First Class, Low Class, No Class: The Passenger Hall of Shame

June 20, 2016

I’M OLD ENOUGH to remember when people dressed up to fly. I remember my dad putting on a tie before we left for the airport. And that was on a trip to Florida, of all places, as recently as the early 1980s.

One of the reasons, though, that people once took flying so seriously, is that so few of them had the means to partake in it. Not all that long ago, only a fraction of the population could afford to fly on a regular basis. When I was in junior high, in the late ’70s, maybe a third of my classmates had ever been in an airplane. Even into high school I frequently met other kids who’d never flown. Flying today is far cheaper than it used to be. As a result, almost everybody does it.

And as the demographics have changed, so have the levels of behavior. This we’d expect. With nearly four million people flying every day of the week, across every strata of culture and class the world over, standards of decorum are going to fall. That’s fine, and I don’t want to sound snobbish about it. Maintaining simple dignity doesn’t require anything too formal. I have no problem, for example, with people wearing shorts and sandals onto a plane.

But there comes a point, and what I do have a problem with, is the idea that otherwise reasonable protocols of civility, manners and courtesy cease to apply when you’re at an airport or on an airplane.

I’ve never been privy to a full-blown “air rage” incident, but I’ve witnessed countless instances of shameful behavior: passengers cursing at airline staff; stealing from the liquor carts; leaving soiled diapers in seat pockets; etc., etc. Why, for example, do so many airline passengers find it acceptable to throw their garbage and food all over the cabin floor, then mash it into the carpeting with their feet? You don’t do this in a restaurant. Why is it okay on an airplane? It tends to be small-scale stuff — rudeness and a lack of elementary courtesy — rather than anything violent or overtly hostile, but that doesn’t excuse it.

Here is just some of what I’ve witnessed over the past several months…

I am at the airport in Dubai one early morning, waiting to catch an Emirates flight to Boston. I’m sitting in the boarding lounge when I hear a strange noise coming from behind me. Snip, snip snip, click, click, click. What is that?

I turn around, and what do I see? The guy directly behind me — a young guy in his twenties — is sitting cross-legged in his chair. Both of this feet are naked, and he is clipping his toenails. With every snip and click he splits away another crescent of toenail, which he drops into a growing pile next to his left knee.

Would you take off your socks and start clipping your toenails in a movie theater? In the waiting room at your dentist? Most people would feel uneasy doing it in the woods, never mind at an airport boarding lounge in front of three-hundred people. And while I don’t want to watch, I feel that I have to. Because I need to know what he’s going to do with that big, disgusting pile of trimmings once our flight begins to board. Is he going to collect them up and carry them to the trash? Or will he brush them onto the floor?

What do you think he does?

On another occasion I am at Kennedy Airport, in terminal four, down near the Virgin America gates. A woman and her young daughter are sitting on a bench-seat right along the edge of the corridor. The daughter is four, maybe five years old, and she’s holding a tall plastic cup brimming with round, colored candies. They’re marble-shaped candies, possibly peanut M&Ms. All at once, with no warning, the girl takes the cup and flings the entire thing onto the floor. It’s an impressive spectacle, I have to say, as hundreds of tiny orbs go clattering across the carpet, coming to rest in a great fan-shaped display of color. People turn and stare. And what does the woman do?

She stands up, takes the girl by the hand, and the two of them walk silently away, leaving the entire mess — even the plastic cup — sitting there for some unfortunate janitorial worker to sweep up.

Meanwhile, people are kicked off planes all the time for acting, and even dressing, obnoxiously. In Boston recently, jetBlue denied boarding to a young woman because they felt her shorts were too revealing. Apparently, though, a t-shirt emblazoned with the words FUCK LOVE in giant block letters is within the boundaries of decency?

T-Shirt

I’m not a prude. Nonetheless I’m dying to understand when and how this sort of thing become acceptable. And I’m imagining this same attire in a different context. In the bleachers at a baseball game, for instance. Would that be okay? Would the guy be asked to leave? Wouldn’t he be harassed by parents who’d brought their kids along? There are plenty of little kids at airports, so why is it different here? And which is more troubling, the fact that he’s being accommodated, or the fact that somebody rude enough to put on a shirt like that exists in the first place?

I’m reminded of a shirt that was all the rage a few years ago in Asia. It was a sleeveless tee bearing the grainy image of the model Hedi Klum. She was topless, biting her lip and sticking her middle finger at the viewer. After six days in Thailand I must have seen five hundred tourists — all of them women, whatever that means — wearing these distasteful and hostile things. This one, though, is worse. Mr. FUCK LOVE takes it to the next level. I’m not a proponent of public shaming, so I’ve blurred out the faces, but if anybody deserves to be embarrassed, it’s this guy. His is a sort of brutalist vulgarity.

Next we have Ms. Stinkytoes, luxuriating in her Emirates first class suite. She shows us that boorishness these days isn’t merely for the louts in steerage. Are these the same people who buy elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns? And the privacy of her suite is no excuse (couldn’t she at least have closed the doors?). Maybe I’m overreacting to this one, but how is this any more appropriate that resting one’s bare and splayed toes on a restaurant table? This is still, for all intents and purposes, a public place, and somebody else is going to be occupying that cubicle a few hours from now. And for crying out loud, they give you socks and slippers!

Barefoot2

What is it? Is it the stress? Is it the contempt people harbor for the airlines? Whatever the causes, flying has a way of bringing out the worst in people.

 

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100 Responses to “First Class, Low Class, No Class: The Passenger Hall of Shame”
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  1. Cav says:

    You scare me a little Stephen. Talking about having the proper “breeding”? What does that mean exactly? Is it just that your parents need to have money so you can feel good about being carted into the good life or is there a color-issue in there as well? Either way, for all the horrors of the toe-clipper you seem to be a worse person.

