A Morally Corrupt Virgin

Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center and the author of “While Europe Slept” and “Surrender.” His book "The Victims' Revolution: The Rise of Identity Studies and the Closing of the Liberal Mind" is just out from Broadside / Harper Collins.


If the many postings I’ve seen on Facebook this weekend are any indication, the story of Nicky Howse, as told in the Daily Mail on Saturday, has already achieved a good deal of visibility on both sides of the Atlantic, which is terrific. But in my view absolutely everybody in the free world should know about this, and here – in addition to my own Facebook posting – is my small attempt to help get the word out.

Petty Officer Nicky Howse, 32, who has been a helicopter technician in the Royal Navy for fifteen years, serving in Afghanistan and elsewhere, is now, on a three-month deployment in California. Recently she had to return from Los Angeles to Britain to attend her grandfather’s funeral. She flew Virgin Atlantic, and wore her uniform, and the entire flight passed without incident. Last Monday, however, when she turned up at Heathrow to fly back to LAX, the trouble started at once.

At check-in, an airport security guard, employed by the firm G4S, told Howse that she couldn’t fly in her uniform. “He was rude,” she told a friend by e-mail, “he wouldn’t let the check-in girl give me my passport.” After this encounter, she described herself as “shaking with rage.” But at least she thought that was the end of it. Nope: “when I got to the departure gate I was taken to the side by the flight supervisor” –  a Virgin employee – “and they said I wasn’t allowed to fly in uniform and had to wear a sleep suit. I then stood feeling completely humiliated with other passengers, clearly curious as to what was going on, staring at me, waiting for him to come back with the black pyjamas.”

Howse asked if this no-uniform business was airline policy. The flight supervisor said yes. “I refused to wear [the 'pyjamas'] until after I was on board then still refused but basically got told I’d be asked to leave the flight if I didn’t take it off or cover it up.” Howse “went ballistic,” she wrote in her e-mail. “I said ‘In the country I defend I can’t wear my uniform?’”

Why was the Virgin flunky so insistent that Howse shed her uniform? According to the Mail, it was because they viewed it as “offensive.” She’d have to remove it to avoid “offend[ing] other passengers,” because, she was told, Virgin Atlantic doesn’t “only fly British passengers.” Passengers from other countries – and I suppose it’s not difficult to imagine which countries the flunky had in mind – would view a British military uniform “as a threat.” It was for Howse’s own safety, the flunky insisted, that she drop the uniform. She didn’t want to suffer “abuse,” did she? Howse, plainly several points higher on the I.Q. scale than her interlocutor, replied that “I can deal with that myself if it arises[,] as I did in Afghanistan.”

Indeed, Howse’s own summing-up of the situation cannot be improved upon: “a British airline who claims to be Britain’s flag carrier won’t allow a member of Britain’s armed forces to travel on their airline in uniform.” The flunky insisted – incorrectly, as it turned out – that “it was the company’s policy not to allow military personnel to travel in uniform.” Never mind British Armed Forces rules which, Howse noted, “state that a serviceman or woman can wear their uniforms voluntarily from their ‘residence to place of duty, irrespective of whether they travel by public or private transport, or on foot.’” Ultimately, however, forced to choose between throwing off her garment and being thrown off the flight, Howse complied, obediently changing into what the Mail describes as “a Virgin Atlantic sleep suit.” Reading the story, I couldn’t help wondering: what were Howse’s fellow passengers doing while all this was going on? Didn’t anybody stand up for her? Not one person?

The Mail reported that when asked about Howse’s experience, “G4S declined to comment, claiming it had not received a complaint.” This is, as it happens, the firm that was supposed to provide security for the London Olympics – and that, when it turned out at the last minute that it couldn’t do the job, had to be bailed out by (ahem) the British military.

A sidebar to the Mail article noted that Howse’s abusive treatment at Heathrow was hardly unique in Britain, where “one in five of our servicemen and women have had insults hurled at them by strangers while wearing their uniforms in public,” and where over five percent have “suffered violence or attempted violence…because they served in the military.” Last June, “six servicemen wearing dress uniform” to carry the coffin of “a comrade killed in battle” were denied entry to a Coventry bar before the funeral.

