The Importance of Being Polite

August 16, 2010

in Flying Hell Commentary

When you think about it, we are all just big babies who have been potty trained and conditioned to suppress our tantrum urges. The frustrations of air travel are abundant and impossible to ignore: waiting in line just to be told we were sent to the wrong line, weather delays, stupid people everywhere, harried staff that come off as rude, what have you. All these things encourage us to let out the shrieking man-baby within. Wouldn’t it feel great to just punch the smirk off that smarmy counter agent’s face, flush the screaming newborn down the lavatory toilet, recline your seat as violently as possible into that tall guy behind you simply because you don’t like his looks?

Don’t do it. Fantasize away, but now you are grown and you must act accordingly. For the love of all that used to be posh and civilized, you will be rewarded if you exercise restraint by knowing that you have made someone’s day a bit easier. Be considerate and helpful to flight attendants and airline staff – chances are you make more money than they do, and stressed/irritable passengers are everybody’s problem when you’re working as an airline team. I can’t count how many times I have been thanked by airport and airline personnel, indirectly via a smile or extra peanuts or with a “thank you for being patient,” simply because I am polite.

There is surely truth in the most recent post about expectations and whatnot. While Japan still refers to customers in the humble polite tense and bows to every single passenger as they deplane, it is a fool’s hope to expect that same kind of treatment from U.S. airlines, and so we lower our expectations. Some employees ARE genuinely rude and deserve to be demoted to family-oriented Disney World Orlando flights, but it is my belief that American airline staff have grown cool and curt at least partially as a reaction to the way passengers treat them. They too have lowered their expectations. I’ve seen middle aged men snapping their fingers at busy flight attendants, young moms losing it and screaming at gate agents in front of their children, and all sorts of customers ranging from difficult to deserving of death. Most people are decent (by “decent” I mean they refrain from throwing tantrums on board or at the airport), but unfortunately many of the memorable ones are the indecent ones.

Think back to the jobs you worked – surely anyone without a trust fund has some customer service-related work experience. Remember those jerks who yelled at you and insisted on speaking to your manager when there was nothing to be done? But I’m sure you also remember at least a few nice people who chatted with you at checkout, complimented your haircut or your earrings, and thanked you like they meant it. The folks who tricked you into thinking “I could ring register my whole life if everyone were like that!”

If in the turbulent throes of our travel woes we cannot actually kill people, why not do the second best thing and kill them with kindness?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Hugh August 16, 2010 at 11:10 pm

Thanks for the lecture. fortunately, I believe that most of us don't need it. Most people behave fine, treat others well, and generally keep society moving. There is a small minoroty which demonstrates the traits you speak out against, but a lecture won;t impact them, they will act that way no matter what. I must say, you come off quite "holier than thou" and I feel some of the feelings mentioned in your article bubbling up in me…Try a different tone, it might have a better impact.


Mom to 2 August 17, 2010 at 3:16 am

While you might be making some very valid points, how is this a flight from hell? I visit this site for those interesting, funny, sad or disturbing stories, NOT for editorials on how we should behave. Stepping of my soapbox now…..


Everett Sandoval August 17, 2010 at 8:59 am

A breath of fresh air amongst the farts.


*sigh* August 17, 2010 at 9:43 am

Judging by two of the three comments above, your plea has fallen upon deaf ears. Looks like society isn't ready to treat each other with courtesy. Thanks for trying!


Hugh August 17, 2010 at 10:05 am

I would disagree. I assume you are referring to my post and Everett's post. I think we both generally agree with the poster. I had some issues with the "lecture-like" attitude, and Everett brought up a valid point regarding the purpose of this site. both posts were polite, no name calling or childishness. I think that having a minor disagreement with a post doesn't make us bad or rude people. It certainly doesn't mean the post fell on deaf ears. I think a respectful disagreement is one of the highest forms of courtesy, if you can be polite to someone you disagree with, that's a heck of a lot more difficult than doing so with someone you're in lock-step with. Please try not to be so judgmental in the future.


