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As flying gets more stressful, some passengers turn rude

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Stifler's Mom

Oct 12, 2003

When Mike Nugent flies, nothing annoys him more than settling into his seat, the plane taking off, and the passenger in front reclining into his lap. So he's come up with a solution.

"I put my knee right in the middle of the back of the seat," Nugent, 66, says. "They think it's broken. They try (to recline) two or three times, then they give it up."

Nugent, a hospital laundry consultant who's on the road most days of the year, has another way to sidestep the irritation that can accompany flying. "I've started to drive as often as I can," he says.

Long gone are the days when air travel was an elegant experience. Many road warriors say that courtesy, at the airport or on the plane, is becoming about as rare as a free, hot in-flight meal. They grouse that inconsiderate, or downright rude, behavior is more common and that it's spurred by an increasing discomfort with all aspects of flying, from security rules to bare-bones service, that put travelers on edge.

And behavior is unlikely to get better, some involved in the travel industry say, because irritants such as extra airline fees and more crowded planes aren't going away soon.

"The flying experience is terrible," says Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com. "You're getting less legroom. People fight over things like capacity in overhead bins. Airlines are charging bag fees. ... Airlines are doing things that are making it more difficult and uncomfortable for the passenger, and the customer service isn't getting that much better. You compound those factors, and you have a lot of frustration in the air."
Frustration can lead to bad manners.

"So much of etiquette is based on knowing what to expect from someone else," says Lizzie Post, spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, which was founded by manners maven Emily Post and is dedicated to the promotion of etiquette.

Passengers, she says, "don't know how long that security line is going to be. They don't know if they have anything in their bag that will meet regulations in this airport but not that airport. The nerves get up, and that's when we lose our awareness of the other people around us."

Frustrations add up
Complaints abound. Road warriors fret about parents who won't quiet screeching toddlers, the guy who had garlic for lunch and won't stop talking, and supersized seatmates who intrude on their space. They speak of dirty planes, testy flight attendants and loud passengers who won't turn off their cellphones.

There's the lady trying to stuff a steamer trunk into an overhead bin in the front of the cabin when her seat is in the back, and the passengers who give you whiplash dragging your seat down to pull themselves up.
And there can be a healthy dose of aggravation before you even board the plane, frequent fliers say, such as security screening rules that vary depending on the airport and flights canceled at the last minute with little explanation.

"I don't care whether it's a Big Mac or a Subway sandwich, the food smells gross in a confined place," Margaret Bowles, a lawyer in Tampa, complained in an e-mail. "If you are going to eat a sandwich, get one that isn't cooked and doesn't have onions or peppers."

"There needs to be a flying etiquette pamphlet handed out to anyone who takes less than three trips per year," writes frequent flier Faith Varwig.
Sometimes, behavior goes from merely discourteous to disruptive, and flights are diverted.

On July 10, a Southwest flight heading to Islip, N.Y., from Orlando was diverted to Raleigh, N.C., when a passenger began using foul language and became verbally abusive to the flight crew, says Paul Flaningan, a Southwest spokesman. In another incident this month, a Southwest flight from Chicago to Salt Lake City was diverted to Denver when a passenger began to act erratically and refused to sit down.

Travelers aren't just finding fault with the behavior of fellow passengers. A national Consumer Reports survey released in May found airline passengers were most annoyed by ubiquitous fees airlines charge to check a bag. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most vexing, bag charges scored an 8.4. Other fees, for such items as blankets, scored 8.1, while unhelpful airline workers got a 7.7.

More stressful flying
A decline in manners can be tied in part to a flying experience that's more stressful as security has intensified after the terror attacks of Sept. 11. And many airlines have cut service and added fees to make ends meet, some industry observers say.

Flying may get more stressful as people who'd put travel on hold during the economic downturn return to the air and find smaller planes and fewer available flights.

"Planes are flying more passengers," says Corey Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants. "There's less available seats ... in a stressful environment and a very close environment. A lot of times there are disruptions that do occur."

Unruly behavior on the part of passengers "has heightened since 9/11, and we often see spikes when there's a new implementation of a rule or policy or procedure," Caldwell says. "(It's) really because these passengers are being exposed to more and more stressors."

Attendants are under more pressure, she says.

"Flight attendants are having to be vigilant on a lot more fronts than they have before, and so after a 14- or 16-hour day, I think anyone is a little more stressed," she says.

Paul DeStefano, who travels two or three times a week, has a couple of peeves. One is flatulence.

"It is something that just infuriates me," says DeStefano, 43, of Bridgewater, N.J. "We're all human, but you're stuck in a tube with somebody for four hours and they have the audacity to think it's OK to let it loose."

DeStefano, who runs the sales force of a consumer products business, says he's also bothered by the sight of men who won't help elderly women or mothers who are struggling with their bags.

