Fifty years ago, airline flight attendants pampered passengers with graceful white-glove treatment, gliding down supermarket-wide aisles to serve gourmet dinners on fine china.
Smoking was permitted, cocktails encouraged. Luggage flew for free. Bad behavior in flight was as rare as a lonesome overhead bin is today. Today, as travelers are finding, the airlines as well as the passengers can be exasperating. Witness the grand exit this past week of Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant who bade a profanity-ridden exit to the passengers onboard his landed plane, inflated the emergency chute, then slipped away to freedom, and presumably, the unemployment office.
Film announcer/narrator 86-year-old Peter Thomas of Naples recalls the more genteel times of travel fondly. Thomas has taken “thousands and thousands” of flights worldwide throughout his long career as the narrator of films and documentaries including “Nova” and “Forensic Files.”
“I used to always wear a suit and tie and I flew with a hat and briefcase,” he reminisces.
Travel has grown exponentially since those days, but its accessibility has come at a price. Nonchalance and downright thoughtlessness surface among the people aloft.
“You just don’t see people dressed up anymore. You see some very strange people on airplanes now. Now it’s long lines, taking your shoes off. If you have a seat in the middle or the back, the overhead space is already gone. And the food is not as great as it used to be.”
Even so, he praises security staff at Southwest Florida International Airport as “just wonderful,” sympathizing with the gravity of their responsibilities since 9/11.
“Flying is a serious business now,” he concedes.
On Memorial Day weekend last year, Grace Frey of Naples, 40, had just boarded a Continental Airlines flight in Fort Myers, bound for Newark. Five months pregnant and carrying a car seat for her son, she had nowhere to go when “a flight attendant who was irritated with someone in coach came barreling down the aisle and knocked me over! Someone sitting in first class caught me, and I started crying.”
She later decided not to report the incident but said she would have appreciated an apology from the frenzied flight attendant.
“She never said she was sorry. In fact, she was indignant! She had no clue why everyone was so upset.”
Because summer and family trips go together like snow cones and sticky fingers, Grace and her husband Barry, 46, president of Frey & Son Homes of Naples, travel often with son Brady, 21/2, and daughter Anabella, 9 months. Their advice for parents flying with young children:
Make sure they sleep well the night before.
Take healthful snacks on board.
Pack activities to occupy the little ones in flight and during airport layovers and unplanned delays.
Charlie Allen, 73, will attest to the second point. Allen was on a Delta flight to Las Vegas with his wife when the Fort Myers couple began hearing a child “yelling from a few rows behind us. My wife took a banana out of her purse, and it was passed from row to row to this kid’s mom. The kid gobbled it up, and we never heard another sound out of him.”
Allen works as a curbside skycap for JetBlue at Southwest Florida International, where he reports a higher percentage of rude passengers than when he began working there nearly six years ago. During his shift, he checks in up to
150 passengers for each JetBlue flight.
“Sometimes, when I tell them their plane is late, they start swearing at me. But there’s only a small percentage that’s on edge, or looking for a little button to push. Five years ago, two out of 150 would be rude. Now it’s double that.”
Summer travelers interviewed at Southwest Florida Interational Airport in June voiced strong viewpoints about a contentious topic in the airline industry: how to seat passengers of all sizes. “If your fat dribbles over the armrest,” one arriving passenger nearly hissed, “buy two seats.”
Summer vacation may be on the high seas, where cruise ships seem to follow stricter rules in dealing with their own problem passengers. Eddie Siperstein, a 60-year-old Fort Myers singer performing locally as “Cruisin’ Eddie,” is currently is arranging his 100th cruise. Cruise ships seem to have a lower threshhold of tolerance, however.
“I’ve seen some people get on a ship with nothing but a T-shirt, shorts, sandals and a swimsuit,” he recalls, “but they had to eat all their meals at the casual buffet. No eating in the dining room, no captain’s cocktail party.”
Another tip from Cruisin’ Eddie is to book shore excursions well ahead of the departure date to avoid the frustration of standing in long lines on board, only to be disappointed when the most popular activities sell out.
He adds, “Stay with your group and your tour guide on shore excursions. It’s just poor manners to make everyone else wait for you.”
Siperstein makes a point of arriving a day early in the ship’s departure city, a strategy that paid off in April 2009 when a long stretch of I-75 closed because it was clouded with smoke from a fire in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
“If I hadn’t driven over to Miami the day before, I would have had to take a long detour and I could have missed the boat,” he said.
What’s the worst example of bad behavior he’s seen on his 99 cruises?
“I was on Princess Cruise Lines in the Caribbean. I saw this guy throw his wife overboard! He was about 6-foot-3, 250 pounds of muscle. She was a tiny thing, about 100 pounds. They were drinking and arguing, getting louder, when all of a sudden he picked her up and threw her ten decks down, right into the water.”
Fortunately, a nearby crew member saw what happened and jumped in to rescue her.
“She was OK,” he said. “Plainclothes security happened to be right there, and they had that guy in handcuffs within a minute. They marched him to the brig and put him off the ship at the next port.”