Monday, May 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Tom Walton

Readers sound off about sharing the unfriendly skies

GOOD MORNING, ladies and gentlemen. This is your pilot speaking. Remember a few weeks back when that smart-aleck Blade columnist outlined his frustrations with the airlines and especially fellow air travelers and asked you to do the same?

Well, it was a suggestion that really took off, so to speak. How am I supposed to make a living up here? I hate that guy.

All right, Captain, enough venting from the cockpit. It s time to vent from back here in coach, aka the Sardine Can, and boy, did our readers ever vent. I thought I had assembled a pretty impressive collection of incidents of bad behavior by the flying public, conduct by inconsiderate passengers that I had personally witnessed after years of flying commercial. Turns out you ve seen a lot of behavior I missed, and for that I m grateful.

Clint from Toledo related watching a man become increasingly loud and argumentative at the boarding lounge counter. He demanded specific seats for him and his wife and children. When he and his family boarded they were not seated where he wanted. He demanded that the elderly couple assigned to the seats he wanted be moved immediately. They were to first class. Served him right.

Martin from Sylvania resents fellow travelers of a certain, shall we say, girth and heft who are issued seats in the emergency exit rows and who he s convinced would be of no help in an emergency. Martin also remembers when men dressed up in suits and ties and the ladies wore dresses and heels to fly. Evidently he took note of my earlier comment about young people wearing what appear to be pajamas aboard airplanes.

David from Sylvania can relate. Next thing you know you ll be sitting next to a fat guy in a Speedo.

John from Toledo agrees about the emergency rows. In his case he became concerned when the person assigned to the exit row window seat, the passenger expected to open and lift the door in an emergency was a frail, 80-something woman.

Doug from Perrysburg remembers a 14-hour flight from Detroit to Osaka, Japan, and sitting next to a guy with the worst [bad breath] in Christendom. He also recalls flying to Paris and just before landing, the flight attendants walked through the cabin spraying an aerosol deodorizer. My eyes ran for two days.

Charlotte of Bowling Green agreed with my unhappiness with the person in the seat ahead, saying she learned the hard way to hold on to her hot tea when the traveler ahead abruptly pushes his seat all the way back. Sometimes, she says, she just wants to smack the guy in the head. Please, Charlotte, while we are sympathetic, this column does not condone violence. Flying is no fun any more, Charlotte contends. And it only gets worse every time I do it.

Several readers complained about narrow seats and wide people. Anne from Sylvania remembers enduring the spreading mass of the guy in the middle seat, who confided after a long nap that he was in the harness racing business. I was relieved to learn his wife was the driver, Anne says. I m sure his horse was relieved too.

Paul, a businessman from Sun Valley, Calif., reserved his disgust for the folks in the baggage claim area. Fellow passengers stake out a spot along the carousel and block others from stepping up to retrieve their bags, he laments. He thinks the airlines should paint a line on the floor encircling the carousel and require travelers to stand behind it until their bags emerge.

The online version of the column also was spotted by Sharon of Henderson, Nev. How do her fellow travelers upset her? Let me count the ways.

Her No. 1 flight complaint: seatmates who talk nonstop in a voice loud enough, she says, to raise the dead, while she tries to sleep or work. I just put on the darn headphones, even if I don t plug them in, and try to avoid eye contact.

But Sharon s just getting started. Carry-on food is flat-out rude. Nobody should have to sit elbow to elbow with somebody scarfing down a Big Mac, she notes. You have no choice but to smell it, which can either make you so hungry you want to gnaw on your seatbelt or so nauseous you want to throw up.

And please, she pleads, clean up after yourself when you re finished in the bathroom. The lavatories on airplanes put pigs to shame. How hard is it, she wonders, to wipe the sink with a paper towel and leave the world a better place for the next guy.

My piece several weeks ago lamented the occasionally annoying behavior of small children on airplanes. The problem, as Sharon sees it, is the parents. For a crying baby, she suggests keeping something shoved in its mouth a bottle, a pacifier, or a breast, the last of which is a lot easier to get through security.

She has even volunteered to hold fussy babies and carry them up and down the aisle to give the parents a break. You d be amazed how quickly even the most protective parents hand over a screaming baby to a total stranger. To me, her sacrifice goes above and beyond the call.

A toddler requires more creativity. She carries a children s book aboard to read to any unruly preschoolers. If that fails, she also offers free backrubs and actual cash money. Shouldn t the airlines be paying this lady? Like maybe a bag of peanuts you don t need a blowtorch to open?

Another tip from our Nevada reader: Carry breath mints aboard, and offer them liberally to those nearby, especially anyone who has just eaten a Big Mac. Yes indeed, you want this woman on your next flight.

A reader who identified himself only by his initial, D., from Toledo, is distressed by passengers in the security line who have no clue about what they can t carry aboard, and by people who fly when they are sick. He remembers sitting near a woman he calls Typhoid Mary, who coughed all the way from Detroit to San Diego.

But you know what? I blame the airlines, from the big boys like American, US Airways, and Northwest to the little flying tubes we call Air Puddle-Jumper, for at least some of this bad behavior. Charlotte is right. Flying just isn t fun any more. As our deregulated airlines contract and merge, cancel flights, shrink the seats, and eliminate amenities and service, and passengers respond in inconsiderate and ill-tempered ways, it s clear that the golden age of flying is history.

Will it ever come back? I think you ll see the New England Journal of Medicine swimsuit issue before that happens.

But wait. I was impressed by the e-mail from another Sharon, this one in Sylvania, who offered her solution for what she calls the jungle in the skies problem. She takes the train.

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