Our role in today's less-than-friendly skies

Posted: Sunday, July 09, 2000

Flying commercially just isn't what it used to be. In the old days - say 15 years ago - you actually got a pretty decent meal, everyone was nice, a lot of people actually wore ties, and it seemed you almost always left and arrived on time.

Today, some ``meals'' are pretty questionable, either we've gotten bigger or the seats sure have shrunk, clothing is optional, and don't you dare talk or smile to anyone else. Gone are the days when you might actually have an empty seat next to you, and when was the last time you actually left or arrived on time? Should we even bring up whether your luggage arrives, or what condition it's in?

It's gotten to the point where passenger advocate groups are demanding that Congress pass laws to make airlines improve service. Lost luggage, delayed or canceled flights and a host of other complaints are dramatically on the rise.

But it's not all the airlines' fault. In fact, passengers themselves are becoming more and more unruly. Just last week, a woman passenger threw a beer can at a stewardess (oops, flight attendant) and bit a pilot on the arm.

In response to increased ``air rage,'' as it's now being called, airline employees are calling for action. They say, and rightly so, that inappropriate behavior on airlines is dangerous and on the rise.

The International Transport Workers Federation, an umbrella group for unions, said air rage incidents have increased from 1,132 in 1994 to 5,416 three years ago. U.S. air crews reported a dramatic increase from 66 incidents of unruly passengers to more than 500 last year.

Such incidents are completely unacceptable. The dramatic rise in air rage reports has led to an increase of the maximum fine for assaulting a crew member from $1,100 to $25,000. And disrupting a flight can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Those are all unfortunate, yet necessary measures to ensure the safety of the flying public. Yes, planes are more crowded, they're late or canceled more often and ticket lines seem to go on forever.

Yet it seems as air travel has increased, common courtesy has declined. Flying commercially isn't what it used to be. But isn't the purpose of flying to get from Point A to Point B - and get there safely?

It's not always fun for crew members either. So why don't we all continue to push the airlines to improve their service, while at the same time improving our own manners. Unruly passengers are a much greater threat to airline safety than a delayed flight. So the next time a crew member hands you your ``meal,'' smile and remember they have to eat it too.

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