Flying the furious skies: How to stay sane on a commercial flight
As travel season approaches, here's a gentle reminder about the importance of civility in transit -- by passengers and airline employees alike.
What is going on with air travel? Why is everybody so ticked off? It's like airports and commercial aircraft have become battle zones.
Some passengers act like total creeps, and while most flight attendants show the patience of Job, the behavior of a few ranges from rude to mean to heartless. Exhibit A is the flight crew that denied a woman's request to call her distraught husband, who had just texted her that he was going to kill himself. By the time the plane landed, her husband had followed through on his threat. The Huffington Post's Ryan Grenoble reports on the incident in a May 19, 2015, article.
No, not all flight attendants hate passengers. But many do, and most at least occasionally express disdain for the cattle they herd onto and off their aircraft. As Christopher Elliott writes in his travel blog, a saying that has become popular among flight attendants is, "We're here to save your butt, not kiss it."
Most flights take off and land with only the standard inconveniences air travelers have come to know as the new normal: Squeezing into ever-tighter seats, storage bins overloaded as people avoid checked-baggage fees, and fellow passengers whose sense of entitlement leads to untoward behavior of the cruelest type -- cruel because there's no way to escape it.
Enjoy your flight? Survive it with any modicum of dignity remaining is more like it.
As with any unpleasant experience in life, you can take some of the sting out of air travel by being prepared. I did say "some." My most recent airline adventure was noteworthy for including not one but two aborted landings, a weather-related diversion from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul, a night sleeping on the floor of an empty concourse, checked bags held hostage, and last but not least, an assault by an out-of-control flight attendant who objected to my phone's slowness in powering off.
Hey Alaska Airlines, kiss my travel-weary butt!
The hellhole that has become the modern airliner cabin
If you find yourself in an airline seat in front of the Passenger from Hell, there's not much you can do besides grin and bear it. Few of us are more tolerant than Mun Yee, who wrote such a passenger a thank-you note after a flight from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. Travel Pulse's Donald Wood explains in a May 11, 2015, article that Mun thanked the person in the seat behind her for the "full back massage" he applied by kicking the back of her seat throughout the flight.
Mun was also thankful that she saved the expense of the in-flight entertainment by listening instead to the passenger's full-throated narrative delivered to the person's travel companion. The monologue also lasted through the duration of the flight. Mun was treated to the pungent aroma of the traveler's non-stop snacking on various foodstuffs that had obviously passed their expiration date. She was assured she wouldn't doze off during the flight by the passenger's courtesy of taking off his shoes and placing his smelly feet in the gap between Mun's seat and her window, just inches from her head.
Finally, Mun thanked the passenger in seat 15A for making her a more religious person. Mun claims she has never prayed so much in her life as she did during the eight hours of that flight. Prayer is all well and good, but most of us would have shown much less patience with such an obnoxious fellow traveler. Unfortunately, the consequences of confronting rude in-flight behavior can be like pouring gasoline on a small fire.
In a December 22, 2014, article on The Conversation, University of Hawaii Psychology Professor Leon James describes two varieties of air rage: the "explosive" type that the public witnesses through screams, threats, cussing, and insults; and the "mental" type that doesn't get expressed but has the same negative effects on the person experiencing it. James points to the "deteriorating environment for airline passengers" as a primary cause of travel-induced anger and resentment.
In addition to overcrowding, there are fewer in-flight meals served by airlines, which causes passengers to bring their own "odorous" foods on board. There's no consistency or clarity in airline policies about electronic devices. All these stress-creators make it more likely that people will behave anti-socially and act inconsiderately toward fellow passengers and flight crews alike, according to James.
A coach-seat survival guide
In the modern age of air travel, the first misconception commercial flyers have to dispel is that flight attendants are there to wait on passengers hand and foot. Those crew members in the funky polyester are charged with enforcing safety regulations and responding to emergencies. This has led some airline-industry analysts to suggest that flight attendants be replaced by a new category of airline worker: one part EMT, and one part air marshal.
Wouldn't that do wonders for the price of an airline ticket?
Any way you look at it, we air passengers are on our own much more than ever before. Flying requires a heightened sense of civility and patience, as well as more self-awareness about how our actions are affecting our fellow flyers. Expedia's 2014 Airline Etiquette Study identifies 18 on-board etiquette violations, ranging from back-seat kickers (cited by 67 percent of respondents) to aromatic passengers (56 percent) to boozers (50 percent) to the overly amorous (29 percent) to undressers (26 percent).
There's no shortage of people offering tips for politely sharing space and otherwise co-existing peaceably for the duration of the flight. The suggestions boil down to the rules of behavior most of us learned in kindergarten: no unwelcome touching (share the armrest, keep your shoes on and your feet on the floor); moderate your voice level (and the volume on your music player); and play nice, which in the case of an airline cabin usually means leave your seatmates in peace.
So why is it up to passengers to maintain a comfortable environment in a commercial aircraft? Primarily because the airlines have no incentive to do so themselves. That's according to Conde Nast Traveler readers who responded to the results of a survey of airline passengers conducted in late 2014. The readers claim airlines' pricing strategies engender animosity among passengers, who they believe are being punished for not shelling out for a seat in first class or business class. You want to be treated like a human? Pay up.
The airlines treat their customers rudely, and as a result, the customers treat each other just as rudely. So if you want to stay sane on your next coach-class flight, treat everyone with courtesy and respect -- even when they're treating you like something they just scraped off the bottom of their shoe. (Easy for me to say from the comfort of my office chair.)
Maybe you could find an alternative mode of transportation, or simply stay home. But the airlines know these are rarely viable options for travelers. Did I just hear somebody say, "Re-regulation"?