*sigh* August 17, 2010 at 10:16 am

Really? I'm being called judgmental by someone who described the OP as "holier than thou" because he asked people to be patient and polite?


Bob August 18, 2010 at 7:53 am

Wow Hugh, take a look in the mirror before you spew your usual nonsense, constructive critisism is just that-constructive, not holier than Hugh.


Hugh August 18, 2010 at 7:56 am

Well, I guess I need to just mindlessly agree with everything posted here then. I had a MINOR disagreement with the tone of the OP and posted it, and I get freakin' crucified for it. Read your post, genius, not quite constructive is it?!?1 Fuck You, Bob…up the ass!


Hugh August 17, 2010 at 10:38 am

I said the OP came off as "holier than thou". It wasn't what he said, rather the tone, the "lecture like" tone of the post. I generally agree with everything he said, but it came off as applying to everyone but him. I travel quite a bit, and have always been polite with airport personnel, and the few problems I have had which might be flights from hell, were usually outside their ability to control. So, I stick by my statement that he came across as lecturing and holier than thou, and also that your posts are very judgmental of others.


Bob August 18, 2010 at 7:55 am

I find your entire statement extremely hard to believe based on your previous posts. Bring the acrimony.


Jim August 18, 2010 at 8:17 am

I have to agree with Hugh as well. The OP was coming across in a manner of "talking down" to the rest of us…..holier than thou.

The post was also slanted toward the flight attendants/airline employees…we should give them a pass for their attitude, because they put up with bad customers, are not paid very well, and we should lower our expectations of them. The tone that the OP used, was similar to the tone that flight attendants use with their customers. …not only the rude ones.


rerere August 17, 2010 at 11:17 am



Brownstain August 18, 2010 at 5:29 am

Boils down to TOO MANY PEOPLE on the planet creating aberrant behavior, just like in any other overpopulated species that eats its young. Start issuing condoms with the food stamps


Jim August 18, 2010 at 6:09 am

I agree with your post. Travellers need to be polite.

But, airline personnel also need to be polite. Imagine the difference a smile from a flight attendant, and genuine caring attitude about a missed, cancelled flight, etc… would make.

To the ticket counter/gate agent/flight attendant, a delayed or cancelled flight is just another day at the office. But, to the business traveller, missing the flight could mean the difference between making a sale, or not, and thereby paying their mortgage or not. To the vacation traveller a missed flight could mean the difference between missing a cruise, or missing a day of your vacation…a vacation that you have saved for and looked forward to all year. Most fly with a purpose to get to their destination. So, a lackadaisical attitude from airline employees, does invoke rude and impolite comments from the paying traveller.

It is a terrible downward spiral. The airline employees give attitude, because they are overworked, underpaid, underappreciated, and union.

The travelling public give attitude, because they have to put up with the necessary evils of getting through security, leaving their house early, fighting traffic to get to a public parking lot, catching a bus to the terminal, waiting in a long line to check in, check their luggage, and finally make it to their gate with just moments to spare, to find out that the flight has been delayed or cancelled. So, the whole flying situation is just a boiling pot of water, just waiting to overflow.

The difference in the above situation, is that the flying public, chooses which airline to patronize. The airline employee chooses his/her career and is paid by their employer to offer customer service. So, the airline employee should be trained to "rise above" petty attitudes, and service the clients regardless.

I do believe kindness begets kindness. And, anger begets anger. Who will be the bigger person, the airline employee or the paying customer?

The airlines should really start focusing on customer service, because if they don't change this downward spiral, fewer people will fly.


ps August 19, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Most travelers are polite and extremely accomodating and most fa's, while maybe not the smiling stewardesses in pillbox hats you saw in commercials 3 odd decades ago and dont make a whole lot of cash, do as well as possible. Flying today costs the equivalent of a bus ticket did 30 years ago and the resulting exponential flood of travelers means that guess what, there are going to be some jerks on your flights now and then. Potty trained? What do you recommend for the bad travellers, a spanking or sitting in the corner in a punishment chair?


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