Bad manners at 36,000 feet
Forgive me for a moment as I write about something particularly close to my world this week.
I’m just back from a two and a half week research project in the Nevada desert, finishing up following the route my greatgreat-grandfather, William Castle Dodge, took to the 1849 gold rush. It’s a route clearly left in his diary, a remarkable trip made by a 22year old.
But while I’ll be writing about that trip in detail in a book, this column’s about the necessary evil it took to reach the desert and return, along with some work-related side travel; in all, 11 flights, trips ranging from late in the evening to the very early morning. And I have some suggestions. Say you are on an early, early flight to any Atlantic city from Toronto; flying east, you’ve missed a late-night connection, and have been stuffed in an airport hotel at half-past midnight. Don’t worry, the airline says: you’ll be on the next available plane. But that means a 5 a.m. wake-up call, and you don’t sleep well anyway. You make your way through a sleepless fog to the plane, confident that you can catch a nap.
But no. On every single plane that flies, you will be within three rows of two wide-awake people who know each other — or, worse, don’t know each other.
They’ll start a spirited conversation as soon as their seatbelts are on, and as the flight crew dims the lights and the jets roar, they’ll up the volume so they can hear each other, even if it means yelling. They’ll talk about how sad it is young people can’t buy houses, about the failure of the education system, about their pets and their hobbies. The same scenario plays out regularly on latenight flights, evening into the early morning hours; there’s always someone whose entertainment is more important than anyone else’s.
But it’s not only the yakkers — who, believe me, invariably have a tone of voice that cuts glass and renders headphones obsolete. Heck, they have a background speaking role on every single film on the inflight entertainment system, no matter how high the volume.
How about this scenario? It’s unexpectedly snowing, the airline announces it wants to load the aircraft quickly to get to deicing and stay on schedule, but the aisle is blocked by a man in his late 50s or 60s who absolutely must stand and fold his coat properly — even though it’s going into the cram-fest known as the overhead bin, and will come out a rumpled mess anyway. He must choose his electronics before sitting down. Must carefully place and replace his second bag in the overhead (no cramped feet for him).
The best part is that the acting troupe “Men of a Certain Age” are guaranteed to be performing on one out of every two aircraft that you fly on. Their time is critically important, and they want you to know it, even if it means missing a connection. Yours is not. (Oh, and if they don’t reprise “You can stand and wait until I’m done,” when you’re trying to get off the plane, you can be sure that they will perform the long, but aptly titled, “What do you mean I can’t use these wireless headphones/ electronic equipment? It’s my equipment, I want to use it, and you’re just stupid professionally trained air crew.”)
Now, I know these are small things, passing events in the march of days that will eventually end. But like so many things, they mark they fact that we can have a clear ignorance that we share the world with others, and owe them the same courtesy we’d expect. Just look around once in a while.
Oh, and don’t get me started on the 1 a.m. outside-the-elevator loud hotel discussion; the hotness of your girlfriend matters little to me. Sorry.