "I'm not for or against [the comment]. I'm just questioning it. I can think of several professions where that would not be kosher."

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