    Also, “Half of all Americans have a below average intelligence”: isn’t that sort of true for every country/age group/whatever other group you’d like to put people in? Dependent on distribution of course…

  2. old geezer says:

    Re littering: good for you. A couple of times I’ve picked up the offending article and gently asked the litterbug “Is it okay if I put this in the bin for you?” – which I then do, while smiling at them. Result: astonishment, no “f*** off”, in our British phrase they just don’t know where to put themselves.

  3. Lexo says:

    Actually, it’s not!

  4. Lexo says:

    I feel so sorry for the girl who was refused boarding a Jet Blue flight for wearing “too revealing” shorts. Stupid narrow minded staff!
    https://twitter.com/Lexoweb/status/699515501190447104

  5. Tim says:

    As a frequent flyer I’ve often noticed that people check their brains in with their luggage – or that is, when they have the sense to check their oversized hand luggage in.

    Some very anti-social behaviours that annoy the hell out of me when I travel:
    1) Why do waiting passengers feel the need to go up to the desk at the gate as soon as they get there? Can they not see the 100+ passengers before them waiting for boarding to open? (I make an exception for those connecting who need a new boarding pass etc or need to leave a stroller at the gate etc)
    2) People travelling in economy putting their hand luggage in the first/business overhead compartments as soon as they board. Etiquette, people. I don’t dump my stuff on my neighbour’s lawn, why would I put my hand luggage in another area of the plane and deprive another paying passenger of their allocated space?
    3) People totally ignoring the hand luggage rules and being too cheap to pay to check it in… if you can afford a plane ticket, you can afford to check your luggage
    4) Families with teenagers abusing early boarding – guess your offspring like being called “kids”?
    5) passengers escaping a burning plane WITH THEIR HAND LUGGAGE. YOUR BLATANT STUPIDITY COULD KILL SOMEONE. (All you need – if you really do – is your passport, medication and money. Put these in your pockets)
    6) ditto passengers escaping a burning plane and lining up to walk down the slide instead of, you know, sliding down

  6. jeffrey latten says:

    No good deed goes unpunished.

  7. jeffrey latten says:

    Dear Captain Smith:

    Blah blah blah in these responses but the bottom line is you are right; civility has gone out the window. And who knows if it will ever return?

  8. jeffrey latten says:

    I like that! The Walmart people are flying. Apt comparison.

  9. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    Patrick, what did you say to these people to shame them for their social transgressions? Nothing. I thought so.

    This isn’t the fault of the Great Unwashed taking over, it is a an excellent example of not enforcing social norms. As the saying goes, all that the mannerless need to triumph is people with manners remain silent. Those of us with breeding, training, and intelligence need to push back. Half of all Americans have a below average intelligence.

    For example, I would have turned around to the young man trimming his toes and said, “My you have such lovely feet? Everyone, notice how beautiful this young man’s feet are. He’s here trimming his toes for all of us to see.” The women with the candy, “Excuse me, do you plan to leave that mess your daughter created?” The people in the t-shirts should be asked, “Do you think that appropriate attire for public appearances where there are children?”

    I have followed people to their homes to return cigaret butts they’ve tossed from their cars. I have nearly weekly chats with people who open the clear-glass freezer doors to stare at the contents, letting all the cold out and foggy other compartments. The Miss Manners Stare is not the last step in public shaming of those breaking social norms, but the first.

    Staying silent is not in civilization’s best interest. Remember: those of you who think you know everything really annoy those of us who do.

    • Patrick says:

      Good comment, Stephen, thanks.

      For the record, I do, occasionally, intervene.

      One time I was walking in Cambridge and some guy in front of me tossed a soda can onto the ground. I went over, picked it up, ran ahead and handed it back to him. At which point he threw it at me.

  10. James says:

    On a bsuiness class flight in Russia, the guy over from me decided to shave at his seat … an hour from landing.

    It’s only a 5h flight too.

  11. Andrew says:

    When airfare prices reached the level of Walmart’s “Everyday low Prices”, what could we expect to see but the people of Walmart starting to fly.

    http://www.peopleofwalmart.com/

    Unfortunately it is a common occurrence to see these these shirts and other such ilk worn frequently by the fellow customers of my local Walmart.

  12. Terry McG says:

    A few months back in Austin, TX. I saw what was likely the most inappropriate display on apparel. A young man was wearing a sleeveless leather vest with big bold lettering on the back that read “Satanic Motherfucker”.
    Now, suppose you’re taking your 8 year old daughter on that flight and you get in line to board behind SM? Having to explain, or try, exactly what this obnoxious rude cad was getting at? Just incredible that American would have allowed him on the plane at all. But they did and didn’t seam to bat an eye.

  13. Jagath says:

    Third class people flying.People with no morals values are flying that’s the problem.But not everyone is bad,but unfortunately growing number of people dont know how to dress or behave are flying that’s very disturbing

  14. David says:

    “The most disgusting incident that I witnessed while travelling was an obese man walking barefoot into the bathroom of a Korean Air flight, 13 hours into the flight.”

    He probably took off his shoes on that thirteen hour flight because his feet hurt. Then, being a “well rounded” individual was unable to put his shoes back on while sitting in his seat.

  15. David says:

    It’s not just when traveling to Hawaii. A lot of people wear house slippers or beach thongs because you have to remove your shoes when boarding a plane. In fact, the TSA practically asks that you do it. (https://www.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips/travel-checklist. “Wear easily removable shoes”).

    These people may have only been following the missives of their elected government.

  16. David says:

    I just flew from Texas back to Newark Airport. I started off to the airport at 9am Texas time and didn’t get out of the airport until 2pm New Jersey time. Yes, this is fast. Yes, we should be grateful we’re able to go half way across the country in less than a day. A covered wagon trip would have taken us a week. Train would have taken 2 days. Yes, air travel allowed me to take less than two days off from work to attend family business in Texas. But, I still spent 8 hours of my life either confined to a seat or corralled in one line or another.

