Pamper Me


Airline Travel Etiquette

Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking.  We have a small problem.
All four engines have stopped.  We are doing our damnedest to get them going again.
I trust you are not in too much distress.

- Captain Eric Moody, British Airways, on the passenger PA after flying through volcanic ash in a B-747

All right people, some airline travel etiquette needs to be established.  Here are a few suggestions that will make everyone’s life easier, so please… pay attention:

Rule #1 - Security

Yes, it’s a bitch.  Yes, the TSA employees they hired from the nearest clinic for the terminally stupid are an insult to anybody with a hint of gray matter, but come on.  Throw the rest of us a bone here.  You’ve been standing in line for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes you finally get to the table with the little gray bins.  Now is NOT the time to hold up everyone else in line while you take off your six earrings, your 20 bracelets, your necklace, your watch and anything else you KNOW FULL WELL will set off the alarm.  The time to do this was sometime during the previous 45 minutes when you were standing in line complaining about how slowly the line was moving.  Take all that stuff off and throw it in your carry-on BEFORE you get to the table.

For those of you with laptops, yes you need to take it out of the bag.  The 8 signs you past while standing in the aforementioned line weren’t kidding.  Have it out, put it in the bin and move along.

Rule #2 - Potty Breaks

With certain exceptions, potty breaks are denied within the first hour of flight.  It’s your own damn fault you decided to wait in line for 15 minutes at the terminal Starbucks for your daily non-fat chi extra-tall instead of taking care of business (and thereby compounding your problem).  If you’re that bad at time management or set your priorities such that you can’t take 2 minutes out of your busy day to take a leak, then it’s your own fault and you can just hold it.  Exceptions would include:

  1. You’re in an aisle seat
  2. Children
  3. You have a baby with a poopy diaper – and yes I can smell it (EVERYONE within 10 rows can).  Feel free to do what you got to do but PLEASE don’t ignore it.

Ladies, if you’re pregnant, insist on an aisle seat.  The airlines will accommodate if you push them hard enough.  Old people, if you have a weak bladder, the same goes for you.

Rule #3 - Bitch

If I’m unfortunate enough to ride bitch (also known as the middle seat) then I automatically get both armrests.  It’s called making the best of a bad situation.  I don’t care how much you spent on your ticket (if you spent enough would be up there in first class with the rest of the I’m-so-important-I-need-a-curtain-to-shelter-me-from-those-coach-people crowd).

Rule #4 - Assumptions

When airborne, you need to make some assumptions.  For those of you seated behind me, you need to assume that I am sound asleep in my chair trying to get a little rest before my big presentation in a few hours.  This means that you are NOT to use my chair to pull yourself up out of your seat, shaking it violently as you struggle for balance.  I realise there isn’t a lot of room, but the solution is simple… use your armrests, slightly turn your body, and use YOUR chair for balance.  If works for me, it can work for you.

For those of you seated in front of me, you need to assume I’m feverishly working on my laptop for that big presentation and EASE your seat back, nice and slowly, allowing me to make adjustments as necessary.  This means NOT reclining your seat with such fury as to crack the lid of my laptop because it caught on the tray-table latch (I’d especially like to thank the lady seated in 19B on United Flight 920 on 21 February from San Diego to Dulles for that one).  I don’t care if you want to recline your seat, just GO SLOWLY.

Rule #5 - Do Not Disturb

If I’m wearing headphones, listening to my iPod, it’s code for “please leave me alone and don’t try to engage in conversation.”  I don’t care how excited you are to be visiting your 19-year-old niece who lives in Santee.  I don’t care how pretty she is and that she’s pregnant with her third child from as many fathers.

If it looks like I’m sleeping, I probably am.  It might be hard to tell as I often wear sunglasses when I try to sleep on a plane, but think about this – if I haven’t moved in awhile, I’m asleep.  So please, use common sense if you choose to rouse me from my slumber (for example, something catastrophic is happening like a wing falling off).  The flight attendant serving drinks DOES NOT qualify.

Rule #6 - Parents, Control Your Kids

I’ve traveled all over the US as a kid and I know how incredibly boring even a short flight can be.  However, a cramped airliner is NOT the place for tough-love.  If your kid is throwing a tantrum, GIVE HIM WHATEVER HE WANTS – PERIOD.  If your child is kicking my chair I WILL say something – and not to the child, but to YOU.  The other day I ran into a local convenience store and they had portable DVD players on sale for $60.  This seems to me like a pretty inexpensive insurance policy – otherwise I suggest adding a triple shot of Children’s NyQuil to their grape juice.

