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Worst Air Passengers of 2012

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Another installment of Lessons from a Wise Sky.

Yes, I know we're only done with half of 2012, but I'm feeling particularly surly after my trip to the US--surly in an adorable way of course.

Yesterday I read an article from the International Herald Tribune about Airplane Etiquette. Is there such a thing? Has flying become a particular socio-anthropological experience? I'm not sure whether socio-anthropological is a word (looking it up right now: um, yes, it is. Social anthropology is the study of how people act in groups). I'm going to create a sub field: aerosocio-anthropology, or the way people behave in groups on a plane.

Most people behave themselves splendidly. Most people are sweet and wonderful, respectful and, well, washed. Most people are a bit boring when it comes to a list of the worst passengers of 2012, so we'll leave most people out for now. I love you, most people!

My list of the worst passengers (so far) in 2012 in reverse:

10. The Fasten Seat Belt sign means nothing these days. And I think I know why. A few minutes after the plane reaches cruising altitude, the pilot beeps the flight attendants to let them know THEY can get up. The passengers see this and think it's OK for them as well. Yet this, in and of itself, is not enough for a social group to alter its behavior; it must first be condoned by the authoritative presence (i.e. the flight attendants). Flight attendants have largely stopped scolding passengers for standing up before the pilot turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign. One passenger goes to the bathroom unimpeded (pun intended, thank you), thus twenty go. And so on. Chaos. As we landed in Lisbon, at least ten passengers were getting their bags out of the overhead bin--before the plane had reached its final parking position! And no one said anything to them. Nada.

9. When the flight attendant approaches your seat with a trolley of drinks, what do you think she's going to ask you? Take a wild guess. Go on. I bet you'll get it. To make it easier for you I'll make it multiple choice:

a. Good evening, sir. Would you like a battery-operated monkey eviscerator?
b. Good evening. sir. Would you care to stand up and do the hokey-pokey?
c. Good evening, sir. How's the folks back home?
d. Good evening, sir. Can I change your colostomy bag?
e. None of the above

Considering the average IQ of my readers is around 150, I'll cut to the chase: e. The flight attendant could say 'blah, blah, blah, blah, blah' and it would still mean, 'What would you like to drink?' so why do countless passengers look at her/him like the choices are insurmountably confusing? OK, she doesn't have papaya juice. She can't mix you a mojito (not true! On one of my recent flights they had a mojito in a baggy thing). But all the usual suspects--coffee, tea, me--are there. If you can't order your OJ in English, just order it in French or Spanish or German. Trust me, the flight attendant knows the words for orange juice, coffee and water in 45 languages.

8. And then there's the passenger from a little country in the South Pacific who's in his/her own tiny universe, seems awfully confused by everything and everyone on the flight. It's usually a woman wrapped in 12 saris, which is fine. Saris are pretty. Problem is, this person (usually nestled into her saris at a window seat) whispers to the flight attendant and expects the flight attendant to hear her above the engine noise. 'I can't hear you!' the flight attendant shouts. 'Do you want water? Water!' Holding up the bottle of water: 'Agua!' Wah! Ter! Oh, for Chrissakes. Coffee? CAW-FEE!?' By this time the people sitting next to the bundle of saris are involved. Translators are requested. She wants a Coke. The trolley moves on.

7. I have always resisted putting children on my list because children--the sweet little things--should be beyond reproach. But parents are fair game, right? An airplane is not a playground or a child care center. On my flight from Newark to Lisbon recently, I changed seats because the man sitting next to me had a broken tray. When the flight attendant said there was an empty seat farther back with more leg room, I graciously (hee hee) said I'd move. A mistake of course. Selfishness.

My punishment (well, besides ending up sitting next to the two 22-year-old faux comedians, our number one worst passengers of 2012 below): the space in front of my seat was wide enough for people to walk through. Two children used it as a thoroughfare all night. They clambered over my feet at least ten times before I--and the French woman sitting next to me--got huffy with them. Again, where are the parents? Finally, the flight attendant asked me if the children were annoying me. 'Not as much as Abbot and Costello on crack across the aisle,' I said, only confusing her and making myself look a bit crazy.

6. Me

5. The person who puts her bag--sorry, ladies, it's usually a woman--twelve rows BEHIND her. Why? If you can't put your bag in the overhead bin above your seat, you should always put it in front of you. OK, rarely it's possible to leave the plane from the back, but usually it's almost impossible to go backwards in a plane once everyone has stood up. I have come to my own conclusions about why this person behaves in this way (aerosocio-anthropological tie-in!). She did not receive enough affection from her father. Far-fetched? Not at all. See, to get that bag, she'll have to involve a chain of around twelve men, all doing their part for the pouty, sweet woman in the front. 'Thank you!" she cries to each one of them from the bottom of her love-starved heart. They all think she's an idiot.

4. Me?

3. (Actually a subgroup of number one above, but hey.) People who rush to the front of the plane before it has reached its final position at the terminal because they are scared shitless that they will miss their connecting flight. Yes, they'll probably miss it and I do feel for them. I've been in this situation so many times. But you know, people miss flights. It happens. It is so much more important to remain calm. Wine helps.

2. I'm an aisle person. If you're also an aisle person, you'll understand what I'm about to say. 'Stop bumping into me!' It's not like I'm four feet wide and sticking out into the aisle ten inches. I'm a short, demure, adorable man whose left shoulder has been through the mill this year, but passengers and flight attendants alike don't seem to get this. Should I wear a sign? Something like I HIT BACK?

I'm not perfect. I rolled my suitcase over a woman's toe yesterday in Lisbon. She moved forward just as I was moving from one queue to another. It was my fault. I should have been watching where she was going. That to say: people bump into each other. This is the nature of a social group. A simple 'I'm sorry (and here's twenty bucks),' would cover a multitude of sins.

1. Dudes sitting across the aisle from me on my flight from Newark to Lisbon. What is it about 22-year-old Americans who have no thoughts of their own but can only parrot moderately humorous American comedians' sticks and awful lines from bad Adam Sandler movies? I don't find Adam Sandler funny, so why do you think I'll find you funny impersonating him? Dudes, you are not there to entertain the entire cabin. All night. Non-stop. I even put my headphones on and turned up the volume as high as it would go, and I could still hear you. I could hear you from the lavatory! I can still hear you. There should be an aerosocio-anthropological rule against you! In fact, people who talk very loudly and laugh explosively at their own lame jokes all night on a transatlantic flight when people are trying to sleep in the most uncomfortable position possible should have to fly in the hull with the Cocker Spaniels and pet snakes. There.

I must be off!


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire). He writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

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