The sidebar offered examples of how different things are in America: at U.S. bars and restaurants, civilians routinely pick up soldiers’ checks; armed forces members get boarded first on airlines and are often given upgrades to first class; and so on. Irate British readers who commented on the article attested to the starkness of this contrast:

ñ  If my experience of flights in the US is anything to go by the US passengers would have cheered her!

ñ  Whilst on a domestic flight in America, the cabin crew announced that a member of the military was flying with us and passengers greeted this with a round of applause. It wasn’t hard to identify who that was, because they were wearing their uniform!…what message are we sending out when we humiliate and disrespect those who defend our freedom?

ñ  Here in the UK we need to do more to demonstrate our patriotism and our gratitude towards the armed forces. I have been in the USA and seen how they behave towards the troops and it is quite admirable and touching at times.

ñ  What is it with so many British civilians that they are so totally clueless about our country’s service personnel, about what they do or have done on their behalf? In America she’d have been upgraded and applauded all the way to her seat.

ñ  When I was in America last year waiting to board a plane, they announced that Military Personnel got to board first…this happened a few times whilst I was travelling…for once the yanks have it spot on!

Several American readers also commented, the majority view being summed up by one who explained that “we love our military in America” because “we learn early on that what we have comes at a price.” The reactions of several British readers, meanwhile, were summed up by one who wrote: “What has happened to the country I served so proudly in the 60s? I despair, I really do! God help our children and grandchildren if this is what the UK has descended to.” And, alas, there were also British readers whose comments reflected the very mentality that had made Howse’s treatment possible: “Vile woman full of her own self importance. Why does she think she is special?” And: “lets be honest, a full combat uniform would make people have ideas of weapons etc….i personally could be scared to see someone in full regalia on my flight.” Yes, mustn’t scare me with even the slightest reminder that there are people – with weapons! – risking their lives to preserve my freedom.

On Sunday, a Mirror headline advertised that Sir Richard Branson, Virgin’s grand poobah, had apologized for Howse’s treatment. Well, not really. It turned out he had bothered to send out a couple of lame tweets, the manifest purpose of which was to shift the blame for the incident at Heathrow entirely onto the G4S employee for providing the wrong information to his own underlings – who, he wrote, “are mortified and have apologised profusely.”

Not good enough. Not by a mile. Branson didn’t even mention Howse’s name. He expressed no personal remorse whatsoever. He wrote nothing suggestive of respect for Howse and her fellow service members. And his attempt to pin everything on the G4S dolt made no sense – his own dolt, after all, had claimed to be following airline policy and to be concerned about the danger of “offending” other passengers. I know I’m far from alone in feeling that every single one of those involved in this shameful action, whether working for G4S or Virgin, should be given the boot.

Far from resolving the situation, indeed, Branson’s tweets only compounded the insult to Howse and to the military generally. They served only to reinforce the impression – which, I gather from the comments on the Mail article, is already rather widespread – that, at Virgin, the contemptuous attitude toward the military that made Howse’s treatment possible flows from the top down.

And this is, let’s not forget, a man with “Sir” in front of his name, which means he’s a knight. Which, under these circumstances, brings to mind Chaucer’s immortal lines, in the Canterbury Tales, about a very different knight,

….a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye….

Chaucer’s knight, moreover, had “foughten for our feith at Tramissene” (in Algeria), as well as in “Belmarye” (Morocco) and elsewhere in North Africa and Asia Minor, against – well, you know who. A rather neat contrast, that, to our own ultra-hip, PC, billionaire knight, whose airline came this close to kicking a member of the Royal Navy off a plane in order – quite plainly – to avoid giving offense to Muslims.

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  • SCREW SOCIALISM

    Boycott the UK and any British company until they change their policy.

    Hit them where they are most sensitive. In their purse.

