Remember when you dressed nicely to fly, when there was actually leg room so your suit (yes, suit) didn't look like an accordion at the end of the flight? When the staff acted as if they were happy that you'd chosen their airline over another, and acted accordingly? When passengers were courteous to each other and the staff?
Yeah. Well. If you're under 30 and you're reading this, you probably think I'm hallucinating. And if you're over 30—forget it: that time is gone and apparently is not coming again.
On a flight back from the East Coast at the crack of dawn today, I witnessed the following:
1) The gate agent (who directs and trains other agents, according to the title on his name tag!) curtly bullying any paying passenger who had the temerity to quietly inquire about what might happen to his missed connection because the originating plane developed mechanical problems. (The agent was like that T-shirt that you saw around a lot a couple of years ago: I Can Only Handle One Problem a Day. Today Is Not Your Day …)
2) Passengers popping up like Jack-in-the boxes after the captain asked everyone to remain seated because of turbulence. (The "they-can't-mean-me-I'm-special" syndrome.)
3) Passengers overstuffing the overheads, then complaining bitterly when their contents have to be moved for the safety of all. (Same syndrome.)
4) Airline staff "deadheading" (flying free in empty seats or, in this case, the jump seat) and blowing passenger inquiries off with a breezy "I'm not working, but you can get another attendant to do that for you …" (So let's see: You're dressed in full-flight regalia, and you're in seating normally reserved for active crew, but passengers are supposed to know you're off-duty? How?)
5) Passengers who take—honest!—newspapers into the few economy-class bathrooms for a leisurely stay while the line grows. And grows.
6) A couple in the wrong seats who refuse to move, and who cause such a ruckus they delay departure time.
7) Several parents who forgot to tell their children old enough to understand the concept "we use our inside voices on the plane, OK?"
I'm sure there are logical reasons for why all these things happen: the overheads are stuffed to the gills, for instance, because luggage gets lost more and more often and paying passengers have lost patience with having to track down their possessions. Staff are less engaged with their passengers because they're not always treated politely, and they're doing more work with less people. (Just like those of us with ground jobs.) Gate agents can be techy because as the face of their airline, they're often the focus of customer ire.
Polite passengers. Friendly crew who treat passengers like customers, not numbers. Planes that leave on time and don't lose your luggage. Is it too much to ask? Would love answers from some veteran fliers—and air crew. Let's get the 360-degree view.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News, and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).