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

The Elegance of Not Cussing

“Language is the dress of thought; every time you talk, your mind is on parade,” wrote Samuel Johnson in the 1700s. It’s certainly still true today. We can be dressed to the nines, but the words we speak must be equally beautiful for us to have any hope of being elegant. As a former language arts teacher, I’m aware of many things we can do to improve our communication, but we can start by not swearing.

The ubiquitous use of expletives has made it easy for them to slip into our conversation. Words that dropped jaws a generation ago, barely get a reaction today. Network television still has a list of taboo words, but even cable news is peppered with four-letter expressions. Throw in movies, reality shows, social media, and routine conversation, and we are exposed to a slew of curse words every day. In a 2018 report, Business Insider said the average American utters 80 to 90 curse words a day!

Swearing is most often done to express anger. And aren’t we an increasingly angry lot? Life can be stressful, and venting with the perfect four-letter word might initially feel like a good way to let off steam. However, in my experience, it does nothing to help me feel better and makes me question my self-control. If we aim to be elegant, profanity-laced rants undo any attempt to be calm, cool, and collected.

Swearing is frequently used in an attempt at humor. I once spent an evening at a comedy club and left feeling like I needed a long shower with lots of soap. We’ve all seen colorful sayings on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers. These quips might make us giggle, but surely we can think of more clever things to say. In the words of Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley, “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”

Cussing can make us seem less refined and even boring. CEO and author Michael Hyatt said, “If you can’t be interesting without profanity, then let’s face it, you’re not that interesting.” Ouch. Conversing can be difficult and can even produce anxiety in some. Relaxed conversation takes practice, and we can learn to edit out bad words. Cursing downgrades any conversation.

I was recently at a social event, and while I wasn’t particularly offended by the conversation laden with profanity, I knew others within earshot would be. I excused myself and went to the restroom feeling like an old fuddy-duddy. Then I reassured myself that the whole point of good manners is to make others feel at ease. Swearing can be disrespectful and make others feel uncomfortable, so it’s simply not polite.

Finally, it is never okay to swear at or in front of children. Research shows cursing at a child causes increased aggression and insecurity. Children are going to imitate what adults say, even when they don’t know the meaning of the words. I’m not one who finds it cute when children repeat curse words. Every adult is a role-model to every child and should take that responsibility to heart.

Some may counter that swearing doesn’t really hurt anybody, and maybe I should lighten up. Perhaps. But as someone who spent decades teaching poetry and literature, I long for beautiful words and phrases. Why put an ugly word out into the world when we can choose a lovely one? I agree with contemporary author Rajesh Walecha who wrote, “Speak beautiful words to create a beautiful world.” ยง

“The wise one fashions speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve.”
~ Buddha