A Lack of Civility: The State of Air Travel Today

When It Comes to Airlines, ‘Caveat Lector’

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The author's father exiting a Pan Am flight.

The author’s father exiting a Pan Am flight.


Many travelers yearn for the “good old days,” the so-called golden age of travel. One need only look at several recent television shows, “Mad Men” and “Pan Am” to see that travel, before deregulation, was not for the masses but an upper middle- and upper-class experience for which people dressed to the nines, bags traveled free, and flight attendants served full meals, even in coach. While watching these shows typically invokes nostalgia for the experience, few would want the return of high ticket prices (which have fallen over 50% in the ensuing 30 plus years not factoring in inflation), limited routes, and confined cabins filled with cigarette smoke.

Today’s airlines are the providers of cramped seats, no food, invasive security procedures, and poor customer service if you believe what you read on various social media. Of course, that’s not at all an accurate depiction of the current state of air travel, which is cheaper and more efficient than ever. Today’s flying public would never go back to paying a higher base fare to get what was considered barely edible airline food and a few more inches to stretch out.

Indeed, while tempers appear to be flaring on line, they are really cooling down in terms of the number of problems the flying public reports to the Department of Transportation.

Awareness of the highly publicized incidents is high. A recent survey by GlobeRunner Insights, a division of Frequent Business Traveler parent Accura Media Group, shows that 99.5% of frequent travelers “are aware” of the incidents and almost half said that the incident or incidents had changed their attitude towards the airline they fly the most.

Our follow-up calls with random survey takers further confirmed this to be the case.

Yet a look at recent data is contained in the Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report for February 2017, shows that the airlines are making great strides. There were 551 fewer complaints by passengers, a decrease of 37%, compared to the same period in 2016. This reflects the great improvements airlines have made in flight cancellations, lost baggage, and, ironically, in the rate of bumping passenger from flights.

Furthermore, according to several American Airlines and Delta Air Lines senior flight attendants with whom Frequent Business Traveler spoke but who asked to remain anonymous since they were not authorized to speak on behalf of their employer, passengers are not comporting themselves any differently since the spate of incidents surfaced in March.

Members of the FBT editorial staff concur with this assessment based on our own flying experience as well.


We all might derive a lesson from the students at Hampden-Sydney, a men’s college in southern Virginia, who each receive a copy of To Manner Born, to Manners Bred: A Hip-Pocket Guide to Etiquette for the Hampden-Sydney Man on the first day. While this may sound decidedly old-fashioned (or decidedly Southern), the book makes its point in the prologue with one overarching sentence: “Civility and integrity are the bases upon which relationships – professional and personal – are built.”

Perhaps some old-fashioned manners are just what is needed, and not just when on board an airplane.

(Photos: Accura Media Group)

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