Flying the less friendly skies

My brother-in-law recalls a time in the early '60s when flying to a vacation destination with his parents meant wearing a suit. He was 8 or 9 years old.

Everyone laughs along with him when it's brought up, because seeing a child dressed so formally for a flight these days would be something of an oddity. And yet, I have to admire the implied degree of respect for air travel that existed back when flying was more of a novelty.

Now that commercial passenger flights have become commonplace, casual and occasionally a platform for the airing of onboard grievances, it seems the proverb "familiarity breeds contempt" has landed with a thud in airplane cabins. Recent accounts of unruly passenger behavior include confrontations over seating, outbursts about face mask requirements and at least one assault on a flight attendant.

I've never actually witnessed any of these incidents, but I fear they're akin to road rage I once experienced on 55th Street. As I drove eastbound across Willow Springs Road, a car pulled out of a parking lot ahead of me, causing me to stop.

The driver behind me immediately started sounding his horn at - I thought - the driver blocking my path. But when we all started moving again, the guy in the back raced ahead of me and then came to a sudden stop, forcing me to jump on the brakes. I wasn't about to engage with someone who was behaving irrationally, so I averted my gaze (while keeping an eye on him via peripheral vision). He topped off his rage with a rude gesture in my direction and then sped away.

Imagine having that guy sitting just inches from you on a flight. At least I had multiple options of escape when I was in my car. On a plane I can barely escape my seat to get to the rest room.

Some people say (I learned that phrase from Donald Trump) that interpersonal conflict in the cabins would likely be eliminated, if only passengers followed my own personal rule of conduct for onboard grievances: Sit down and shut up. (I didn't learn that from Trump). I might complain at check-in but not on the airplane, although I've been known to write a line or two about the rudeness of people reclining their seats onto other passengers' knees.

Seriously, though, I wouldn't count on already unruly people to suddenly go quiet for the duration of even a short flight. If returning them to the gate isn't an option, I'd hope they could at least be seated as far as possible from passengers who aren't bothering anyone else; right behind people with fully reclined seats could be interesting.

Just joking! Maybe.

- Barb Johannesen of Hinsdale is a former contributing columnist. Readers may email her at [email protected].