I’ve got to admit I was saddened to read in the Empire of Alaska Airline’s recent decision to discontinue its 30-year custom of providing “prayer cards” on the meal trays. I remember when first starting to fly regularly on Alaska and seeing the playing-card-size spiritual reflections, thinking to myself “what a great airline to continue a simple tradition when there is no economic value to the bean counters to do so”. To be clear, discontinuing the practice does not change my position that Alaska is a wonderful company, with a great mileage plan.
Airline spokespeople said the decision was the result of customers complaining “they preferred not to mix religion with transportation”. Really? All I could envision were first class customers flying SFO to LAX… noon… July. Because similar to atheists in foxholes, students during final exams and certainly Alaska Air passengers flying into Sitka during a Gulf of Alaska winter storm… I’m pretty sure transportation and prayer are pretty well linked.
But these cards were far from evangelical, fire and brimstone messages — they were closer to the SNL Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy variety. Be kind, thoughtful and thankful. Believe me there are a lot of things to complain about. It really got me thinking how annoyed I am with those who are consistently annoyed. Is this another example of the 1 percent who influences the social fabric of our society? Unless you’re like my wife and used it for a bookmark, these cards got thrown out in the trash immediately after the tray was picked up — how hard would it be for the complainants to simply turn the card over when it arrived. I was wondering if these same people would be offended to the point of lodging a complaint when American Idol’s Steven Tyler has his expletives bleeped numerous times in the course of a show. Full disclosure — I am somewhat of a traditionalist and even like BOTH kinds of music, Country AND Western. I was wondering if TAKU 105 receives complaints because some of the songs acknowledge the existence of a deity over their airwaves. I like tradition and after 30 years, if it ain’t broke and it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical, I generally like to stay the course.
I am not an evangelical but I think have a good understanding of human nature and see a great benefit to our civil order to encourage a spiritual nation — be it Christian, Jewish, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist or Wicca. We are creatures of habit and most of us are busy living our lives, trying not be annoyed. Those looking to be offended and actually have their radars in active mode to be offended do a great disservice to our society. As a country we should be encouraging those small things in life which remind us we are not the center of the universe. The prayer cards were essentially PSA reminders to be good persons. Should one be offended to view nightly DUI Public Service Announcements because of the inference one may drink and drive? Of course not, rational people see the value to the greater public good and would not protest such good intentions. Similarly, Alaska Air could continue with its fortune cookie-like meal cards and expand its authors to include wit or wisdom from Bombeck to Gandhi to Barry to Bojaxhiuand, and yes, even Job. I also suspect my seventh-grader and her friends could produce a five-year supply of inspirational meal cards for under a hundred bucks over a weekend.
I will continue to have a high opinion of Alaska Air as it certainly has no moral or legal obligation to continue providing prayer cards. Seeing simple gestures of providing good will always reminds me to count my blessings and appreciate the life I have. I enjoy seeing these billboard reminders, even if they are only 2 inches by 3 inches.
• Uchytil is a retired U.S. Coast Guard officer who now serves as Juneau’s port director.