    That guy clipping his toe nails? Yes, he wouldn’t do that in a restaurant, but he’s not stuck in a restaurant for eight hours. The mom who ran away from those M&Ms? She’s been traveling for the last three hours and was probably was embarrassed by her daughters behavior. Flight seemed like a good option. Ffilth on the plane? Where do you toss your garbage when you’re stuck in that tiny little seat for three to six hours? You’re tired. You’re tense. You’re miserable. You’re confined. And, very likely, you really don’t even want to be there.

    Flying may be miraculous, but it’s an awful, dehumanizing experience. This type of behavior is selfish, but you’re in an uncaring environment where you’re treated a bit better than cattle. No worse. .Cattle don’t have their groin fondled by TSA agents while being corralled. There’s no excuse for being an awful and boorish person in public, but under these conditions, it’s almost understandable.

  17. jeffrey latten says:

    You can drive Jacksonville to Miami in 1 hour? What are you driving, a Formula 1 car? On the 95?

  18. Chidi says:

    As someone scared of flying, reading articles on this site has helped a lot in allaying my fear. Imagine my horror to see you compare the chap and his toenails to another of my phobias, a dentist’s office.

  19. LMW says:

    The most disgusting incident that I witnessed while travelling was an obese man walking barefoot into the bathroom of a Korean Air flight, 13 hours into the flight.

  20. Shed says:

    Bangkok to China

    Hot water noodles thrown in the face of the hostess

    Mother and grandmother leave their babies crap filled diapers in the seat.

    And in first class a family clicking their fingers instead using the call button.

    People become animals in taxis trains boats and planes

  21. Lee says:

    OK, while we’re complaining, how about people that wear beach thongs on an airplane. I fly to Hawaii regularly and many people board wearing beach walkers. I mean seriously, they look gross on an airplane, and they probably don’t work well in an evacuation. Why to the airlines allow this?

  22. Van D says:

    You said “ivory and rhinoceros’s horn buyers” make me think of Asian countries.
    Yep, we see lots of barefeet people here. Both Business and Economy Class

  23. Rura says:

    money, unfortunately, will never buy class. its a pity.

  24. Peter Fulton Foss says:

    Dear Mr. Smith:

    I have traveled extensively world wide until retirement in 1999, and I could not agree with you more with regard to the loutish behavior of travelers. This sort of thing began to worsen about 25 years ago, but now is reaching critical mass. The t-shirt FUCK LOVE should have been booted out of the AIRPORT. Oddly, these days even supervisors have come to accept this as the norm. They don’t know otherwise.

    If you have not enjoyed the Carol Burnett skit “No-Frills Airlines”, it is a viewing MUST. Google, “Carol Burnett No-Frills Airline” and enjoy some of the best laughs you’ve probably had in years.

    Kind regards
    Peter Fulton Foss
    Austin, TX

  25. You are such a stirrer Patrick! 🙂
    Your post raises a lot of questions, for which we do not have answers. Maybe just excuses.

    “what I do have a problem with, is the idea that otherwise reasonable protocols of civility, manners and courtesy cease to apply when you’re at an airport or on an airplane.”

    The terms and the definition of civility has changed drastically. Mostly in a negative way. Deterioration? Possibly massively. After leaving Hong Kong and CX, I decided that I will reduce flying, because I despise going through the experience at the airports. There is a slippery slope and it ends up in a chasm.

  26. AlexP says:

    ” Is it the contempt people harbor for the airlines?”

    That factor is dwarfed by the contempt the airlines have it’s ‘customers”

    • Scott Hawthorn says:

      AlexP said:
      ”Is it the contempt people harbor for the airlines?”

      ‘That factor is dwarfed by the contempt the airlines have its “customers.”’

      That’s exactly what I was going to say! Often, by the time I get to my seat on the aircraft, I’m already half-crazy with anger/resentment at the way I’ve been treated. For instance, if the airline makes a mistake, staff often reverts straight to “I’m gonna call security if you continue to complain.” And I am not a perennial complainer. (I still keep my sox on, and never travel in my ‘FUCK BUSH’ tank top. 😉

  27. AlexP says:

    I did enjoy the article and do remember when people dressed up to fly, those were days but not because people dressed up to fly, they were good because the airlines seemed to actually care about giving people a good flying experience.

    These days I’d rather eat a bucket of worms than get on a domestic airliner. Flight attendants are surly and often rude, the cabins are not designed for normal humans, they are terribly cramped an uncomfortable, the onboard service isn’t, tickets are a rip off, luggage fees are also robbery, and the airlines treat the fliers like cattle, so why are you surprised when people behave like cattle?

    Slowly over the years I have expanded my radius for driving from 30 miles to over 1000 miles, if it 1000 miles or less I prefer to drive and often get there faster anyway!

    I can literally drive from Jacksonville Florida to Miami faster than I fly, yes 6 hours vs 1 hour, but you forget the overhead tie associated withj air travel, 2 hours to get to the airport – 1 hr to travel 1 hour to get checked in, extra fees for a bag, waiting for that bag when you arrive if you arrive on time that is, then the hassle of getting to a rental car, I can drive there faster without the airport and airline unpleasantness. And the unpleasantness in many cases is tantamount to torture.

    I have come full circle from living flying to absolutely hating it and you can bet I do care to dress up for flying or making it out as anything other than what it is – awful.

  28. UncleStu says:

    After reading a few of the comments I had to stop because of the people who said things like – yes people are more rude and inconsiderate

    BUT…..

    Then they went on to blame everyone from the taxi driver who dropped them off to the TSA agent.

    Those are cheap, phony (and very revealing) excuses.

    You, and only you, are responsible for your behavior – regardless of the behavior of others.

    Sheesh! Didn’t your parents teach you that?

    • Leah says:

      I decided to specifically reply to this comment because it sounds similar to what my mom always told me growing up: You can’t control how others react, but you can control yourself.