    • A H

      Yes . That will REALLY show that you support British troops .

      • AnOrdinaryMan

        Well, how do you show your support for the British military? Right. Didn't think you do.

        • A H

          When my pal in the army comes back from Afghanistan , I buy him a beer and talk with him like a normal man . When my friend's pal was killed by the Taliban , I bowed my head when the funeral cortege went past .
          I attend Remembrance Day services every year and make sure my class stand for the minute's silence .
          That good enough for you ?

      • SCREW SOCIALISM

        If the British don't support their own troops, then there is something terribly wrong in the UK.

        A Boycott might wake up the Brits to the fact hat they have an internal problem.

        Remember that the UK/scotland released the convicted bomber of Pan Am 103 – a Blood for Oil deal.

        • A H

          Many Americans , including some of those now in power , show no respect for American or British troops . Your current Secretary of State described the British (and others who joined you in the invasion of Iraq) as "countries you could buy off ebay ".

          There is something terribly wrong with America . Boycott the US ?

  • Chezwick

    I'm heading for the comments section of the Daily Mail article. I'm curious about the ratio of support/contempt for this courageous woman from the British readers…..an informal poll if you will.

    • Chezwick

      Kudos to the Brits. Her supporters far outnumbered her detractors.

      • Mary Sue

        well that's something at least.

  • SCE2AUX

    As far as I'm concerned, an insult to the Royal Navy is an insult to the US Navy as well

    • Tom in Texas

      An insult to any Western military service. Those who express disdain aren't worthy of the citizenship.

  • davarino

    They would probably be afraid if a child chewed a pop tart into the shape of a gun. People are not very smart these days, just sheep. Its funny how that Group Think psychology works. The powers that be just love it.

  • Elsa_is_Elsa

    I am glad this incident is being made public. I have no further words. It is just horrific that this could even have happened.

  • Rifleman

    Easily offended people offend me. A person who will lay their life on the line to protect their nation and its' people IS "special".

    • Rebecca

      You took the words right out of my mouth. She is special because she put her life on the line in Afghanistan to protect the freedom of Afghani's who are made up almost entirely of Muslims. And now she has to remove the uniform she wore to protect their freedom because she might offend Muslims? Priceless.

    • Tom in Texas

      I agree Rifleman, I too am very offended by the gutless "offended", I really do not care what they think (which is their problem, not thinking, just "feeling").

  • Ar'nun

    I think since 9/11 especially, a traditional Arab out fit would be far more frightening than a military uniform on a plane. Not too many hijackings being done by people in military uniforms.

    • thomas_h

      That was my first thought, but you beat me to it, Ar'nun.
      I would like to buy you a beer, but will have to settle for a "thumb up!"
      cheers,
      Thomas

  • tony george

    I just called Virgin Air, was told that was absolutely not their policy, they had contacted all their personnel to make sure it never happens again, and that Richard Bramson had directly contacted the officer to appologize. I hope that's all true.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      If true, then Virgin should publicize the error and how they will ensure it never happens again.

      Else it's just an unsubstantiated back pedal.

  • watsa46

    One more evidence of the decadence of the Brits. Pervasive corruption of the ME oil. It smells rot! For me civilian Arab out fit is scary. Should we impose on the Arabs flying/living to the Occident be obliged to wear only occidental attires?

  • hrwolfe

    Give our education system, aided by Bill Ayers, a few more years and we are there. Pledge of allegiance is not mandatory in our schools any more. England is just much farther down the Socialism scale than we are, have faith well be there soon enough, unless more wake up.

    • jakespoon

      When I think of bill ayers,I think of Fargo and the wood chipper scene,only a bigger commercial one that will chip-up a whole tree in a few seconds.Zing,next!

  • tagalog

    Another moment of clarity as we continue on our journey to find out who's who and what's what.

