Excuse me, do you mind…

crowded plane

Three times in the last week a US based commercial flight has had to make an unscheduled landing as a result of passengers arguing about legroom.  It seems today’s airline passengers are upset with the lack of legroom in the coach cabin. They blame the airlines for continuously shrinking the amount of space each passenger has in coach seat.

I myself believe it’s a combination of issues. (aka causes)

I have spent a good part of my life traveling on commercial airplanes.  So much so that in most cases I am upgraded to a Business Class seat for over 90% of the flights I take.   For the remaining flights I end up seated in coach.  Sometimes it’s because the aircraft does not have a Business Class section and sometimes it’s because I am flying overseas and my preferred carrier really doesn’t care how much I fly when it comes to having business in Europe or Australia if you want a large comfortable seat you or the company you’re working for will pay for it.  Regardless of the reason I know the pain of flying coach, the seats are smaller and the leg room is less than it used to be but that’s not the cause of our problems.

The causes really come down to communication skills and manners.

The reality is the coach seat has always been small and uncomfortable from the first time I flew on an airplane over 30 years ago I have always felt a bit cramped in the coach seat.  But in all the years I have flown I have never felt the need to make an issue out of the passenger sitting in front of me reclining their seat.

Sometimes I don’t like it but for some reason I have never once screamed, pushed violently on the back of the seat or went out and purchased the device the prevents the seat in front of me from reclining.

I guess I was raised different.

My problem today is I can’t let this story rest because of how much I fly.  You see someday this is going to happen on one of my flights and if it delays my trip home I will be livid!

You see, this problem isn’t going to go away overnight; in fact it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The problem is people have stopped communicating.  The common courtesies of saying hello, introducing yourself and helping other passengers with their bags slowly began to disappear around 2003 and 11 years later the business of flying coach has become one of fight for yourself and fight for your space.  To hell with who is in front of you, next to you or behind you. I am entitled to MY space and anyone who attempts to impede MY space is going to hear it from me!

But after the 3 incidents in the past week it’s time we step back, take a long deep breath, slowly exhale and begin look at the causes and what can be done to prevent more of these incidents in the future.

  1. Lack of Space – While the coach cabin has always been small it has been made even smaller because the airline industry thought they would be smart and start charging people to check bags. As a result people will do whatever they can to bring as much as possible on the airplane with them. This complete fills the overhead bins and the space under the seat in front of the passenger. This exercise of trying to make space for all the stuff people now drag on board makes people anxious, frustrated and sometimes angry. This also has a simple solution, stop playing the games with fees and charge the passengers what you need to and limit carry-on luggage to 1. This will allow everyone to use the overhead and leave the space under the seat free.
  2. The seats recline, they always have and they always will, if someone in front of you decides to recline their seat you will have less space. The fact is it’s their seat, they paid for it and it reclines. If you don’t like it there are a few ways to smart ways to change this and I have used them all successfully.
  • Try common courtesy first – “Excuse me, I was trying to get some work done and with your seat reclined I don’t have enough space. Would you mind switching seats with me? Amazing as it might seem, manners do work in most cases; if they don’t in this case you might be out of luck.
  • Press you flight attendant call button as ask if there are other seats available on the plane. Again use your manners, they go a long way. Explain the situation without blaming the person in front of you. “I’m trying to get some work done and the person in front of me needs some rest, is there another seat available that would allow me to work?”
  • Think ahead! Most people don’t know this but there are several seats in coach that do not recline and they are clearly marked on the on-line seat map. Select one of those seats and your problem is solved.
  • Buck Up and Pay Up – Most carriers charge a small fee for a “Select Seat”; the front row of coach, exit row seats and even business class. If you’re that uptight about space then you should plan ahead, save the extra cash and pay for it.
  • Rude, Disrespectful Passengers – I understand we all have our days but this has really become a problem. Gone are the days that first-class folks sat in first-class seats. I could go on for hours telling stories about what I have heard people say and have seen them do to each other and to flight attendants. Worse yet the poor folks who work at the ticket counter who have to explain why a flight has been delayed. God forbid something happen to the plane that requires maintenance and delays the one flight that Ms. Attitude and her family are booked on because she is going to rant very loudly for the next 2 hours so most folks in the terminal know she has been inconvenienced. Add to her the loud cell phone talkers, the folks that allow their excited kids to stand, run, jump, crawl and wrestle in the airport and on the plane and even the most seasoned traveler is hoping they get the seat next to the screaming baby because at least little he/she has a reason to be screaming because the cabin pressure makes their ears ache


The question is; what can we do to make the last item better?

I know what the answer is but I hope it never happens again.

As I stated earlier I am a frequent traveler who has been flying commercial flights for over thirty years and the last time I remember a population of travelers who was this rude and disrespectful to each other and more important the flight crew was just prior to September 11, 2001.

That day changed everything for a lot of people.

It had a huge impact on us frequent flyers because all of us who make our living flying from place to place know but for the grace of God anyone of us could have been on one of those airplanes.

And one week later when flights resumed I and thousands of others were asked to start flying again.

Things had changed, at that time there were about 6 security people for every passenger in the first few months but for those of us who did fly we also changed.  We put away the phones, the i-pods and head phones and started talking to one another again because life as we knew it had changed.

We said hello, introduced ourselves, talked about our jobs and families and where we grew up and went to school.  We helped each other with our bags and said things like excuse me when you needed to get up to go to the rest room.

We also knew from that day on the people sitting around us were our last line of defense if it ever came down to having to save a plane and each other so we could all make it home.  In the year sense 9/11 some passengers have actually had to do just that and if the time came I know I would be there.

And this is what concerns me the most about this week’s news.

I hope and pray we never have to learn to respect each other the hard way – ever again!


5 Responses to My Take On Disruptive Passengers

  1. Leslie Plucknette says:

    You’re always a welcomed sight when you walk through the door…..and now everyone knows why! Love you, Pluck! <3

  2. Robin Kos says:

    Well said Doug! I don’t travel much but people can be very rude.

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