Monday, April 2, 2012

The Friendly Skies Are Now A War Zone

The London Metro -- I love public signs that strive for politeness.  I really feel they care about my safety here

Anybody who just loves to fly, raise your hand.  Anybody?  You, over there in the corner.  You like the whole experience of traveling by air?  Well, you must be part of a new kind of 1% group because, while people like to go more places than ever before, I rarely hear anyone say that they actually enjoy the “getting there” part of the equation.

Perhaps having to arrive two hours early so you can be poked with cattle prods, undressed, publicly x-rayed, and interrogated like criminals might have something to do with that.  Or the flight delays.  Or the lost luggage.  Or the random passenger or pilot meltdown in midair.  Or the sense that you are starving on a slow death march when you combine delayed flights with the absence of any kind of food service by the airlines.

But the last sign that civilization as we know it (emphasis on civil) is coming to a quick end is the vitriol exchanged in the comments for a couple of stories in the Travel section of The New York Times.  The question at issue: to recline or not to recline?  You can read them here and here.

The controversy, in a nutshell, was whether any passenger should recline a seat in an airplane, knowing that leg room is now practically non-existent as airlines cram more rows into the plane and that reclining that seat will probably shove the work/dining tray straight into the gullet of the passenger in the seat directly behind him or her.  We won’t even touch on the fact that with a seat reclined in this airborne version of the sardine can, the passenger directly behind is prevented from getting into that head-down-prepare-for-a-crash-landing position.  And then there’s the minor inconvenience during a trans-Atlantic flight of not being able to access anything in the small carry-on stashed under the seat in front of you because with the seat reclined you can’t even bend forward to tie your shoes.

Comment after comment people said that it was their inalienable right to do whatever they wanted with the seat because they paid for it.  They remained completely unmoved (well, except for their reclined seat) by the stories others told of the inconvenience and outright pain they caused when they pushed back a seatback that had nowhere to go except into someone else’s space.  They were adamant that their whims and comfort superseded the effects on anyone else.  Those opposed told of the techniques they used to get back at those perpetual recliners.  It was a war of small, strategic strikes.

I’m not sure at what point our culture reached such a “me first” attitude.  Maybe it’s always been there but I’m just now noticing it.  When I was growing up I learned that you conducted yourself in a way that did not inconvenience another.  That didn’t mean we had to be rugs for someone to walk over us.  However, in the behavior of all the adults around me I saw what it meant to act with kindness and consideration toward other people.  Gasp – even strangers!  I learned that what I wanted or needed didn’t have to be achieved at another’s expense.

A gentle reminder on French trains that no one wants to hear your killer ring tone.  And it works.
I can spend a month in France without hearing a phone ring
4/2/12-friendly skies3  

I see this in the financial crisis.  There is plenty of guilt to spread around for its cause, but the struggle to find a solution is held hostage by an unwillingness of so many to budge just a little, give up a little of their gains in order to benefit a larger number.  I see it on the highway in the crazy drivers tailgating or whipping from lane to lane on the highway to save themselves thirty seconds of travel time while the rest of us slam on the brakes.  I see it in people who pull out their phones with the heavy metal ring tones to talk about family problems in a volume that might make you believe they’re standing next to a roaring subway train rather than sitting in a small sandwich shop.  I see it in children left to run wild in grocery stores or restaurants by parents who set the bar for behavior low, as in no actual criminal activity.

I won’t continue listing every act that indicates an apocalyptic destruction of the smallest sense that we are part of a larger community.  I wonder if it’s just my imagination that we’re becoming a less civilized society where the most basic niceties and considerations are disappearing.  Or have I become one of those kinds of people who begins every sentence with “Well, when I was younger . . .”?  Is this just a rant fueled by standing behind someone with a cartful of groceries on a Saturday in the line that said “12 items or less” then waiting until the order was rung up to start digging through the purse for a checkbook?  (Debit cards, people! They’re the same as checks!)

But maybe we can start small.  Be kind.  Life is tough for everyone flying today – unless , of course you are part of the privileged first class section with hot towels and your own bathroom.  Someone somewhere must have prophesied this situation.  It has to be why manners were invented.

What’s your take on the seat reclining issue?  Should airlines simply immobilize all seats so none recline, or should it be worked out between the ones who want to recline and those whose space is restricted? (I realize my language reveals my position but don’t let that stop you.)  Do you think our sense of community and consideration is declining or do you think I’m being a crotchety old woman (you can say it – it’s not like I haven’t heard it from my kids)?  The comments box is a great place for you to offer your opinion on the world.

A fabulous moment at the Sunday morning Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, London


Laura@Catharsis said...

Julie - I agree. First, I detest flying, the reasons too numerous to mention, not least of which my fear that I will die in a fiery, painful crash or be knifed by a psychopathic hijacker. There's a reason I'm on anxiety medication. But I NEVER recline my chair, or if I do, I always ask the person behind me if they mind, and if they look long legged, I won't even ask. It's terrible. We are so selfish, and it's sick.

Leah said...

First of all, I hate flying. Always have and always will. Secondly, I agree with you completely. I'm always the person who feels bad about reclining, so I never do. Yet I always seem to be seated in back of a recliner. Which makes me think that probably everyone does it. Ugh! Again, I hate flying.

Stobby said...

When it comes to reclining, I think the polite thing to do would be to discuss it with the person behind you. If the person in front of me has a bad back or a wonky knee, I'm more inclined to accept the inconvenience especially if they communicate it to me and understand that I am suffering for their comfort.

I also think manners have to be taught and that in an age where person to person contact can be as limited as you want through internet and phone...the human element of politeness and compassion is replaced with indifference.

Astra said...

Great post! Not funny but funny!
I once worked in an office location that overlooked a runway (sort of). I could watch those planes take off and fantasize about someone's - maybe mine - voyage. I've tried to make the whole airport scene 'part of the journey' but it just doesn't work anymore. I hate it. It's the loss of control and certainly an amount of dignity, I guess.
I have been in the very back row on a transatlantic flight when someone invoked their unalienable right to recline. Needless to say, I felt like spitting on their head (which of course I could have done quite easily).

Julie Farrar said...

Astra, I have been in that row, too. It was made doubly bad by, of course, being crowded by everyone waiting in line for the bathroom.

And I wish I had the good fortune to be seated behind all you incredibly polite non-recliners. Of course, if someone had a medical reason to recline I'd be gracious, but even then I bet they wouldn't need to recline as far back as the seat allowed.

Sharron said...

You have touched on a very important issue. I have spent many miserable flights with the seat in front of me reclined back--

Once I was able to keep this from happening because I spent the whole 3 plus hours with my knees pressed against the back of the seat in front of me--preventing the passenger in front of me from being able to reclince as far back as he would have liked to.

Tami Clayton said...

I am firmly in the camp of DO NOT RECLINE THAT SEAT for all of the reasons you listed. It is simply not considerate of other passengers when your head is in their lap. A little reclining is o.k. by me, but ALL THE WAY back? Really? I am amazed at the lack of consideration and the selfishness I see sometimes. It really baffles me that someone can have the mindset of "I have the right to do what I want" because what I hear them saying is "your rights don't matter to me and mine supercede yours anyway."

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