Rule #7 - You Finally Made It to Your Destination - Congratulations and Don’t Stop Now

That is to say, you just walked off the jetway and are now in the terminal - KEEP MOVING.  Every single airport I’ve been to in this country has signs posted everywhere, so if you aren’t quite sure where you need to go, simply walk strait ahead to the far wall and figure it out from there.  Stopping at the jetway door or in the immediate vicinity creates a bad roadblock that the second half of the plane has to navigate around.  Some of us actually have the ability to walk and read at the same time – no problem if you’re not one of them, just please don’t slow those of us down who can.

This last part isn’t really about travel etiquette so much as it is about the Airport Nazis that patrol the pick-up and drop-off area at San Diego Lindbergh.  I’ve been meaning to write something… suppose this is as good a time as any.

You guys are the biggest bunch of jerks I have ever had to deal with in my entire life.  When I go the airport and you guys are giving me a hard time, I say, “See kids, that man is why you need to study hard in school and get good grades – you don’t want to end up like him, right?”  I can understand ticketing someone who parked out front and walked away – tow the car off or even set it ablaze for all I care.  But what you do is downright harassment.  News flash:  me driving slowly, waiting for my passenger – WHOM I CAN SEE AND WHO IS WALKING OUT OF THE TERMINAL, is not the same as being as being parked or stopped.  Here’s an idea: if my vehicle isn’t moving, why don’t you go stand in front of it while you write me that ticket?

With that said, I hope you found this beneficial.  Please refer back to it as often as necessary.  Thank you and have a nice day.

Source: 28 February 2007

First Class Isn't What It Used to Be

by Kitty Bean Yancey

It was the friendliest of skies for businessmen in 1968.  But today, crass customers, vanishing comforts irk high-fliers.

First class isn't what it used to be.  So say fliers, airline consultants and flight attendants who remember when the front cabin of a commercial jet was a sanctum with uniformly solicitous service, populated by the smartly dressed and well-behaved.  "In the old days, it was grand," sighs veteran comedian Joan Rivers, who has flown in the big, cushy seats up front since early in her career, when she'd forgo a new dress to afford the higher fare.

On recent trips, Rivers has observed sullied lavatories, chintzier food, loud drunks and children scampering noisily in the aisles.  Other front-cabin regulars say hot towels and glassware for welcome-aboard libations have taken wing on some flights.  The seats may be high-tech wonders but "it's no longer first class - it's mass transportation," Rivers says with her trademark "can-we-talk?" candor.  "And the people in first class are no longer first-class people.  They're people who've been bounced up.  They don't know how to dress, and they don't know how to act."

Slippage is most noticed on domestic flights, where proliferating frequent-flier upgrades and awards are credited with nearly doubling the number of travellers flying in premium seats in the past decade - from 24.8 million in 1990 to 47.8 million last year, according to the Air Transport Association of America.  Those flying coach on major carriers grew 29% in the same period.  Figures aren't available for international first class, where upgrades are harder to snag and the level of luxury remains high.

Carriers don't reveal what passengers pay, but Arlington, Virginia-based airline consultant Morten Beyer estimates that just 15-20% are ponying up full fare to fly first class domestically.  "First is now almost 100% full because of awards and upgrades," he says.  "They just pack 'em up front.  The cattle car extends all the way to the front of the plane, to the cockpit door."  So does cattle-car behaviour.  Flight attendants tell of a new breed that strides into first class in shabby shorts and tennis shoes, puts feet up on the seat in front while playing the game of "gimme gimme."  Some crewmembers say they opt to work in less glamorous coach to avoid the arrogant.

Delta flight attendant Maureen Dumbaugh retains enthusiasm for serving in the front cabin, but notes, "Passengers who are receiving their first-class travel as a reward for frequent-flier miles tend to want it all.  Of course, I can appreciate their excitement, but sometimes enough is enough."  She recalls a woman travelling on an award with her road-warrior husband.  The wife "just wouldn't part with the cocktail nuts when we started to lay linens for dinner service.  She then proceeded to eat and drink one of everything that was offered.  I could see her eyes were beginning to bulge from eating so much, but she was determined not to miss a trick."

While there's no rundown of who's actually paying to sit up front, "you can see the figure has declined" by looking at the fare per mile collected from seat fillers, says consultant George Hamlin of Global Aviation Associates in Washington, DC.  The average domestic premium-class passenger spent 11.96 cents per mile last year, down from 13.98 cents in 1990 and adjusted for inflation, says the Air transport Association of America.

