I was recently on a flight from somewhere to somewhere else, connecting through some airport or another, unremarkable because that is often our travel experience....connections are as irrelevant as they are important to get us to our final destination.
As I was waiting in the boarding area for my flight, a line of overtly irritated passengers from a cancelled flight formed at the gate desk. The tension was palpable as people were understandably eager to get to their destination with as little a delay as possible. As our full flight boarded it was clear that the travelers bumped on to my flight were either anxious to make their next connection or angry they had missed it already.
So, when our current flight was further delayed for a minor maintenance issue, there was no doubt we had a plane of understandably unhappy people. Remarks bounced around the cabin; 'This is bullshit' 'This is so fucked up' 'This airline SUCKS'. And other generally unproductive but cathartic commentary.
The flight attendants, well versed in handling these situations, assured the passengers that the pilots would do what they could to get us there on time and some tight connecting flights may be able to delay a few minutes. But short of investing in a time machine, there was nothing to do but sit back and let the flight crew do their job.
We took off and the Cap't gave his usual 'We'll do what we can to make up some time in the air.....' speech and on we flew. Chatter continued throughout the flight, a general simmering of unhappiness at the airline's performance.
And then we landed.
Seemingly 9 miles from the airport.
And then we had to wait to cross an active runway.
So, while we sat waiting to cross the runway, the airport terminal a distant glimmer on a hopeful horizon, people started to unbuckle. First physically, and then metaphorically.
As the first familiar click of a seatbelt buckle rang out, Pavlovian passengers blindly followed. A chorus of clicks bounced off the cabin walls right to the flight attendant ears.
Then, predictably, an announcement:
"Ladies and Gentleman, we are still on an active taxi-way. Please remain in your seat with your seat belt fastened until such time we have arrived at the gate and the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign."
Some buckled back up. But others simply stood up. And since one passenger stood up, the best of sheep-like human behavior reared its furry head as others left their seats and started opening overhead bins.
Predictably, another announcement followed, this time with a slightly more terse edge:
"Ladies and Gentlemen! (nb: ! = flight attendant trying to hold it together). Please sit down! We are on an active taxiway. You MUST remain seated. We know you are anxious to make your connections and we ask that those who are not connecting allow those that are to deplane first. But in the meantime, we ask you to please (please!) take a seat."
For a moment people followed instructions. Literally, for only a moment. Then, as the plane inched forward, someone else stood up and grabbed their bag from the overhead and placed it in the aisle.
At this point, I'll admit, our flight attendant might have lost her professional polish. Just a little. Don't get me wrong, she didn't pull a 'Slater'. But she proceeded to lecture the passengers in a fashion we all have a childhood memory of.
Announcement: (pardon the paraphrasing)
"Ladies and gentlemen (CHILDREN!!). If you don't sit down right now (YOU SIT YOUR BUTTS DOWN IN THOSE SEATS RIGHT NOW!!!), we are going to have to power down the plane and turn the engines off '(DONT MAKE ME STOP THIS PLANE!!)
There was more. Much more. But it was hard to hear over the human descent into madness. It started with an appropriate, and perhaps warranted snicker or two. But then the cackling cacophony swelled into a chorus of laughter that drowned out any possibility of hearing anything else being said. The more our poor flight attendant tried to just do her job, the more she was ridiculed and laughed at.
'Ladies and Gentleman, this is your captain speaking'.
A collective quiet smothered the cabin as he politely asked us to listen to the flight attendants' instructions for our safety and the safety of the passengers around us. (read: LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER DAMMIT, OR I'M GOING TO STOP THIS PLANE AND COME BACK THERE MYSELF!) People poked each other. 'I told you not to piss dad off'.
And, like chastised children, for 5 more minutes the cabin hushed. But kids will be kids and travelers will be travelers, and as we approached the gate and the light at the end of fuselage was a hopeful glimmer......
.....................we stopped short. Waiting for gate crew.
Our beleaguered flight crew saw it coming and tried to get a jump on it ...'ladies and gentleman, please remain seated...'.....but that was all we heard.
The plane erupted in laughter. I don't mean a conspiratory snicker, or a little empathic laugh. I mean a volcanic burst of raucous, hyenic laughter specifically intended to drown out any further instructions as people stood, opened overheads, retrieved luggage and blocked aisle ways. It wasn't just that they weren't listening. It was that they simply weren't going to allow her to be heard. The more she tried, the louder they yelled and laughed back. And as they finally disembarked, many passengers even found time in their rush to their next flight to leave a parting remark 'Having a bad day?' "Are you kidding me with that announcement?' or a condescending roll of the eyes.
It was in a word, disturbing. In two words? Really disturbing.
Lets rewind for just a minute. I got to thinking amidst the earlier cabin chatter of how much 'bullshit' this is, how 'fucked up' the airlines are and how 'unacceptable' these delays are.
Lets consider this. I just paid $300 for a ticket to my destination that covered 3 planes, 4 airports and thousands of miles. $300. T-h-r-e-e H-u-n-d-r-e-d dollars. Thats less than half the price of the new iPhone in your pocket (that we trust is in airplane mode).
But for THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS, I boarded a plane in one country, transited through another, and landed in a 3rd country. I used the services of 4 different airports. And I arrived 35 minutes later than they said I would when I bought the ticket. I can live with that.
Don't misunderstand. I don't like delays and missed connections any more than the next passenger. And no matter what price the airline sells the seats at we have a right to receive a safe and efficient travel experience.
But treating your flight crew badly because your flight was cancelled makes as much sense as getting mad at your iPhone because there's no free wifi at the airport.
Listen, would I like a first class experience each and every time I fly? Have I encountered less than congenial cabin crew? Have missed connections made me annoyed, tired and cranky? Yes, yes and yes.
But taking it out on flight crew who's function really is to help manage any safety issues or emergencies on board? Well thats just bad behavior. They deserve better and adults should know better. So next time the crew are trying to manage a situation that is out of their control, consider stowing away that attitude in an overhead compartment.