      Anyway, I always think about how my gramps and my dad would react to a situation. They were and are always the gentleman even if things were stressful. People around me might conduct themselves as if they have no self-respect, but I’ll be damned if I react the same way.

  29. Bill says:

    We run a sandwich shop in the departures lounge at an airport in the Caribbean. We’ve seen things that almost no one would believe.

    Moms would attempt to sit their diapered babies on to our food counters. Some have succeeded and then we have to stop everything and clean the whole surface with bleach before tending to the remaining customers. The moms are outraged that we’re outraged at their lack of brains.

    Moms are diapering their babies while seated in the departures lounge with a fully equipped toilet only a few steps away. They throw the dirty diaper into the nearest trash bin. We’ve been asked to take a dirty diaper from some of them and deposit it in our trash bin. Who in his right mind would ask another person to handle a dirty diaper?

    We’ve seen people so drunk as to be unable to stand and end up on the floor where they pass out and occasionally vomit all over the floor. This is at 8AM. Where they got the liquor from is a mystery.

    Drunks come to our counter and slur their requests so we can’t understand them. Then they get belligerent and start grabbing things and tossing them around because they are drunk and angry at us for our inability to comprehend their mumbles.

    Moms let kids run around and scream at the top of their lungs when they want something and mom won’t purchase it for them.

    A mom will ask a toddler what it wants to eat while adults in line have to wait till she’s finished arguing and eventually ordering.

    • Peter Fulton Foss says:

      Disgusting to the max. I would be very interested to know what percentage of these people are American?

      I have often found Australians traveling within a thousand miles of their country to be ill-mannered, loud, disruptive, and usually pretty loaded up with liquor. They are on budget holidays, whereas their countrymen who can afford to travel farther afield (such as Europe, Canada, and the U.S.) are often charming, gracious, and appreciative. There is a world of difference between the two.

  30. Joe says:

    I understand the overall point you are making and I agree with you 100%. My only point is that as unseemly as having one’s foot up on the TV stand might appear, our disgust is more a reflection of the historical use of the foot which was usually bare and has usually been in contact with the ground, with who knows what, and therefore quite dirty. In modern times, I would guess that the bare human foot is probably cleaner most of the time than the bare human hand. It is usually covered in socks and shoes. I suspect that the human hand, which we use to touch every thing, actions which would elicit no similar objections on the part of your readers, is probably dirtier at any given moment than the corresponding foot. I suspect that after a trip through the NY subway, or to the typical lavatory on a long distance flight, my hands are in much worse shape hygienically speaking than my foot. Yet I understand the historical aversion to seeing a foot up on anything other than the ground.

  31. noscreenname says:

    Patrick – I have long loved your writing and perspective on air travel. But you miss a crucial point in this piece.
    Respect is indeed a two-way street, and when our first point-of-contact at every airport is not with the airline itself but with the surly, power-tripping otherwise-unemployables of the TSA, it sets a tone and a mood for the rest of the day that even the best airline service cannot mitigate.
    Putting ppl on the offensive and treating them all like criminals (forget probable cause) should never be a business model.
    But for some reason we have made it as such in the airline biz and it is now becoming the norm at NFL games, concerts, festivals, political rallies and anywhere else people now gather in large groups. (See “the Pope’s visit to America).
    When we process people like potential inmates to be jailed, rather than paying customers to be cherished or fans to be nurtured, we degrade the relationship before an opportunity for mutual respect even has a chance to bloom.
    Yes some people will always be boorish and clueless. But I think a fair amount of the disregard we see now is rooted in the notion that the paying customer isn’t valued.
    Militantly separating customers from belongings, thrusting hands inside waistbands, through hair and around breasts – these things happen to me at airports all the time – isn’t a business relationship. It’s abuse and it takes extraordinary patience and control from me to keep it together, every time.

    • Peter Fulton Foss says:

      Your points are very well made. I believe this is why we see bad and often dangerous behavior on the aircraft. From the administration of this country to aircraft seating, we are fed up with it all.

  32. Jean says:

    I don’t care how people dress (short of wearing obscene, hostile slogans that may affect children), but I do mind having my senses and safety invaded by loud noise; foul smells; nasty activities that expose me to infection; and violation of my personal space, especially pushing and shoving.

  33. Jean says:

    John Waters fans will remember “Serial Mom,” in which an excessively genteel matron murders a series of etiquette rule breakers, including Patricia Hearst’s character (for wearing white shoes after Labor Day). Ah, the good old days.

    If you can’t afford business class, at least bring along a package of earplugs, one of those air refreshers you hang around your neck, and your own imaginary Serial Mom — or a pair of blinkers. Oh yes, and antidepressants as appropriate. Bon voyage!

  34. Wol says:

    I have several times been amazed seeing babies’ nappies (diapers)being changed in the middle of rows of passengers. On one occasion during dinner…..

  35. Alan says:

    Let’s look at it from the passenger’s point of view..?

    Was a time you’d arrive at an airport and feel like a welcomed paying customer.

    Now we are terrorist cattle, to be bullied at random and nickle-and-dimed for those “cheap” flights.

    The entire experience has become stressful, at times fearful, yet oddly boring and dragged out. Any idea of “the journey is the destination” no longer applies to flying. I find it – by far – the least pleasant part of any trip.

    I too grew up when few people could fly. The idea of getting in a jet plane, roaring into the sky, thousands of feet up and hundreds of miles an hour.. wow, exciting, an event to savor and remember.

    Now it’s a stressful PITA; I’ve had dentist visits that were more pleasant. If we treat the airports and airlines badly it’s because we’re returning the sentiment.

    What fun and enjoyment I get roaring into the air in a jet I get DESPITE the way passengers are treated, not because of it.

  36. Richard Steele says:

    I’m always astonished at how slovenly some passengers appear to be; unkempt hair, dirty clothes, unshaven. It’s as though some folks don’t even possess a bar of soap or a decent pair of slacks in their wardrobe. And although I can abide the cargo shorts/flip-flop style, I sometimes wonder if this is sensible dress for emergencies.
    As a child of the 1960’s, I sometimes lament the passing of simple decorum and manners. It appears that a virulent strain of me-ism has taken over our faded rituals of good manners, good grooming and sensible clothing.