As airlines reward loyal customers with upgrades, some have increased first-class seating to meet the demand to fly elite.  But when people expect perks without payng, there's a cost.  "You're slowly starting to see things go away - especially on shorter flights," says Daniel Baker of Austin, Texas, a technology consultant who flies non-stop, usually first cIass.  "You're less likely to get meals or a hot towel before dinner.  Cabins aren't cleaned as well.  There are plastic glasses before takeoff.

(It's now rare to be handed a glass on the ground in domestic first class.  Airlines say they're meeting Federal Aviation Administration requirements that serving items be stowed betore takeoff, since a bag of discarded plastic is easier to secure.  FM spokeswoman Allison Duquette says, "Airlines are advised to use plastic but can use anything betore push-back.")  Plastic cups aren't the only dé-classé sign in first class.

"We were seated in first class for one hour and twenty minutes before anyone offered to get us anything to drink," fumes Bill Young of Destin, Florida.  In the past year or so, he and his wife "began to notice that other than a larger seat and more legroom, nothing was much different" from economy.  "Flying first class (domestically) is a thing of the past in our book."

Kathe Weber Baker of Fairbanks, Alaska, thinks front cabin service is spottier now.  "Flight attendants are only occasionally professionally attentive."  Former flight attendant Andy Hirschman of Phoenix sees increased carelessness.  Attendants "are taught to serve beverages on a tray and pick up the glass by the bottom.  I've seen fingers on the rim where you'd place your lips."

Cabin crews respond that shorter turnaround times at the airport can find them monitoring catering and doing safety checks instead of fussing over their charges.  Some do double duty and help serve meals in economy on certain flights.

Airlines say they're pouring millions into keeping first class special and getting smarter about what their passengers want.

"Miss My Hot Towels"

"I think there's been an improvement" in the comfort of first class as carriers add new planes, says Robert J Gordon, a Northwestern University economics professor known for rating flights he takes.  "I just don't have any complaints... but I miss my hot towels."  United decided hot towels and table linen weren't essentials on short hops.  This spring, Northwest removed one of two glasses that graced dinner trays in domestic fIrst class.  Most passengers weren't using both, says Northwest spokesman Doug Killian, and the airline is saving $150,000 yearly.

On the other hand, while many carriers cut food costs, Northwest dished out $23 million to enhance first-class meal service last year.  It also added 3,200 front-cabin seats to its domestic fleet in recent years; now, 12.3% of Northwest domestic seats are first class.  American's new 737s boast 20 first-class perches; US Airways now offers 12-36 such seats on US flights.

Free-flowing upgrades lor high-mileage fliers are a reward that customers have earned and look forward to, says US Airways spokesman David Castelveter.

Upgrading also is smart business, since "repeat users are bringing in the bulk of airlines' revenue," says consultant Hamlin.  Frequent business travelers also are more likely to fly on undiscounted fares and are coveted during economic downturns such as the current one.

Carrie Williamson, an Alexandria, Virginia, travel consultant specialising in the high end of the business, thinks it's savvy to offer more breathing room.  Some who demand personal space have defected to chartered and corporate jets; their business soared in 2000.  Williamson believes fliers notice "those little details - the china, the silver, the glassware."  Also, as the front of the plane gets jammed, "the staff is stressed.  Now you see flight attendants with scuffed shoes and hair that isn't taken care of: first class is not for the discerning traveller like it once was."

Flying Beds Take Off

There are exceptions - most notably the forward cabins of flights that cross the Atlantic or Pacific.  "The top carriers in the best markets" can get fliers to pay for first class, consultant Hamlin says, and they lay on the luxury.  Since the mid-1990s, carriers on international routes have been wooing the well-heeled with "flying beds" - sumptuous seats that convert to flat sleepers at the flick of a button.  It's a throwback to the days of berths on long-haul flights, but Greta Garbo had to do without on-demand movies and laptop hookups.  Accessories include duvets, down pillows, designer PJs.  The trend began on foreign carriers, but US airlines are jumping aboard.

"Just get me into that bed, and leave me alone," Rivers purrs.

Other carriers - including Delta, Continental, Northwest - have made international front cabins gussied-up business classes to lure luxury lovers with less stratospheric fares.  "Today's business class has seats that are more comfortable than first-class seats were 20 years ago," Hamlin says.  "It's a better value than first class in many cases."  For example, Virgin Atlantic's round-trip Upper Class ticket from Washington to London costs $7,334 vs. $10,360 for British Airways' highly rated front cabin. Virgin's is "technically a business class, "but it's as good as anybody's first class," says consultant Beyer.

David Tait, Virgin Atlantic executive vice president for North America, thinks "God is in the details" when courting today's premium passengers.  "We've been doing everything but cut back."  Passengers rave about Upper Class' pleasure-palace airport lounges, door-to-door car service, in-flight massages and stand-up bars.

