Southwest Airlines criticized after air emergency for lack of diversity in drop-down oxygen bags

Living through an air disaster is very likely the most harrowing thing anyone will ever experience, but it may pale in comparison to surviving a near-death experience at 35,000 feet while suffering a crippling racial insult.

In April, a Southwest Airlines 737 suffered an engine malfunction during a flight from LaGuardia International Airport in New York to Dallas. At one point, a portion of the engine broke away and likely struck the side of the aircraft, causing one window to be shattered and nearly sucking out a passenger.

“We are in the process of gathering more information. Safety is always our top priority at Southwest Airlines, and we are working diligently to support our Customers and Crews at this time. We will share updates to the flight as they are confirmed,” the airline said in a statement, according to CBS News.

The maker of the 737, Boeing, tweeted out that the company “is aware of the event and is providing technical assistance to the investigation. As per international protocol governing civil aviation investigations, questions about the investigation should be directed to the NTSB.”

As the engine broke up and the window shattered, emergency overhead oxygen masks automatically deployed as designed, with frightened passengers donning them immediately.

“I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I was plenty scared, I can tell you that,” said passenger Shawna Jackson of Fort Worth, who is African American. “Once I got my mask on I started looking around to see if I could help anyone with their mask. You know, they always tell you to do that during those pre-flight briefings once you get on the plane.”

But then, Jackson said, something more important than a possible crash during an emergency landing caught her attention.

“I noticed that all the drop-down masks had a picture of a white guy on them,” she said. “There was no diversity at all. Just that same white guy on all the masks. 

“I was thinking, ‘You mean to tell me out of all these seats on a big plane like this you can’t have one black woman or a Hispanic on your drop-down oxygen masks? I just find that disgraceful and unacceptable in the 21st century,” she said, shaking her head.

Other passengers, still shaken from their ordeal, nevertheless found themselves agreeing with Jackson.

“You know, it really wouldn’t hurt the airlines to invest in diverse drop-down oxygen masks,” said Pete Giada of New York City. “I mean, we all could have just died a few hours ago, and I get that. But some things are just wrong and you gotta call them out when you see them.

“Imagine, were it not for this unfortunate incident today, I might never have known what bigots the airlines were,” Giada continued.

Another passenger, Trent Lowry of Fort Worth, thought complaining about the lack of oxygen mask diversity was petty and not at all important in the overall scheme of things. Lowry, who is white, said everyone who survived ought to be thankful and glad that they had a mask to use at all once the cabin pressure fell. He also praised the person who invented the drop-down mask concept, though he could not name who it was.

Jackson wasn’t buying it.

“Well, that’s easy for him to say. I mean, really, he looks just like that white dude on the masks,” she said. “Of course he’s not going to find any problems with them. It’s like his face is the last one people see when they’re involved in an in-flight disaster.”

Jackson said she was happy to be alive and grateful to the flight crew, but she was considering legal action anyway.

“We’re a diverse country,” she said. “We’ve got to reform the way we look at drop-down oxygen masks.”

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