  37. Reader says:

    [My mother] taught me that your presentation is an expression of how much you care about yourself and those around you. — Lupita Nyong’o, as quoted by People in its May 5, 2014 issue.

  38. Mike says:

    I wish it was as simple as the low cost of flying. Societies in industrialized nations have changed. Rules of decorum and dress have shifted toward casual. Sometimes it is for the better, at other times it crosses the boundaries of rudeness and boorish behavior.

    When I was stationed in Spain during the 1960s, the Air Force gave all newbies a lesson in proper dress and etiquette in Spain. No male was to leave the base without wearing coat and tie. It was the standard in Madrid.

    In the 1950s, my family ran a restaurant in Honolulu. We flew on the PAA China Clipper in business dress. It was even more formal on the S.S. Lurline liner where meals were formal affairs in the main dining room. I still have my official Junior Steward badge for helping the crew set up the cushions on the deck chairs. It was a way to keep kids out of trouble running amok through the hallways.

    In 1950s Los Angeles, men wore coats, ties, and fedoras when visiting or working in the city. Only the lower class laborers who swept the sidewalks or washed the dishes worked in casual clothing.

    Not too long ago I conducted a funeral in Honolulu. I was the only one wearing a suit and tie. Everyone else was dressed in Hawaii casual, many wearing zoris (flip-flops), all of them wearing colorful Aloha shirts or muumuu dresses. Business dress for men in Hawaii these days is the ubiquitous Aloha shirt and slacks, though generally with shoes on.

  39. Ad absurdum per aspera says:

    Someone I knew via the Internet once coined the term “Miffies” — people whose attitude was, in its family friendly version, Me First, Fooey on You. He was referring to driving etiquette but it is, unfortunately, a powerful motif in many areas of public behavior.

  40. Rachel K. says:

    I agree that civility during air travel has drastically deteriorated since I was a youngster. I vehemently disagree with the classist rhetoric used to explain this behavior. There was a time when passengers were treated like… humans, beginning the instant we arrived at the airport. Now, at best, we are treated as a cow’s lesser cousin — even if we are dressed nicely and have impeccable manners. At worst, we are treated as potential terrorists.

    People from all socio-economic classes can and will behave nicely when there is an established precedent for doing so. The Race-to-the-Bottom mentality so firmly embraced by all U.S. carriers benefits no one. When passengers are greeted by a flight attendant who looks as though (s)he has neither showered nor shaved in days prior to the flight, it does little to establish confidence with that airline. When that flight attendant is always scowling or refusing to answer the simplest questions by passengers, it kills the notion of maintaining any hint of civility. A passenger’s demeanor is reflected in how well that passenger is treated. While the airlines have absolutely no control over the chaos in the TSA lines, it has enormous control regarding the professional and civil demeanor on board each flight.

  41. Dusty Scott says:

    Another favorite of mine is “I have to take my pet with me everywhere I go” person. Putting a laptop in the seat pocket is a no-go, but I saw a girl with a MASTIFF lying on the floor in front of her seat and the seat next to her. I wondered “how is that going to affect passenger egress when the lady sitting next to her (with her legs bent around to the side so as not to touch the 165 pound dog) has to leave the plane in the event of an emergency. Emotional support animals are like medical marijuana. Just a little too easy to get.

  42. Diane says:

    While I agree that the problem that you describe is real, you seem to imply in your first few paragraphs that it originated because less wealthy people can fly now, but your photo of the woman in a suite seems to illustrate that that is not the issue at all. Rather, I think there is a general lack of formality (and lack of manners) that affects every aspect of life, not just flying. I am old enough to remember people dressing up to take the train and to go shopping. Now I regularly see people wearing shorts to church. The move to a more informal society has its good points, but I agree it has gone too far – though I first saw an obscene T shirt in a public place way back in 1975. And I worked in an office where a woman clipped her toenails in full view of everyone. So – yes, there is a problem – but no, I don’t think it’s about flying.

  43. Devin D. says:

    Patrick, we must not place all the blame for the recent decades’ cultural change on the consumer/flyer. Those earlier halcyon days of air travel that you refer to… Well yes, folks were apt to put on a tie and jacket to fly. But also, flight attendants and gate agents were universally friendlier and provided better service, did they not? The flying experience is affected by the industry as well as the consumer.

    “Back in the day,” flyers weren’t faced with surly ticket agents, often-uneducated (or apparently so) TSA agents, grouchy flight attendants who act more like old-school diner waitresses… and never faced the fear that should they pack an iPad in their checked luggage that it was sure to be stolen, replaced by a love note from the bag inspector.

    Well, they didn’t have iPads. Transistor radios then, ok?

    Of course these negative experiences are not the industry-wide standard, but you’d agree that they are certainly much more commonplace than they should be??

    I’m not suggesting a chicken-and-egg scenario of the air industry affecting consumer attitudes, or vice versa. But they do seem to have evolved (devolved?) together over time.

  44. Stephen R. Stapleton says:

    I suppose, if my flight were delayed long enough, after a week or so, I might need to clip my nails. Additionally, if I were Viktor Navorski, I’d have to clip them.

    Such silliness aside, I suspect part of this slide to being less formal in this public space is flying now requires we spend so long at the airport. I can easily remember driving up to the curb of what is now the Sacramento Executive Airport about 15 minutes before departure, dropping my bags with the Skycap at, waiting two or three minutes to check in at the counter, sitting for five minutes at the gate, handing my ticket over to the gate check, walking outside and up the steps on to my plane. There just wasn’t really any time to do much else. Today, one arrives, is rushed away from the car by the police who scared someone will “park” at the curb while dropping off a traveler. One doesn’t need to check in as that was done electronically at home, but one spends up to two hours waiting to clear TSA and no one sees the traveller off at the gate anymore. If the TSA line is fast, then one is trapped on the gate side with too much extra time and no where comfortable to sit. I recommend the first class lounges.

