Buckle up—there may be turbulence or rudeness ahead

At 30,000 feet, air travel seems to bring out the worst in people.

At 30

I am convinced that when flying, passengers pack their common courtesy, along with their shampoo, in three-ounce-sized bottles.

That must explain the rudeness I witnessed last week when I flew from Milwaukee to Seattle.


The line wasn’t terribly long, but it was moving slowly. As I often do when waiting in lines, I people-watched to pass the time.

Rude behavior: I was very aware of the couple who came sprinting up to the back of the line, paused to take in the number of people ahead of them, and then skipped the line completely by heading straight to the ticket counter.

The polite thing to do: The two passengers were extremely late for their flight, a position that can happen to the best of us.

What they should have done was approach one of the ticket agents managing the line, and explain their situation. I would have been happy to let them go ahead of me, but their lack of respect made my jaw clench.

Rude behavior: Although the ticket agent was taken aback by the two passengers’ behavior, she continued to help them. When she informed the couple they had missed their flight, as the plane had already stopped boarding, the man asked, or rather demanded:

“Can’t you call the pilot and ask them to wait for us?”

Wow. Are you serious?

“No sir, that isn’t possible,” the ticket agent said. She proceeded to rebook them on a much later flight, but not without some loud swear words spewed by the man.

The polite thing to do: Kindness works wonders; it’s not the ticket agent’s fault they were late. The man should have been grateful to get rebooked on the same day.

Rude behavior: By now, almost 40 minutes had passed and I was next in line when out of nowhere a customer service representative opened up an additional corral. The folks who had been in the back of the original line and had been waiting less than 10 minutes moved over to the newly formed line and now became the next customers served.

I was irate.

This is the same unfairness that you see at stores when lines are long and another checker opens up and calls out, “I’ll take the next available customer over here.” And the customers at the back of the line quickly jump to the newly opened queue, ahead of the people who had been patiently waiting.

“Excuse me,” I said to the man who opened up the new line, “I’ve been waiting my turn and now people who were behind me are ahead of me. And that just isn’t fair.”

Yes, I felt like an eight-year-old whining about fairness, but this was about basic civility.

My comment went unnoticed and he shrugged at me as if to say, “Oh, well.”

The polite thing to do: The agent should have been sensitive and managed the line in a way that fair.

Security Line

My feathers were already ruffled when I later moved into the security line. There I witnessed passengers dashing to the front because they apparently had the special privilege of being an elite-priority passenger.

Fine, I thought. They must be frequent travelers or pay for this privilege. But then I began to notice that many of these so-called priority members had nothing special on their boarding passes indicating that they were of elite status. They weren’t any more “special” than me.

Rude behavior: When I reached the security officer,  I asked why he allowed people with plain-Jane boarding passes to use the “priority line.”  He said it wasn’t his job to govern who used the line.

Ah ha. I uncovered a loophole in the system and one I will never use. Why? Because it isn’t fair.

The polite thing to do: People, including the security officer, need to follow the rules of the system.


Thanks to the airline industry’s checked-baggage fee, overhead bin space is now at a premium.

Rude behavior: If your seat is located at 23C, you should not place your carry-on above aisle 11.

The polite thing to do: Common courtesy folks. You are using up space that is allocated for others. Place your items near your seat.

Packed like livestock in a cattle yard, I sat down. Without available overhead space, I smashed my belongings under the seat in front of me, thus removing any available legroom.

The passenger in the window seat was quite large and clearly was uncomfortable in the close quarters provided by low-cost airlines.  Upon his request for more room, the flight attendant moved the person between us to the only empty seat on the airplane. This, in itself, was a reasonable request that the flight attendant was happy to accommodate.

Rude behavior: I assumed my rowmate would now be content, and in my mind, the middle seat became neutral ground.

But my row-mate had other plans. Once we were at cruising altitude, he opened up the middle seat’s tray and set up an impromptu office. His laptop was stationed inches from my nose. His binders and books dug into my thigh.

The polite thing to do: He should have me if it was OK. I would have said yes.

Rude behavior: I was just about to fall asleep when I felt a tap-tap-tapping on my arm.

He needed out. He rummaged through the overhead bin and produced a single sheet of paper.

Back in our seats and buckled in, I closed my eyes to get some rest.

Not five minutes passed before I felt the tap-tap-tapping again.

I stood up. He rummaged again in the bin, this time his object of desire was a pencil.

Again we were seated.

I hesitated to close my eyes, but sleep beckoned.

Honest to goodness, 15 minutes later the guy wanted out again.

The polite thing to do: He should have planned ahead and retrieved what he needed in one (maybe two) trips. Or ask to trade seats with me.

Rude behavior: After his third trip up, he remained seated but began using the call button to summon the flight attendant to bring him extra drinks or items from the overhead compartment.

The nerve. The gall.

Polite behavior: Flight attendants aren’t your personal assistants. They need to attend to the needs of all the passengers, not just you.

I remember back in the day when flying was a treat. I’d put on my Sunday best and looked forward to the time in the friendly skies.

Full-sized meals were served with real utensils.

No more.

My package of six pretzels did nothing but make me thirsty. Unfortunately, I had already downed my thimble-size drink.

I partially blame the airline industry with their cost-cutting corners and the strict security-regulations.

But I also blame the passengers. Air travel makes folks feel anonymous with the attitude: “I’ll never see these people again, I don’t care what they think of me.”

But we do care. The rude behavior circulates through the cabin like the recycled air coming through the vents.

The next time travel calls, I may go old school. I’m thinking of trying out a covered wagon. Sure it may take me six months to reach my destination, but I’ll trade fresh air over recycled-airplane air any day.

And I can bring along full-sized bottles of shampoo.

— Write Ask Erin, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo, WA 98370 or email: ejennings@northkitsapherald.