In losing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the United States lost a brilliant justice and trailblazing woman. Today, I look back on a United Airlines flight gone awry, which forced the late justice to rapidly evacuate down an emergency slide after her aircraft experienced engine trouble. I also look back on the justice herself.
An Emergency Evacuation For Ruth Bader Ginsburg On United Airlines
It was September 14, 2011 and the justice, then 78 years-old, was traveling on UA586, a Boeing 757, from Washington Dulles to San Francisco to speak at a legal conference at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. Prior to takeoff, a pilot noted smoke coming out of one of the engines and made the decision to evacuate the aircraft. Slides were deployed and all 179 passengers, including Ginsburg, were directed to quickly exit the aircraft. One passenger was injured, but Ginsburg was just fine. Already at that time she was battling pancreatic cancer and had recently undergone chemotherapy. Passengers were placed on another aircraft and the flight eventually departed several hours late.
Talk about a wake-up call!
Over the years, Ginsburg continued to travel on United. Here’s a picture a pilot shared with me from a flight last year:
My Thoughts On The Late Justice
If you’ve never watched On the Basis of Sex, a 2018 movie which chronicles the remarkable life of RBG, I strongly recommend it. Whatever your political persuasion, there is no denying that she was a tenacious, hard-working, sacrificial, woman who fought strongly for her conception of equal rights for women and others.
There’s such a tendency to put our partisan blinders on, especially during this time, but I stand in awe that Ginsburg was able to be a mother to her three-year-old child, attend law school, be a member of the law review, and essentially attend law school for her sick husband at the same time. Throughout her career, she pushed boundaries and broke glass ceilings, carefully crafting legal arguments to persuade skeptical judges and justices before joining the Supreme Court herself in 1993.
Appearing before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1971 in a case known as Sprogis v. United Airlines, Ginsburg argued that it was unlawful for United Airlines to discriminate against female flight attendants on the basis of marital status. At the time, United had a policy that female flight attendants had to be unmarried and remain unmarried while employed. The policy did not apply to men. Ginsburg successfully argued that such disparity violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The court agreed and held the flight attendant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law (i.e. no need to even hear United’s side of the case).
Although seen as the liberal firebrand of the Court, she had a tender side as well, including a close personal relationship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who was at the opposite end of the spectrum on most major issues that came before the Court.
If you’re so inclined, listen to this obituary on RBG from NPR’s Nina Totenberg:
Ginsburg was a legal giant and a trailblazer. While her death sets up which may be the most contentious battle to fill a Supreme Court seat in U.S. history, today I hope that all of us, even those who disagreed with her judicial philosophy, will take a moment to recognize what an impact Ginsburg has had on the American judiciary and indeed on everyday life, including flight attendants, some of whom are still flying today thanks to Ginsburg’s labor.