    Ah, the modern world.

  45. smr says:

    I’m sorry, but why is a topless photo of a model “slutty”?

  46. Frederik D.N. says:

    This article is totally correct.
    I don’t like flying and the people that totally disrespect the safety rules are just an extra problem added to my (irrational) fear of flying.

    I think it’s an utter form of disrespect to your fellow passengers if u do not pay attention to the safety rules being explained by the hostess, no matter if u heard it 100 times before

    I also feel that many passenger that are so sloppy or not paying attention, it may result some disaster that could be avoided easily.

    Last but not least, some sort of civilized behaviour doesn’t hurt anyone and is truly appreciated by anyone. I’m not a stiff person that wants things to be back like it was in the 60’s but surely the way things go now on airports show that how thin this layer of civilisation is on some moments.

    As example i had once a plane that got cancelled due weather conditions, it was so late i couldnt find a hotel anymore (that day over 30/40 planes got canccelled in the small airport of geneva so hotels were mostly full and mine got cancelled at bit after midnight so nowhere to go)

    Result was sleeping on the ground, although this was an unpleasant experience i refused to give up my manners the next morning at the counter were most people were storming to the desk to get as soon as possible a renewed ticket. I waited out my line and still got my ticket. I was stunned to see how 40plussers were not respecting queues and didnt feel any shame for that either.

    Regards

  47. Tabi says:

    Oh I remember that when we flew in Y(international),a couple sitting diagonal to us
    started to change their baby’s diaper on a tray table. I immediately noticed and told FA to change seats. If they thought ok to do such thing, something worse than that
    could happen right in front of us…….. The flight was NH ( All Japan Airways)
    so that most of passengers were polite and quiet. None of them except us made a move like that. (* I am Japanese and my husband is American) The couple spoke Portuguese.
    Since the incident, we try to fly in Business as much as possible. But as you mentioned in the other article, there might be a screaming baby traveling with obnoxious egocentric parents. Well, we can not avoid public…..eh?

    • Godfreyette says:

      It is indeed revolting that the couple changed their baby’s diaper on the food table. But this causes you to fly business forever? Wow. How nice for you that you can afford to arrange never to encounter boorish behavior again, because we all know that business class fliers have impeccable manners.

      And you equate screaming babies with egocentric parents? I don’t even know where to begin with that piece of ignorant nonsense.

  48. Robert says:

    Well, my lady and I travel regularly to the Caribbean, and we travel in clean, neat and trendy bib overalls …..for logical reasons; lots of front pockets for passports, tickets, loot, etc.
    Also practical should the worst happen.
    It may look hay-seedy, but we’ve both recieved many compliments from flight staff about the wisdom …and I don’t think they were just trying to us feel good.

  49. Jon says:

    Flying really does seem to bring out the worst in some people. I’ve never seen anyone clipping their toenails in an airport (yet), but I have seen it several times when travelling on a train in continental Europe.

    As an aside, it’s probably a good thing that you didn’t have your camera with you whilst in Dubai. The UAE has some pretty draconian social media laws, and if you had taken a picture of the wrong person and published it online you could have fount yourself in quite some trouble. Australian Jodi Magi was jailed and then deported earlier this year for posting a picture of a car parked in a disabled parking spot.

  50. Mr Carter says:

    That F shirt is probably the lowest class shirt I have ever seen in my life. Probably could get you arrested on the spot in many locales and that clown thinks it’s funny or smart to wear such a shirt?

  51. Farbar says:

    Just a few weeks ago my wife and I were in the domestic terminal at the Sydney, Australia airport waiting to board a flight to Perth. We had our empty water bottles as we had just passed through security and saw a special water fountain that is designed to fill your bottle, with a high curved over-and-down neck (upside-down “U” shape). We got in line behind three other people and an Indian woman was filling a bottle for her two children. Suddenly an Asian man (yes, he was Asian but no idea what country he was from) came up rapidly through us and moved the woman out of the way. He stuck his head under the spout trying to drink the descending water as we looked on in surprise but he wasn’t getting the water in his mouth very well. So he wrapped his lips around the spout and started guzzling the water that way! We were yelling at him to get his mouth off the nozzle of the fountain (it was disgusting) and he gulped away oblivious to our protests. I was about to move up and push him away when he finished, wiped his mouth, and rapidly walked away with no shame showing on his face. All of us in line looked at each other and walked away to look for another place to fill our bottles.

    Later I saw the same man in our waiting area and I told my wife that if he is sitting anywhere close to us I will demand to be moved to different seats. Luckily he was not near us at all on the flight.

  52. MS72 says:

    Gee whiz,

    There’s a lot of stuff that bugs me, but these 2 examples I just had to laugh:

    1. Church service when a deacon clips his nails during the sermon. “Clip! … Clip! … Clip! Hilarious. And he repeated the performance each Sunday.

    2. College class where a math prof jumbles the letters that make up the F-word to illustrate his lecture. I had to control myself not to laugh out loud. If it was an inadvertent mistake, why …

    Rise above the rest. Laugh it off. Whatever…

  53. David Read says:

    I’ve noticed several times people going into the toilet in bare feet. At first I thought it was just a lone example of gross public behavior. But then it happened again, and again. These are on transatlantic BA and Virgin flights and the mind boggles at the disgusting habits of some people.
    My pet peeve are parents who bring very young infants on flights and subject scores of people to an eight or nine hour tantrum. Of course, the kids can’t help it, being too young to understand and they behave like young kids, but the arrogance of parents who fail to control them and spoil the flight for everyone around them is staggering. I’d willingly pay extra for child free flights to avoid these kids (and parents). Don’t tell me to fly Club Class – done that and it can be just as bad.

