According to reports, an unruly passenger who recently forced an American Airlines pilot to return to Miami en route to London was sitting in first class.
In this timely post, Contributing Writer Bob Waite offers his perspective on encountering rude behavior in the premium seats and check-in lines.
It’s happening more and more often — the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration investigated three times as many unruly passenger events in 2021 as in any of the previous 25 years. And just because someone is sitting in first class, doesn’t necessarily mean they exhibit first-class behavior.
By Bob Waite
Is it just me, or do the airlines bring out the worst in people?
The other day I was at the Air Canada counter in Toronto checking in for a flight to Honolulu.
Suddenly, there was a commotion to my right. A man of middle-age and middle-girth was having a tantrum worthy of a two-year-old. Except that a two-year-old does not typically string together four-letter words or insult people based on their ethic or racial background.
This individual, who was in the Platinum Super-Duper Elite line, was screaming at the top of his lungs and hopping around as if his shorts were on fire.
It seems the agent, a South Asian woman, had asked to see his phone — perhaps to glance at his boarding pass or proof of vaccination -– and had touched it.
The man went berserk. He also began to berate the woman for her accent and lack of deference. He even went on to talk about “you people” not understanding his needs and sensibilities -– and asked to see her supervisor.
By this point I was tempted to step in and say something, despite knowing that such confrontations seldom end well.
But just then the supervisor arrived. He was an imposing fellow -– and South Asian. The man went quiet.
The Airline-Golf Analogy
I have long thought that the way people act in and around aircraft can tell you a lot about their character.
Much like playing a round of golf.
Speaking of golf, back in the ‘90’s I was traveling from Tokyo to Detroit. I was in first class on a Northwest Airlines 747.
After exchanging pleasantries with the flight attendant, I settled into my seat, 1C, nestled up near the nose of the wide-body plane.
Other passengers sauntered in. They included golfer Arnold Palmer, IMG Founder and CEO Mark McCormack -– and golfer Raymond Floyd.
Palmer and McCormack took seats directly behind me.
Raymond Floyd did not take his seat, which was also in the second row.
Instead, he motioned over the flight attendant and bellowed, “I always sit in 1B! That should be my seat!” As it happened, 1B was occupied by a Japanese gentleman -– not that Floyd seemed to care.
After some back and forth and seat-shuffling, Floyd got his wish. And the Japanese gentleman ended up next to ne, in 1D.
Turns out he was the CEO of Infiniti, the luxury division of Nissan. Although his English was limited, we had a good conversation about autos, as I had worked at Ford previously. I apologized for my fellow American’s rudeness. He just smiled.
Arnie Was Gracious
In contrast to Raymond Floyd, Arnold Palmer turned out to be one of the most gracious individuals you could ever wish to meet.
He introduced me to McCormack, and told me he had gone to Japan to play several rounds of golf with some Japanese CEO’s (I later found out Palmer and Floyd had been paid $1 million for their trouble). He also showed genuine interest in what I had been up to.
Maybe Raymond Floyd was just having a bad day or had consumed some bad Suntory whisky. But from that day forward I would tell people that Arnold Palmer was every bit as nice and approachable as they had heard. And that Raymond Floyd was a first-class jerk.
It’s too bad there isn’t a way to identify such people in advance. Maybe we could borrow from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “The Scarlett Letter.” Put an “A” on their forehead, not for adultery, but from another word beginning with an “A.”
That way, when they approach, you instantly know what you’ll be dealing with. And the lady at the check-in line could quickly go on break.
Contributing writer Bob Waite has been writing on travel for more than 50 years, evidence that he’s met more Arnold Palmers than Raymond Floyds while on the road — or in the skies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Top Photo credit: Shutterstock
Speaking from my experience at the Atlanta Airport, it’s become a terrible experience before you even get on the plane. Lines too long, dogs sniffing your butt, rude and unsmiling staff barking orders. The whole experience should be done so that its enjoyable. Travel can be stressful and the airport experience seems to add to that stress. No excuse for bad behavior from anyone. — lyn email@example.com
Thanks for writing, Lyn. And amen to all that.