Friday, May 7, 2010

The Importance Of Being Polite

(Written for Flights From Hell)

When you think about it, we are all just big babies who have been potty trained and conditioned to suppress our tantrum urges. The frustrations of air travel are abundant and impossible to ignore: waiting in line just to be told we were sent to the wrong line, weather delays, stupid people everywhere, harried staff that come off as rude, what have you. All these things encourage us to let out the shrieking man-baby within. Wouldn't it feel great to just punch the smirk off that smarmy counter agent's face, flush the screaming newborn down the lavatory toilet, recline your seat as violently as possible into that tall guy behind you simply because you don't like his looks?

Don't do it. Fantasize away, but now you are grown and you must act accordingly. For the love of all that used to be posh and civilized, you will be rewarded if you exercise restraint by knowing that you have made someone's day a bit easier. Be considerate and helpful to flight attendants and airline staff - chances are you make more money than they do, and stressed/irritable passengers are everybody's problem when you're working as an airline team. I can't count how many times I have been thanked by airport and airline personnel, indirectly via a smile or extra peanuts or with a "thank you for being patient," simply because I am polite.

There is surely truth in the most recent post about expectations and whatnot. While Japan still refers to customers in the humble polite tense and bows to every single passenger as they deplane, it is a fool's hope to expect that same kind of treatment from U.S. airlines, and so we lower our expectations. Some employees ARE genuinely rude and deserve to be demoted to family-oriented Disney World Orlando flights, but it is my belief that American airline staff have grown cool and curt at least partially as a reaction to the way passengers treat them. They too have lowered their expectations. I've seen middle aged men snapping their fingers at busy flight attendants, young moms losing it and screaming at gate agents in front of their children, and all sorts of customers ranging from difficult to deserving of death. Most people are decent (by "decent" I mean they refrain from throwing tantrums on board or at the airport), but unfortunately many of the memorable ones are the indecent ones.

Think back to the jobs you worked - surely anyone without a trust fund has some customer service-related work experience. Remember those jerks who yelled at you and insisted on speaking to your manager when there was nothing to be done? But I'm sure you also remember at least a few nice people who chatted with you at checkout, complimented your haircut or your earrings, and thanked you like they meant it. The folks who tricked you into thinking "I could ring register my whole life if everyone were like that!"

If in the turbulent throes of our travel woes we cannot actually kill people, why not do the second best thing and kill them with kindness?

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