  • Softly Bob

    She made a mistake. She should have boarded the aircraft wearing a full burqa and a suicide vest. They would have probably let her through customs without even checking her ID.
    I'm British and I am ashamed of my country. I see comments on here by Americans criticising my once great nation, and they are right to do so. This is what thirty years of creeping socialism and perverse PC propaganda can do to a nation.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Let us not forget how the British released the convicted bomber of Pan Am 103 – on "compassionate" grounds – for Libyan Oil contracts.

  • Questions

    Sir Richard Branson recently appeared on the cover of Forbes magazine (March 4) parceling out financial advice to readers. He's a genius, of course. But even geniuses, flaky or not, have their blind spots. This article hopefully will enable him to see things more clearly.

  • Grob Hahn

    “Sir” Branson is a knight, a warrior in title only. Which he makes painfully obvious when a REAL person deserving of the title is treated like a surf on his airline by MORONS who are so steeped in PC they have lost every troy ounce of patriotism. He should hand over his sword to this woman instead of relying on a foolish “tweet”. As a veteran I have bought meals, drinks and cab rides for people in uniform and I have been willing to jump on anyone who thinks they can spit on one. I’d LOVE to meet a jury over that issue.
    Grobbbbbbbbbb

  • Doug Mayfield

    I'm not sure of all the details but I have to say that those who criticize her are (self made and self destructive) morons and that Richard Branson's image to me as a very successful man took a beating.

    I must also ask: Who the hell is so stupid that they would not honor someone who risks her life to keep them free? The answer is the poisonous, life hating, success hating, value hating, death worshiping Socialist/subjectvist Left.

  • directedby1

    Virgin is probably no different from other cowardly slimy British airlines. I'm so sick of how the British just roll over and take it again & again. The Briitish state is the slimiest pack of weasels in the Western world. The UK deserves to be attacked repeatedly and suffer truly horrific losses for this Vichyesque cowardice and appeasement on steroids. On a related note, when dozens of young girls are groomed and raped and farmed out as whores and the Briitsh state doesn't lift a finger, they're worse than evil. Don't fight the Islamists. Use every means at your disposal to kill as many useless immoral corrupt functionaries of the UK State as you can. The UK government and bureaucracy disgusts any normal sentient human being.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      West Pakistan is rapidly becoming a Failed State.

    • Questions

      Hey, that's no way to talk about an ally, flawed or not.

    • A H

      Terrorist vermin .

  • Herb Benty

    A word from the Right… "we have not yet begun to fight". If Olenin and the socialist clones in North America keep pushing for communism, there will be civil war and the left will lose.

  • Arthur Goldberg

    As a Brit and a patriot as well, I am appalled by her treatment. I fully support our brave soldiers and agree fully with our American cousins over the proper way show our troops our appreciation for their sacrifices on our behalf. The more I hear about Obama the more I worry that he wants America to become like Europe, a socialist state too afraid to stand up for what is right. To any Americans reading this I beg you not to let this happen to your great country, learn from our, and the rest of Europe's, mistakes.

  • theleastthreat

    At some stores, I get a 10% discount if I show my ID card. I hope UK businesses do something like that.

  • guest

    Politically corrects: The muslims don't like it so the airline bends back and puts their head where the sun does not shine. She should have changed back into her uniform in the restroom. Then, deal with airslime in court.

  • Canucklehead

    If you want to stop this nonsense you have to stand up to the militant Muslims. They're the reason for this.

  • Marvin Fox

    The Brits seem to be in a mess in many directions. I prefer to think of the situation as British hero, Nicky Howse, will be one of those fine people who bring Britain back t its senses. The Americans, thankfully, do not have the same problem. We are on the same financial and social downward plunge the British are suffering. We need a few American heroes in those areas.
    Marvin Fox

  • Mark

    The problem in the UK, is a massive post 60's hippie drug culture hangover that actually pervades our media and even our politics. 'War is bad' is as far as people are able to think, no matter what freedoms are being defended and for what reasons. John Lennon and his ilk are responsible for a lot of what is wrong with our culture today.

  • Ronald Stepp

    Can the Queen take away Branson's knighthood if he doesn't make amends?