Life As We Know It: October 28, 2013

        “GOOD MORNING, ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot speaking. Remember a few weeks back when that smart-aleck Tom Walton outlined his frustrations with the airlines and especially fellow air travelers and asked you to do the same? Well, it was a suggestion that really took off, so to speak. How am I supposed to make a living up here? I hate that guy.”

        All right, Captain, enough venting from the cockpit. It’s time to vent from back here in coach, aka the Sardine Can, and boy, did people ever vent. I thought I had assembled a pretty impressive collection of incidents of bad behavior by the flying public, conduct by inconsiderate passengers that I had personally witnessed after years of flying commercial. Turns out you’ve seen a lot of behavior I missed, and for that I’m grateful.

        Clint from Toledo related watching a man become increasingly loud and argumentative at the boarding lounge counter. He demanded specific seats for him and his wife and children. When he and his family boarded they were not seated where he wanted. He demanded that the elderly couple assigned to the seats he wanted be moved immediately. They were – to first class. Serves him right.

        Martin from Sylvania resents fellow travelers of a certain, shall we say, girth and heft who are issued seats in the emergency exit rows and who he’s convinced would be of no help in an emergency. Martin also remembers when men dressed up in suits and ties and the ladies wore dresses and heels to fly.

        Charlotte of Bowling Green agreed with my frequent unhappiness with the person in the seat ahead, saying she learned the hard way to hold on to her hot tea when the traveler just ahead abruptly pushes his seat all the way back. Sometimes, she says, she just wants to smack the guy in the head. Please Charlotte, while I am sympathetic, I cannot condone violence. Flying, Charlotte adds, just isn’t fun any more.

        Paul, a businessman from Sun Valley, Calif., reserved his disgust for the folks in the baggage claim area. Fellow passengers stake out a spot along the carousel and block others from stepping up to retrieve their bags, he laments. He thinks the airlines should paint a line on the floor encircling the carousel and require travelers to stand behind it until their bags emerge.

        The number one complaint of Sharon of Henderson, Nevada? Nobody, she says, should have to sit elbow to elbow with a fellow passenger scarfing down a Big Mac. “You have no choice but to smell it, which can either make you so hungry you want to gnaw on your seatbelt or so nauseous you want to throw up.”

        And please, she pleads, clean up after yourself when you’re finished in the bathroom. How hard is it, she wonders, to wipe the sink with a paper towel and “leave the world a better place for the next guy.”

        But you know what? I blame the airlines, from the big boys like American, US Air, and Delta to the little flying tubes we call Air Puddle-Jumper, for at least some of this bad behavior. Charlotte is right. Flying just isn’t fun any more. As our deregulated airlines contract and merge, cancel flights, shrink the seats, and eliminate amenities and service, and passengers respond in inconsiderate and ill-tempered ways, it’s clear that the golden age of flying is history.

        Will it ever come back? I think you’ll see the New England Journal of Medicine swimsuit issue before that happens.