Tait has another selling point: "We're a young airline" - meaning few senior attendants - "and we're not saddled with some of the union conditions.  We can put whom we like up (front), as opposed to some airlines.  The technology is important, but what makes the difference is the way passengers are treated."

Rivers agrees an attendant can make a first-class trip second-rate.  But when she boards a jet in a chic suit, she'd rather throttle the passengers.  "There's rudeness that there never used to be in first class ...nouveau riche manners.  Hey, I've been bumped up.  So I can be nasty about them.  I may be a bump-up, but I know how to act."

Worth dressing up for: Back in 1959, flying first class on a Delta DC-8 was a luxurious experience. Today, fewer passengers are bothering to get gussied up for a flight, and airlines are providing spottier services.

Source: USA Today Friday 6 July 2001; colour photo credit Dean Conger, Corbis; black-and-white photo credit Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum

Dress and Act the Part, Rivers Says

Frequent flier Joan Rivers has a wish list for restoring the luster of first class:

bullet"I would like my fellow passengers to be dressed appropriately and limited to two drinks each."
bullet"Nobody but first-class passengers can use the first-class lavatory.  It's the passing parade now" on some flights.
bullet"Stock enough (of the best food).  You don't want to sit in the last row of first class, because they end up telling you, 'We don't have any more steak.  How about a nice K ration?'"
bullet"I would like the flight attendants to be well-groomed and in uniforms that look like uniforms.  They should enforce good behaviour - like the teacher in the class."
bullet"If you bring your children in first class, they are required to be strapped to your chest until they're 14."
bullet"If you have a first-class tag on your bag, it should come out first.  I've gone through menopause at the Los Angeles airport waiting for my bag."

Actually, Miss Rivers' wish for the return of luxuriant first class may be filled as soon as 2004.

See also:

bulletLuxury from Airbus (further on in this section) - "A promotional video at Airbus' air show stand makes the A-380 interior look like a singles party, with models ascending wide staircases to peruse hardcover books resting on recessed shelving or lounge upon inviting settees..."

Rules for a First-Class Impression

The front cabin may no longer be an elite club, but there are unwritten rules of etiquette that separate the classy from the clueless, flight attendants and veteran fliers say:

bulletEating and drinking everything that's offered and swiping toiletries from the bathroom are hallmarks of a first-class first-timer.  The richest fliers often eat sparingly and imbibe only mineral water.
bulletEven moguls and movie stars board in jeans or designer tracksuits nowadays, but shorts and sloppiness are scowled at.  A man or woman in business attire gets extra points from flight attendants.
bulletDon't talk to seatmates unless it's clear conversation would be welcomed.
bulletDon't throw your weight around with the cabin crew or repeatedly push the call button unless a need clearly has not been met.

Source: USA Today Friday 6 July 2001

I am of the opinion that truly first class people don't have to tell you their status just so you know it.  Miss Rivers sounds to me like a crotchety, inflexible old lady who should grow old with a bit more grace.  Those fortunate enough to have the extra space in first class (whether they upgraded or paid) should be grateful they aren't crammed into the rear of the plane like sardines.  Good manners and courteous behaviour should be used by all passengers and crew, whether located in front or in back of the plane.  "Class" on an airplane tells you nothing about the "quality" of the passenger but something about the relative amenities offered.  Times change.  Airlines try to maximise profits.  Get used to it.

Reader Replies

Flying with class: Back in 1960, when the jet era began, first-class travel seemed a much more luxurious experience than at the turn of the century

First Class Travellers Get a Bad Rap

USA Today's article regarding first-class service in the airline industry painted an unfair picture of frequent travelers who upgrade ("First Class Isn't What It Used to Be").

I am one of those frequent travellers who routinely upgrade to first class.  Keep in mind, frequent fliers have to do most their air travel in coach to receive upgrades.  I do appreciate the fact that Delta gives me upgrades, recognising the frequent business I provide.

I treat the flight attendants with respect and don't act as though I am better than those "stuck in coach."

In response to the assessment by comedian Joan Rivers, who says first-class passengers no longer know how to dress, I always dress in business attire outbound.  Going home, I dress more casually for comfort.

Joe Gartrell
Virginia Beach, Virginia

Not Ready to Retire - Yet

I enjoyed immensely the article about flying in first class.  As a flight attendant, I have for many years mourned the deterioration of the first-class cabin.  It used to be a quiet, dignified environment inhabited by the well-dressed, polite, sophisticated traveller.  Today, however, I feel as if it has been invaded by swarms of unruly, unkempt, ill-mannered, demanding boors, dressed in dirty gym shorts and tank tops.

