What Happened to Just Plain Good Manners?

Is it the airlines, or just us?

I recently read an article in Aviation Week which solicited a heck of lot of comment. The article was called “Opinion: If Air Rage is out of control, ask Management”. The author, Bob Ross, President of the Professional Flight Attendants union, has dumped the entire blame for the recent spate of air rage incidents on the management of the airlines.

Ross covers the entire range of rage promoters; smaller seats and overhead compartments, reduced angle of passenger seat back, crowded aircraft, and snarky flight attendants. He indirectly cites poor wages and working conditions as the reason for the snarkiness of the flight attendants. And predictably, he claims the prime responsibility for the reduced service levels and bad crew behavior from the good old days to the present is the usual whipping boy; management.

The article drew a ton of responses and most agreed with the lower standards of service; after all, who wants to sit in an economy seat reduced in size and offering little room for knee space. Airlines have universally established a business model which attempts to capture as much of the economy market segment as possible. To do this, airlines have scrimped on basic service levels offering lower fares with the resulting lower service levels.

In addition, the all-inclusive level of service has been replaced by an “ala carte” menu where you choose service levels on baggage, seat locations and even seat sizes, and pay extra for the upgrades. This can be pretty difficult for passengers to unravel. Passengers seemingly do not equate the lack of service with their ticket prices. In the English rail system, this is called Third Class, and that categorization may lead some flight attendants to treat the price conscious segment of their customer set as the great unwashed.

As Bob Ross claimed in this blog, is management the cause of air rage?

My thoughts are that this is a handy way to find a fall guy when there are wider problem facing us at a societal level. In short, we as a people are becoming nastier, and more prone to violence. Just recently, a female student at a prestigious eastern university was concussed and bloodied by a male student who did not agree with her political views. People are assaulted on the streets with no intervention by bystanders. The middle finger is the common response to a minor traffic incident. So, is it a surprise when customers and crews are ready to go at it for the most trivial reasons?

In a recent Aviation Week blog, a passenger related his recent experience; “I am 6’5” tall and have arthritis in my knees. I thought that I had perfected my technique of tapping the person on the shoulder in the seat in front of me and politely saying “I’m sorry, you can’t put your seat back because my knees are jammed against the back of your seat.” For years, it worked and now the typical response morphed to “F__ Y__, I paid for this seat and I can do whatever I want with it.”

Business Traveler online magazine notes that most of the biggest peeves of passengers are not amenities or airline crew behavior but those of fellow-passengers. “Insufficient legroom, the peeve that clinched the top spot in last year’s poll, ranked first as the most notable nuisance. Next on the list, however, came loud or disruptive passengers, which moved up from last year’s fifth place. The following two peeves, seatmate taking up too much space and passenger in front reclining seat, revisit the desire for un-encroached-upon personal space in-flight.”

Let’s go back to the 1960’s; I began flying in my teens; the year was 1960 on a four engine TWA flight from NY to Riverside, California to visit my cousins. The cost of the flight for my parents was substantial, for an economy ticket it was comparable to a business class to Europe at todays’ rates. Ticket prices have gone down substantially especially if you factor inflation. You cannot compare the level and quantity of service you received in those days to what we get today. On the other hand, who could pay those prices?

From the 60’s to the mid-80’s, aircraft were filled with business people and well to do travelers going on vacation. Today, there is a much larger and more diverse population of travelers, visiting relatives and friends they would never see 30 or 40 years ago.

Now here is the dilemma; are the lower prices to travel via air worth the higher level of discomfort? This is the current economic model and is not an easy for the airlines to displace. JetBlue and Delta seems to have partially solved this problem having reached a high level of service excellence, and still maintain affordable fares. This may be a business model that other airlines can follow.

That still leaves us with the trend to use violence as the answer to every disagreement, and the descent of our culture that once taught the virtues of good manners.

I do not propose letting airline management off the hook for their mistakes; but when you take a deeper look at most of these confrontations, it is clear that the so-called aggrieved parties, may share a large part of the blame.

Mr. Alba was previously Editor of the Airport Press for 12 years covering both local as well as global aviation news. Prior to this, Mr. Alba had Executive positions in Systems Engineering and Marketing with IBM World Trade, and had foreign assignments in the Far East and Latin America earning three Outstanding Achievement Awards. Mr. Alba also directed a new function dealing with Alternate Fuels for Public Service Electric & Gas company in New Jersey and founded a Natural Gas Vehicle Consortium consisting of car company executives and fleet owners, and NGV suppliers in New Jersey. Mr. Alba was a founding partner of ATA, an IT Consulting company which is still active in Central and South America. After leaving the armed forces, Mr. Alba’s initial employee was the U.S. Defense Department as an analyst.

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