Bad manners at 36,000 feet

The Pilot - - Editorial - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is SaltWire Net­work’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. His work ap­pears in 39 news­pa­pers and web­sites.

For­give me for a mo­ment as I write about some­thing par­tic­u­larly close to my world this week.

I’m just back from a two-anda-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 22-year old.

But while I’ll be writ­ing about that trip in de­tail in a book, this col­umn is 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 late-night 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 in-flight 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.

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