"You should fly as though your mother's with you," he says. "Would she expect you to pass gas? No. Would she expect you to get the bag? Yes."
Larry Stocker, a frequent flier, has a list of retorts at the ready.
For the fellow passenger who hasn't bathed, "I'll just say. 'Do you use a deodorant?' " For the guy yelling into a cellphone, "I say, 'This is a really interesting conversation. Could you tone it down because I'm trying to take a nap.' "

Stocker, 58, who is president of his own company, says he wasn't always so forward. But boorish behavior by fellow passengers is "so much more prevalent today ... you can almost feel like you're forced to take some action on your own behalf."

New nuisances
Some irritants, such as the kid constantly kicking the back of your seat, have long been traveling pitfalls. But the digital age has ushered in new nuisances.

Peter Juhren, 52, who travels 175,000 miles a year for his job, says he's had to ask passengers to more gently tap the console on the back of his seat. "Sometimes you get somebody behind you, especially when they're playing a game ... and they're just pounding away," says Juhren, a corporate service manager for a construction equipment business, who lives in Salem, Ore.

Pauline Weaver says she once had to admonish a fellow flier who kept texting long after passengers were told to stop.

"I tapped her on the shoulder, and I said, 'You've got to turn it off or I'm going to tell the flight attendant,' " says Weaver, 61, a lawyer based in Hayward, Calif. "I don't know from a hill of beans whether (the portable device) would have impacted the plane, but I don't really care. You're just not supposed to do it. ... If you want to fly, you have to follow the rules. If you don't want to, take a train."

Industry observers and etiquette experts say there are some behaviors that you just have to make your peace with when you're sharing a cramped, public space.

But there are ways to deal.

"People ask us all the time how do you combat the rudeness," Lizzie Post says. "I go out there, and I'm one less rude person. You consider things. I'm not going to bring my really smelly fish leftovers on the plane. I'm going to bring a turkey sandwich."

Travel experts say that you can ask the person behind you if it's OK to recline your seat, recline only halfway or for part of the flight.
Bring along headphones to block out noise, and it's fine to politely inform a seatmate that you're not in the mood to chat.
Airlines, on the other hand, should look at courtesy and customer service as a matter of dollars and cents, says Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager for global travel and hospitality for J.D. Power and Associates.

A J.D. Power survey released last month found that passenger satisfaction with North American airlines was up but still below the levels that existed before the widespread implementation of fees. And Greif says satisfaction continues to lag behind other industries, such as autos or insurance.
"Ultimately, those that make their customers happy and feel valued ... are the ones that are going to earn more revenue and be here in the long term," Greif says of airlines.
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Despite all the frustrations that can crop up, frequent flier DeStefano says he still manages to see the bright side.

"I still get a little kick in the pants every time the airplane gets off the runway," he says. "You're taking a plane full of ... people at 500-plus miles an hour, going a time zone away.

"The fact that it works as well as it does is amazing."
and they probably think they are paying way too much for their ticket too.

Heard somebody complain yesterday about her high ticket price. I wanted to tell her, "adjusted for inflation, your $189 ticket should be $599". But I didn't because it would accomplish nothing.
Low cost carriers have enabled the "WalMart" crowd access to air travel.
These types of passengers are very different from the ones back when the airlines were regulated.

Passengers are demanding cheap tickets, but wonder why they have no legroom and being charged for checked bags, etc...
Can't have it both ways!
This article is a major cliche, nothing intersting. An article about cargo boxes complaining about the temperature and service would have been more interesting.
Just a quick comment.. as a full paying non-airline employed passenger, my wife and I always fly our annual vacations first class.. and don't mind paying for it.. 2 years ago on Delta, we had the worst and crankiest F/A ever.. she was down right rude and bothered by our requests for drinks.. not a smile one.. NOw I understand the dynamics of the business.. not alot of people happy.. but.. we paid pretty big money and we certainly expected better..

Service in general is in the crapper due to all kinds of issues discussed.. but these passenegers are the only ones that ARE paying for their seats, they should get the best treatment possible.. if you're pissed off, then go behind the galley curtain and complain there..

JMO experience in recent years.. as a normal Pax..
There is a BIG difference between the best first class and NetJets service and cost.. To afford a share in Net Jets means your a Big Baller.. and don't want the hassels of the standard TSA airport crap or the coin-flip service one might get in "worst-class".. and door to door service does'nt hurt either..

Admit it, if you or any of us had the Mulla, we would fly private as well...

The real problem seems to be that some employees have forgotten that the passengers pay for everything, even if its lower than it should be.. never the less, service standards are at an all time low for US carriers.. that needs to change and then start rising the prices a little at a time.. all carriers..

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