Something has changed at airports over the last couple of years and it ain’t the planes. Airline passengers have morphed from human beings into snarly, selfish, impatient creatures who behave oddly in public.
Take this for an example: I was in line recently, waiting to board a flight from Sydney to Melbourne. I noticed a stack of free newspapers on the other side of a rope barrier separating business class from economy class.
Beside them was a short, plump woman in her early 60s with big hair, sunglasses, and lots of makeup; she looked like a friendly grandmother. She took a newspaper from the distribution bin and I asked her, politely, whether she could pass me a copy.
She sighed, grabbed a newspaper and handed it to me with a majestic bow and elaborate hand flourish. “At your service”, she said. I thanked her, thinking she was joking until she repeated the gesture and the accompanying words with undisguised venom in her voice and stomped away.
I was taken aback. What had I done to offend her so deeply?
It gets worse.
Shortly after, I boarded the plane, placed my backpack in the overhead locker and sat down. A woman in my aisle was one of the last to board and tried to squeeze her bag inside the brimming locker. She pulled out my backpack and, holding it in her hand, demanded to know whose it was. When I said it was mine she asked if it could be placed under my seat.
Normally I would oblige but I was sitting in the emergency exit aisle and the doors must be kept clear. I told her I couldn’t do it. She pushed my bag roughly back into the locker and started to shove other luggage aside. A man next to me asked her to stop pushing bags around as his laptop might get damaged. Eventually she found space in another locker, sat down and never apologised.
Then, would you believe on the same flight there was the man who ate his earwax.
Air travel has changed. Once it was an orderly business where passengers embarked, stowed their luggage and settled down for the flight. Now there is a mad rush, people get frustrated and the airline staff look exhausted before the plane even leaves the tarmac.
What has happened?
In comparison, I frequently fly on a regional airline called Rex. These small planes run on propellers and seat around 40 passengers. Travellers board the plane from the tarmac, like in 1960s movies, and there is plenty of room. The service is basic and so is the food and everyone seems content with their cookie and a hot drink. Passengers are civil towards each other and the staff are relaxed.
I love flying and am constantly amazed at the engineering feat required to get these planes off the ground. Flying in small propeller airplanes retains that excitement of being in the sky. A piece of steel is all that protects me from the atmospheric forces screaming outside. It is frightening to think how vulnerable we are rushing through the clouds at hundreds of miles an hour.
If more people could remember that flying really is a great achievement then maybe they’d behave a little better.
Next time you board a plane, just think about those around you.