Is it time for a new paradigm shift in airline traveler etiquette?
After reading Christopher Elliott’s piece on the seeming growing trend of passenger meltdowns and misbehavior, I did a little thinking about my own experiences, especially in the past 10 years. Here are a few observations…
When I began my career, the “Tech Sector” bubble hadn’t yet burst. If you recall, there was a period of time when anything and everything that had anything to do with either computers or the Internet was considered golden. If you were to tell a Wall Street investor that your private company concentrated on developing anything for the tech industry, be it hardware, software or services, and you tacked on the initials “IPO” (initial public offering), it was almost a certainty that you’d be an overnight millionaire.
Soon, these “new money” guys and gals were living the high life, suddenly able to afford “McMansion” homes, bad-ass sports cars, baubles, bangles and very expensive beads. They could take expensive vacations; they could buy second homes in the Caribbean or in other island paradises. And along with that newly discovered freedom was the ability to purchase an airline ticket – at full fare, no less – in the first class cabin.
Precipitously, these new “golden children” (most of them in their early to mid-twenties) were taking over the premium cabins on airplanes and just like an army of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’s’ began making demands of the airline personnel that seemed to be out of place from the classic first- and business-class travelers of before. These young tech aristocrats would haul their brood of children into these premium cabins as well, expecting the crews to yield to their every whim. It was amazing how the environment had evolved.
Before long, the seasoned premier travelers began to raise concerns about the misbehavior of this ‘new money’ generation. There were many times when some of my best customers would approach me and ask if there was anything that could be done about the quickly growing trend of bad behavior. At first, I would make an attempt, trying to be diplomatic without being presumptuous, but it wasn’t long before it was clear to me and everyone else around that these folks were ‘entitled!’ “It’s not my child who’s the problem, it’s that crusty old windbag’s problem” (that is an actual quote from one woman I dealt with when her two brats, seated in first class, wouldn’t stop fighting with one another, while she and her husband sucked down as much champagne as we would allow them to drink).
After the tech bubble exploded, there was a short period of time where crews found a bit of relief, but it wasn’t long before those same people, now forced to travel in economy, brought with them the same attitudes and expectations as they had in the premium cabins. Soon, other travelers followed suit and before long, it seemed everyone had joined in the fun!
As much as I hate to admit it, 9/11 brought about a swift 180° in passenger attitudes about airlines crews. All of a sudden, people were polite; they empathized with us, and they cheerfully did whatever was asked of them. There was a small reprieve from the selfish, entitled self-centeredness that had been growing exponentially. But the public (especially the travelling public) has a short memory and within two or three years, the grand and unattainable expectations that were hurled on the flight attendants from these and others began to raise their ugly heads again.
Once again, things began to morph into some of the strangest trends. People would come on board in their pajamas or worse yet, with hardly anything on at all. Instead of suit cases, there were back packs, shopping bags and (my favorite) full trash bags of clothing and personal effects. Over-the-top public displays of affection that would make your skin crawl began to show up. With the advent of laptops and personal DVD players, I have seen passengers viewing pornographic images right there at their seats, while someone who could well be my sweet grandmother sat in plain view of the images! And most likely my least favorite display of public inconsideration: I have seen people take off their shoes and put their grungy feet on the bulkhead walls. Several times, I have actually witnessed passengers who have their legs and feet resting on the tray table in front of them! (Think about that the next time you want to use it for eating off of – sanitary wipes anyone?).
I could cite thousands of examples of traveler horror stories but the real question is “what (if anything) is to be done about it?” Chris Elliott suggests it could be as simple as dressing up for travel. No matter what the obvious solution might be, the real trick is to get the average traveler to agree that the experience of getting from Los Angeles to Chicago might simply be to treat everyone like you would treat your own mother.
Oh wait, that doesn’t always work…does it? *sigh*