By Naeem Siddiqi
(January 11, 2016) – In the past week, Canadians have followed the saga of a six year-old child named Adam Ahmed who found himself on a ‘no fly’ list.
Specifically, his dad, Sulemaan Ahmed, found his boy on Air Canada’s Deemed High Profile List when they were travelling to Boston over New Years Eve, and decided to go public with it.
It all started with Sulemaan tweeting his frustration to Air Canada, with a picture of the screen used by Air Canada gate agents.
After much retweeting, it got to Jane Philpott (our MP and Minister of Health) as well as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
The case soon got a lot of attention in the local and international media, with the Public Safety Minister eventually getting involved and promising action.
In addition, several other parents came forward with similar stories of their kids being on the ‘no fly list’.
A story about one little kid was now becoming a national issue.
Eventually, the government announced that airlines are not to vet children under 18 against ‘no fly’ lists.
This was not the first time Adam had had difficulties when flying, but this would certainly be the last.
The government, which started with the official “yes, you will be inconvenienced each time you fly. Deal with it” stance, changed its policy.
This is a great example of how to turn lemons into lemonade.
The story could have been yet another tale of folks playing the victim and complaining about airlines, banks, governments, cable companies and everything else we love to complain about.
Or asking for compensation. Sulemaan and Khadija did things differently.
First of all, they consistently stated that they understood airline safety, and would be willing to sit down with their MP as well as any other government representative to find solutions.
As a frequent flyer myself, I can relate to this point.
I fly over 150,000 miles each year so air safety is not an academic discussion for me.
I don’t want nutcases of any type on the plane with me.
But I also don’t want innocent people having their lives turned upside down by secretive bureaucrats creating lists, with no recourse.
By emphasizing the willingness to cooperate, this was not just about an unfortunate event, it became how to avoid similar events in the future.
Secondly, Sulemaan and Khadija quickly shifted from being the victims in the story to being advocates for others.
To help build momentum for change and emphasise the scope of the problem, they actively sought out other parents who were in the same No Fly Catch-22.
Lastly, and this is key to getting public support, they used humour as well as Sulemaan’s (rather unfortunate) Habs fan status to push home the point that this is a normal Joe Canadian story that can impact any of us.
Throughout this last week they’ve conducted numerous media interviews, and they’ve done them with poise and dignity.
And the great thing is – they got results.
[Naeem Siddiqi lives in Markham. Sulemaan, and his wife Khadija Cajee are his neighbours and dear friends].