I must mention also, however, that I take great offense at the remarks of David Tait, executive with Virgin Atlantic Airlines.  He touts a selling point of Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class that "'we're a young airline,' meaning few senior attendants."  I presume he actually means few "older" attendants.  As a flight attendant with 30 years' experience, I may not look like Britney Spears, but I certainly do not consider myself a wizened, liver-spotted, menopausal crone who should be kept out of sight.  I'm not ready for the glue factory just yet.

Jayne Peterson
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Pardon Me, Ms Rivers

Please apologise to Joan Rivers on behalf of myself and all of the other uneducated slobs who have the misfortune of bothering her with our presence in first class.  Also let everyone know that no matter the situation, please never use the first-class bathroom. unless you are a first-class citizen.  Rivers hates that.

And for goodness sake, if you are, for some reason, in a first-class seat next to Rivers, do not eat too much or enjoy the beverages because that is just tacky.

Also a note to the flight attendants: Rivers knows all about your overpaid, easy-as-pie job, and she demands that you be well-groomed and check those shoes for scuff marks.  I mean, what else could you possibly have to do?  If the plane were to go down due to some sort of problem, I would greatly appreciate it if the flight attendants' shoes were not scuffed.  Maybe if Rivers had to work for a living, her shoes also would be scuffed?

Last but not least, can we please make sure Rivers gets her bags first?  After all, she is a first-class passenger, and I think we all know that everyone else in the airport has nothing to do nearly as important as Rivers.

While I realise there are some problems with the airlines, the problems pointed out by Rivers are a joke.  Maybe Rivers should realise that all of those people riding behind her in coach are the same ones who buy her products and have helped her earn a living.

Brad W Ellis
Johnson City, Tennessee

Most Americans Self-Absorbed

Joan Rivers is absolutely right.  Today most Americans are too self-absorbed with instant gratification to hear what she's saying.  Is it any wonder no one knows how to dress for the luxury of first class when "dress down" work policies have blurred the line for appropriate dress so badly that people think cutoffs and sweat clothes are OK for Friday at the office?  This leaves weddings and proms as the last occasions for truly elegant dress for the masses.

When people are coddled with cellphones, easy credit, the "have it your way" drumbeat, drive-through convenience and the "question authority" mantra of the 1960s revolution, how can one expect them to understand first-class behaviour?

Michael Pologruto
Montpelier, Vermont

Source: USA Today Wednesday 11 July 2001

A Virgin Masseuse, Please!

A recession is when you have to tighten your belt; a depression is when you have no belt to tighten.
When you've lost your trousers - you're in the airline business.

- Sir Adam Thomson

And what better time to send for the Virgin masseuse?

Bet you've never heard of anyone cursing out an on-board masseuse.

We know how frustrating air travel can be.  That's why we offer comforts that bring out the best in business passengers, like our on-board massage therapy.  With five amazing treatments to choose from, it's no wonder why more of our passengers arrive rested, relaxed, and dare we say, smiling.  So, go on, fly Virgin Atlantic Airways and see why Upper Class is rubbing everyone the right way.

Source: magazine advertisement

Five "amazing treatments", huh?  Well, don't get carried away and forget: stay OUT of the first class lavatories!

Finding Himself

If you ever have a difficult situation to manage, you might consider the approach offered by this obviously well trained Customer Service Officer.  Perhaps an award should go to the Virgin Airlines gate attendant in Sydney some months ago for being smart and funny, and making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly as cargo.  A crowded Virgin flight was cancelled after Virgin's 767's had been withdrawn from service.  A single attendant was re-booking a long line of inconvenienced travellers.  Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket down on the counter and said, "I HAVE to be on this flight and it HAS to be FIRST CLASS!"

The attendant replied, "I'm sorry sir, I'll be happy to try to help you, but I've to help these people first, and I'm sure we'll be able to work something out."  The passenger was unimpressed.  He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?"

Without hesitating, the attendant smiled and grabbed her public address microphone: "May I have your attention please," she began - her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal.  "We have a passenger here at Gate 14 WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS.  If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to gate 14."

With folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the Virgin attendant, gritted his teeth and said, "Fuck You!"

Without flinching, she smiled and said, "I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to get in line for that too."

To view other articles related to flying including history, unusual flying machines, hot air balloons, skydiving, gliding, problems, airports, turbulence, pilots, crashes, the Paris Air Show, the future, blimps, space travel, solar sails and more, clicking the "Up" button below takes you to the Table of Contents for this section on Flight.

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