  54. Don Beyer says:

    Blame Peoplexpress.

  55. Don Beyer says:

    No matter where one goes, it’s all the same. Most everybody dresses as if they’re painting the house. I wonder how all those stores selling nice clothes stay in business. You rarely see anyone wearing those things. It appears there is no difference between casual and slob.

  56. Vijay says:

    Patrick, I have noticed the steady decline in airline passenger “civility” over the years. I first noticed a trend towards sweatpants, then basketball shorts, tube tops and flip flops. I am understanding of my fellow travelers up to a point. Air travel is fraught with so many indignities these days. The cattle car mentality pervades the whole enterprise. I still dress up for a flight. When I travel for business I may head straight from the airport to an engagement so I have to be presentable. But even when I am going on leisure I’ll wear khakis, a dress polo, loafers with wool or microfiber dress socks (since I’m probably going to kick my shoes off I like my hosiery to be fashionable!) and usually a light jacket like a Members Only for those chilly red-eyes on which they keep the cabins too cold and you just can’t get comfortable. I know I sound terribly preppy but over years of flying I have found every aspect of this outfit to be practical and it has the added advantage of allowing me to hit the ground running at my destination.

  57. JS says:

    I’m more ambivalent than you about this — I mean, I don’t love it, but I’m also not as opposed as you are. Though I’m only talking about the photographed cases—clipping toenails at the airport is hideously wrong. Anyway, a couple of things:

    1. Often, you’re on a plane a *lot* longer than you’d ever be at a restaurant, etc. I would never slip off my shoes at a restaurant table, but I would and have done that on transatlantic flights. (Yes, yes, clean socks and all that.) Couple that with the fact that a lot of the promise/marketing of airlines is around making you as “comfortable” as possible—and esp. so when it comes to 1st class—and it’s not at all surprising that people would think it’s perfectly okay to be barefoot with your feet up on a plane. (I mean, it’s okay in *some* public places, right? It’s OK in a park, surely?)

    2. I guess I’m pretty relaxed about foul language (I use it a lot!), so while I would never wear a “FUCK LOVE” T-shirt, I guess it doesn’t annoy that me much. (I mean, extreme bad style to be sure, but no worse than “SCREW LOVE”, is what I’m thinking.) More importantly, tho, I wonder where you took that photo and whether the person wearing the shirt is a native English speaker (or an English speaker at all). Because if they’re not, it’s highly possible that they simply don’t get how that looks/sounds to a typical native English speaker.

    • Patrick says:

      He was an English speaker. They were a group of former (current?) U.S. military dudes, best I could tell, speaking unaccented English.

      • Rod says:

        Well, so much for my proposed excuse. They’re simply dickheads and that guy should have been made to change shirts.

      • JS says:

        Point taken. As Rod says, that’s pretty seriously dickish, then.

      • Pete Arthur says:

        My dear chap, if they were Americans, it’s highly unlikely their English was unaccented.
        Pete from the UK. ????

        • Henry Higgins says:

          Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak, this verbal class distinction should now be antique, chose proper English you’re regarded as a freak. And in America they haven’t spoken English for years.

        • Guy Hamilton says:

          Good point. I find it bizarre that people will say things like, “He has an accent”, or “He speaks without an accent.”
          Every person on the planet who has the power of speech in any language has an accent. And anyone sufficiently familiar with that language can infer things about the person’s background from the accent.
          There is no such thing as “unaccented” or “without an accent”.
          And, Pete, as you imply Americans have a variety of particularly strong and distinctive accents.

  58. Rod says:

    I’m pretty foul-mouthed in casual company, but wearing this shit on T-shirts is either pathological aggressiveness (maybe perceived attention-dperivation) or, as the lady below said, ignorance of the word’s power in English.

    It reminds me of the recently captured American POW in “Slaughterhouse Five” who shouts at a British POW (who’s been there since Dunkirk) “Why don’t you go fuck yourself?!” Brit: “Don’t think I haven’t tried, mate.”

  59. I don’t mind when people put their feet up (Clean feet and preferably in socks) but I am utterly Disgusted when people….I can’t believe I am saying it, but when people cut their finger and toenails!!!! So Uncouth!! I still can’t believe people do this, it shocks me every time and makes me gag. That and the ridiculous amount of cologne and perfume people wear.

  60. noah says:

    The slut shaming related to the Heidi Klum t-shirt is totally uncalled for. You could have made the same point without the slut shaming.

    • Patrick says:

      I don’t understand what you mean by “slut-shaming.” On the shirt, she is topless and she is giving me the finger. Is not sluttiness more or less exactly what she’s trying to convey? And if so, why am I guilty for describing it as such?

      Then again, perhaps “slutty” is the wrong word. After all, the imagine itself does not suggest, one way or the other, that Heidi Klum likes to sleep around. On the contrary, even. But whatever the right word is, it should be something derogatory. Because the image is, by intent, sexually hostile and offensive.

      So, okay, it’s not a slutty pose. It’s just a sexually hostile and offensive one.

      • noah says:

        I’m definitely not joking. The fact that a woman expresses sexual availability need not be decried as being “slutty.” There is a lot of good literature on the problems with painting sexually active/interested women in this way.

        • Bo says:

          “I’m definitely not joking.”

          You’re definitely a neutered white-knight idiot. Try not “slut shaming” on your own blog, this one is Patrick’s, who by all indications is a grown man. Bitch.

