The Elegance of Airplane Etiquette

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently confirmed 2021 set a record for unruly passengers with nearly 6,000 reports of, shall we say, inelegant behavior. The good news is so far this year, the number of reports is on track to drop by 50 percent. This improvement may be partly due to the agency’s new Zero Tolerance Policy which includes an initiative to educate passengers on safe and responsible airplane behavior.

Maybe knowing passengers can be prosecuted and fined by the FAA up to $37,000 per violation is improving behavior, but it’s possible the educational press releases, videos, and digital graphics are making a difference. It’s hard to believe adults really don’t know how to behave on an airplane, but maybe they were simply never taught.

When my children were young, I required them to read a book on good manners for young ladies and gentlemen. The book contained a detailed chapter on appropriate behavior when traveling on an airplane. Tips included following the instructions of security personnel and flight attendants, being considerate of other passengers, and not joking about bombs or plane crashes.

Understanding proper etiquette in any situation can make us more comfortable and put us in a better position. Charles Blow, one of my favorite newspaper columnists, tells the story of leaving home and flying on an airplane for the first time to attend an international science fair. “I went to the local library, and checked out every single etiquette book, and I read those books like I was uncovering some sort of treasure.”

While appropriate conduct may seem obvious, sometimes even adults have to be reminded what good behavior looks like, especially if a culture of bad behavior has taken root. Sara Nelson, international president for the Association of Flight Attendants, said the most remarkable change she has seen since the Zero Tolerance Policy began is widespread awareness of the problem.

She said, “The vast majority of people who come on the planes want to just have a safe, uneventful flight, and that continues to be true.” She added that extra kindness and appreciation from some passengers has been a welcome by-product of the new policy.

As a teacher and mother, I know behavior expectations have to be modeled, taught, and consistently enforced. “Straighten up and fly right,” my parents used to say to me and I, in turn, said to my own children. Who knew some airline passengers would literally need to be taught this old idiom to bring a little more everyday elegance to the friendly skies?

“Come fly with me. Let’s fly. Let’s fly away!”
~Frank Sinatra

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