A few rules from the pros on how to have an easy flight:
The downside is that people who are snotty and obnoxious on the ground are also snotty and obnoxious in the air. Worse, once you are on the plane, you can't get away from them. But if you think it's bad having to sit next to such a person, imagine what it is like when it is your job to not only see to their needs, but also be the first target they see.
I recently talked with "Jay" about what constitutes proper "cabin etiquette." Even the best of fliers can get a little persnickety on a Singapore-to-New York long-haul, and the cabin crew is there to make sure your flight is as enjoyable as possible. They are well aware of the pitfalls of flying, and have all sorts of tricks to make it go by smoothly. But have no doubt about this: They are also there to keep y'all in line. So what makes a passenger a "good" one?
A "good" flyer is prepared for all of the normal and most of the abnormal situations that might occur between point A and point Z. They have their meal and beverage orders ready when I ask. They bring their own snacks. They stay calm when things co wrong. "Bad" fliers are clueless people. They want to make everything into a confrontation. They enjoy taking up my time with nonsense.
Jay admits an answer like that comes off as snarky, but anybody who has seen a passenger having an ego moment knows he is not that far off the mark. Come what may, the cabin crew is aware people sometimes just want to vent. It is not to say the cabin crew isn't empathetic to fliers; it just depends on the situation.
There is a distinction between a bad flier and an angry one. In some cases, the passenger has every right to be miffed. I once got to my seat and found a tween sitting there, and she just had to sit with her friends -- giggle! I heard Justin Bieber on her iPod. A flight attendant, who was right behind me didn't believe that any more than I did, and when the tween's original seat was revealed to be right next to the bathrooms, said-attendant was just as honked as I was. I was about to throw her and Beiber out when the flight attendant, in what must have been less than 10 seconds, got me another -- and arguably better -- seat. In those instances, Jay and his co-workers swing into action and are entirely on your side. I literally didn't have to say a word, but more importantly, I didn't round on the flight crew in a rage.
But no matter how angry you are, the flight attendant is the one you have to deal with, so whatever the issue, it does you no good to assume the cabin crew are "the little people" and can be leapfrogged over. Jay is very clear that if you piss off the cabin crew, the captain is already going to dispositioned against you. If, sadly, an issue comes up in flight, state your case calmly, coolly and politely. If you are angry, don't worry, they will know.
There are several circumstance, some that in any other situation may be considered funny, where Jay and his co-workers will bend over backward to almost ridiculous extents to help alleviate: claustrophobic or altophobic passengers, cancer patients or people with other serious health issues, passengers with very specific dietary needs or allergies, little children flying solo, etc. But, as Jay describes, there is a very clear line between a passenger with a legitimate concern and one who only thinks they do.
Jay relates a priceless story of a woman who demanded a seat change not because she was by the bathrooms or even by a Belieber (which could probably make an axe murderer out of Gandhi), but because her row-mate was black.
I tell her that I am now in NO way inclined to help her with her plight and that the seat belt sign is on and that she needs to sit down. A few minutes later, after the seat belt sign is extinguished, the purser calls to the back of the plane and asks me if I sent "this crazy lady" up to first class. I walk up to the front of the cabin and discover that she has gone through the dividing curtain, waited for the seat belt sign to go off, and then occupied the seat of a first class customer who went to use the lavatory.
I'll shorten the tale for the sake of HuffPost's length requirements, but suffice it to say she got sent back to her economy seat, swearing all the way and proving she was as homophobic as she was racist, and demanded to talk to the captain, who in her opinion was an "asshole." Said-asshole, who just so happened to be African-American himself, met her on disembarking, and as she had violated several rules both of the airline and the FAA, had the police waiting for her.
"She missed her connection," Jay told me.
As a very important side-note, it should be said that calling for the captain while in mid-flight is an exercise in futility. Anybody who saw Titanic will remember this famous exchange:
J. Bruce Ismay: But this ship can't sink!
Thomas Andrews: She's made of iron, sir! I assure you, she can.
Iron doesn't float. Additionally, it doesn't fly. But it falls really well -- through water and through air. That being the case, no matter how infuriated a passenger gets, Jay informs me a pilot will never leave the cockpit, even in clear skies. The safety of the plane and the 400 people on it are paramount. Additionally, after 9/11, pilots are all but barricaded in. No matter how angry you are, the flight attendant is the one you have to deal with, so whatever the issue, it does you no good to assume the cabin crew are "the little people" and can be leapfrogged over in favor of the pilots. Jay is very clear that if you piss off the cabin crew, effectively going from an angry passenger to a bad one, the captain is already going to be predispositioned against you. Angry is OK. Bad isn't. If, sadly, an issue does come up in flight, state your case to the cabin crew calmly, coolly and politely.
Like me, you may find yourself in a better position. With free wine.
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