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A Lack of Civility | REnotated

A Lack of Civility

  • In the 1960’s air travel was an elegant affair.  My grandmother tells me how she wore not only a dress, but also a hat and white gloves to travel by plane.  She was received in swanky lounges and attended to throughout the entire experience.  From the time she entered the airport until she arrived at her destination, she was treated like a discriminating customer – someone the airlines respected and wanted to impress.

    Maybe it’s partly nostalgia, because my grandmother was also handed a pack of smokes before her flight, which was not so pleasant for non-smokers; but in general air travel used to be more civilized.  Now we are treated like a burden, a nameless lump that has to be fed, watered, and transported.  Many who fly regularly have become resigned to the minor humilities and major inconveniences of air travel.  Along with this resignation, passenger’s attitudes and behaviors have also deteriorated.  When people expect bad service they tend to act accordingly, which can range from mild irritation to open hostility.

    I find airplane toilets to be particularly symbolic of passenger contempt and airline indifference.  The toilets start out clean (usually), but within a brief period of use they are a disaster.  Most people try not to be messy and some even make an attempt to clean up after themselves, but a small number of people invariably trash the place.  It seems it has become this way for many things today (airplane toilets, litter on the streets, mortgage-backed securities, political discourse, and even terrorism); all it takes is a few to ruin it for the many.

    To be considered civilized used to be a noble aspiration, now it’s at best quaint and at worst something to be attacked.  We live in a time where being cordial, gracious, and considerate is ridiculed as weak or elitist.  With its failing economic calculus, crowded environments, over-scheduling of resources, and consistently high stress levels, the airline industry has become a crucible for what modern life can do to our collective civility – even when politics and religion aren’t involved.  The creeping incivility we experience on airplanes portends a future where public life in general increasingly feels like a delayed flight where a disgruntled few can make everyone miserable.  This means that the rest of us, like any experienced traveler knows, will all have to make an extra effort to remain calm.

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