Monday, April 1, 2013

Civility in Airline Travel

I recently shared the story of a particularly insightful colleague whose concept it is to recognize and reward extraordinary customers onboard our aircraft.  You know the ones:  the gentleman who assists a lady stowing her bag, the frequent flyer customer who vacates his upgraded seat for a returning serviceman or woman, the altruistic individual who voluntarily relinquishes a more desirable seat so that a family can sit together.  While these examples of altruism are becoming more and more rare, they DO still occur.  I was feeling quite bullish on the whole idea when, this morning, I read the following posted in a high-traffic Facebook group comprised mostly of flight attendants for my airline (almost 6000 memebers):

"Guy gets on the plane and threw his jacket at me. It landed over my head like I was a coat stand.

So I took it off and threw it out the door.

... Mr Charming then complains to the captain who is coming out of the forward loo (while the aforementioned garment is still lying on the jetty).

Captain asks Mr Charming what he learned from throwing his jacket at me.

Mr Charming replies "they shouldn't let nasty fags on planes"

Captain says "Well you'd better get off then because there are two of us on here, Adam and me, and I'm guessing Adam feels the same as me: we don't want you on here. So get off"

Mr Charming walks up jetty and turns round to see captain blowing him a goodbye kiss.

Note to reader: Captain is straight and is just a really nice guy who always sticks up for us."

When I "amplified" my positive-thinking colleague's idea of promoting the positive in another social media group and characterized it as "promoting civility in travel", I was soundly castigated.  The term "civility" was deemed overly harsh by some of my peers.  Yet, when I consider the circumstances of the admittedly third-hand anecdote above, I think that "civility", or the lack thereof, is the perfect characterization for the here and now.  As if to provide me the ideal first-person insight into our declining civility on airplanes (and everywhre else, for that matter), a customer on my flight yesterday illustrates my point:

When working in the economy cabin, I position myself forward of the Door 3 bulkhead, center, so that I can make eye contact with as many customers as possible during boarding.  After only a trickle of our premium class customers had boarded, I noticed a rather peculiar-looking fellow very determinedly making his way down the aisle toward me.  His aim was clear:  to have my full attention before I became "distracted" by anyone or anything else.  My usual smile and "Good morning.  Welcome."  were met without acknowledgement, he immediately launched into, "I'm going to change clothes and I'll need you to get a hanger for me and hang these clothes (those which he was wearing at the moment) in the closet."  I'm not completely sure where my response came from but it was instantaneous (I think I had a "sense" about his level of need just from his purposeful walk toward me.)  "While I don't have those amenities to offer in economy, I'll be happy to see if we can accommodate you after all of our premium customers have boarded...assuming we still have hangers and closet space remaining."  Obviously disappointed at being deflected, he turned away and proceeded on to his exit row seat in the D zone.  I continued greeting, monitoring, assisting the other 200+ customers in my assigned cabin and momentarily put our interaction aside.

I did not know but could have guessed that mine was just the first of many "unusual" interactions the crew would have with this customer over the next 14 hours:  his demand of our galley FA that he receive a premium class salad as he was diabetic and economy salads were just not healthy enough to meet his dietary need, the fact that he changed his cothing AT HIS SEAT (jacket, shirt, tie, pants, shoes, everything but foundation garments) while others were boarding around him, he did somehow manage to prevail on a colleague to receive a hanger and space from our premium class closet, during the first beverage service he commandeered an entire bottle of water for his own use (we are not provided individual bottles for economy customers), he harangued different crewmembers at different times for practically all of the components of the premium cabin service (amenity kit, eyeshades, slippers, etc.) and did so suggesting that he had been solicited by the CEO of our company to provide feedback on his inflight experiences, a thinly veiled threat to accommodate him, or else.  He identified himself to multiple crew as a member of our airline's highest tier of frequent fliers for whom, it is widely know, we "pull out all the stops."  That one point alone is a documentable untruth.  I have learned since arriving in Japan, that many of his assertions were patently false or dramatically exaggerated.

Are these examples of CIVIL behavior?

I mean this rather extreme example to be less an indictment of an individual and more an illustration of the extremes to which unCIVIL behavior can reach.

What ever happened to the concept of "shame"?  When did we stop taking responsibility for our actions and behaviors and the impact that they have on those around us?  Welcome to the age of the narcissist!  (Narcissists aren't generally known for their civility.)

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