      • John LM says:

        Patrick,

        I’m one of your regular readers but… I hope to update your thinking on this subject. There is a movement afoot that points out the hypocrisy with women, nudity and sexuality. I assume you know slut is a derogatory word that implies the woman sleeps with a lot of men. Of course like many words it’s bent and skewed but in using it to describe a perfect stranger (I assume you don’t know Heidi Klum) you are calling her a slut for simply being naked and acting proactively. Would you use the same description for a shirtless David Beckham flipping off the camera? This is the issue, woman are shamed for expressing their desires and sexuality or for just being topless. Men can take their shirt of outside anytime, anywhere and it doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. At worst he’ll be asked to put it on inside a restaurant or place of business. Yet if a woman does the same thing she risks getting arrested and more then likely sexually harassed. Now you say to yourself, ” I would never sexually harass a woman” but the same thinking that lead you to infer sluttiness with an image of a woman is the same reasoning men across the world use to objectify woman while at the same time shame them for doing the very thing men want them to do! In the end that photo was taken for a magazine spread; for readers that want to see that kind of photography. It’s not her fault the image was pirated a million times and thrown on a tshirt and she shouldn’t be judged because of that fact.

      • Henry Higgins says:

        The Heidi Klum image on the shirt is the attitude of US airlines toward their passengers these days. I will only fly two U.S. based airlines, Virgin and Southwest. I never fly trans Atlantic or Trans Pacific on any American airline, only the foreign carriers.

  61. David M. says:

    Patrick, there is another place where this behavior is commonplace. Public Transportation. (Come on, you ride the “T”.)

    That’s what airline travel has become these days.

    • Ben says:

      Flying has become so commonplace that people treat flying on aircraft like riding a public transit bus. I actually have ridden on public transit buses and aircraft and in some cases some aircraft and airlines have far more uncomfortable first class never-mind economy seats then seats on a public transit bus packed like sardines.
      Low-Cost Airlines are the epitome on how people treat flying to riding a bus today.

  62. “…Is it the contempt people harbor for the airlines?…”

    No; it is the contempt airlines harbor for their customers.

  63. John Borrego says:

    My family lived in Libya for several years in the 50s. My mother and the kids generally flew back to the States for the summer, a three- or four-day odyssey: Tripoli to Rome, Rome to London or Paris, then to New York (usually with a refueling stop in Shannon), on to Chicago, with a final leg on a North Central DC-3 to Madison. Coats and ties for me and my brother (I was between six and eight years old at the time), nice dresses for the girls. Little sister, age four or five, was exempted from wearing gloves. Mom would let my brother and me take off our coats and ties while we slept, but they went back on before breakfast.

  64. Denise says:

    What is your opinion on the “therapy” animals that people are flying with now? Recently, I was on a flight with a “therapy” cat sitting behind me who preceded to meow loudly the entire flight. Anyone can order a special vest for their animal online, and I think its getting out of control.

    • KenP says:

      Denise,
      Alaska Air has some very strict requirements on emotional service animals and paperwork must be submitted prior to boarding. https://www.alaskaair.com/content/travel-info/accessible-services/specialservices-support-animals.aspx. You can back up a page from this and see that even their handicap service animals have strict requirements (can’t be out the carrier, must fit under the seat in front of you etc.). In flying with them for over 500,000 miles, I have never had a problem. Delta on the other hand, in First, I had a dog that was slobbering all over me while the owner slept. So, it might just be a carrier by carrier issue as to pets being constrained at all times and must be on the floor in front of you.

      Patrick,
      A well done article and things certainly have degraded over the years. It is no wonder that cabin crews are grouchy. However, I remember flying Pan Am to Australia in 1980 in first, and the guy across from me clipping his toe nails even back then. Some people have always seemed to have left common decency and their minds at home when they get on a plane.

  65. Tracy says:

    Not defending the guy, as his t-shirt is vulgar, but it’s become rather a trend here in Brazil to wear t-shirts that use the f-word prominently: “Fuck Stress/Have more sex,” for instance, is something I saw at a (casual but fairly upscale) restaurant yesterday, or “Fuck Haters” on an employee (!!!) at the beauty salon I go to. I’ve just assumed that Brazilians either don’t understand the words of what they’re wearing, or they think that it’s edgy without realizing how offensive it actually is. Signed, a girl who was until recently using some very profane Portuguese swear words not realizing how powerful they were.

    • Rod says:

      Right, “fuck” is simply even more popular in non-Anglo countries than in them. That’s language fer ya.
      It’s always wise to ask about the power of slang words before using them in a language that isn’t yours.

  66. Chi Chi says:

    Slippers? Socks, maybe. Slippers are just for going to the bathroom.

    • Many Perches says:

      Slippers? Socks? If only!
      I travel frequently between the Mainland and Hawaii. Often travelers are already in vacation mode and wear flip-flops which they kick off at the beginning of the flight, and then…and then…they go to the lavatory – barefoot! Whatever happened to basic hygiene? I’ve observed this enough times to know that it’s not uncommon – usually, but not exclusively, teenagers.

  67. J P Gosselin says:

    Very interesting topic. You hit the nail on the head!

  68. John O'D says:

    The stress is certainly a factor for me. I was rude to a guy at an airport check-in recently. I had just been through the nightmare of Ryanair’s new self-check-in system, after the usual fraught 2-hour drive to the airport through southern England’s permanently snarled up commuter traffic. He thought I’d pushed ahead of him in the queue; I thought he wasn’t queuing because of the space in front of him, and the fact that he was making no move towards the desk.

    I love flying, but I’m getting to the point where the stress of getting to the airport against a deadline, checking in, going through security etc. makes me feel I never want to set foot in an airport again.

    I just hope I never sink to the level of the examples you give in your article!

    • Pete Arthur says:

      John O’D. You could always do what my partner and I do. If we have a morning flight, (or any flight from Gatwick or Heathrow) we book into a convenient hotel near the airport the night before. If possible we always go to the airport by rail (except for Tees Side, the train station is a twenty minute walk from the terminal) or of course you could always move to Yorkshire, otherwise known as Gods Own County. Cheaper housing, less traffic, plus Leeds/Bradford and Manchester are far easier airports to fly from than the London hubs.

      • Henry Higgins says:

        I should not give away this secret but will now. I fly to Amersterdam, then fly to Norwich. Much nicer, calmer. Anything to stay out of Heathrow and the slog into the City.