American Airlines is planning a series of ads asking passengers to be nice. Maybe if they airlines treated people in economy class with some dignity everyone would have a nicer experience.

When you enter an airport, does your behavior take a turn for the worse? American airlines seem to think so. The carrier is launching a new advertising campaign aimed at encouraging civility and good behavior on board their services.

I confess, that from the moment I step across the pavement and into a terminal pushing a trolley, I begin to feel anxious. Actually, the process starts from the moment you buy a ticket online. Forget saving money, by the time you have wasted an hour online trying to opt out of travel insurance, paying for bags and worrying about whether it is worth coughing up for an assigned seat or (biggest joke of the lot) ‘priority boarding’, you are pretty irritated and the fare you are paying bears little resemblance to the sum quoted at the start of the process.

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When it comes to the actual journey, airlines often treat passengers like an annoyance they have to tolerate (I’m sure flights would operate so much more efficiently without that irritant called a paying customer). It’s no surprise that once onboard, many of us can forget our manners and start to behave like toddlers in the playground: jostling to get on and off; heaving people out of the way to get a huge amount of carry-on baggage in the overhead lockers; and waving our arms frantically to get a second dinky plastic cupful of vinegary wine to eat with a rubbery snack of zero nutritional value.

American Airlines patronising campaign praises people who smile back when a flight attendant greets them and who give up their armrests to people in the centre seat. The message seems to imply that it’s up to us to make flying more enjoyable – a dubious premise at best. In my experience, most human beings (outside the confined environment of an airplane) are well mannered. Of course, every now and then a drunken oaf causes mayhem during a flight, but it’s not a routine event.

When it comes to onboard etiquette, I blame the airline companies who routinely reduce us to numbed fury. In the name of profit, they have reduced our legroom so that a budgerigar or a hamster probably would fare better in terms of space to body weight. They call us to gates to board and then keep us waiting for hours in airless rooms with no seats. Inhuman! We are crammed on buses and kept waiting on boiling tarmac until an employee deigns to put steps in place for us to crawl up to our tiny slot in the flying prison, and then make us wait an hour for water. As travelers, we regularly experience totally arbitrary rules and regulations; this week a woman who suffered a mild epileptic seizure before takeoff was asked to leave an Easyjet flight to Greece, even though she was declared fit to travel by medics. In fact she was so fit she was asked to collect her passport and belongings before disembarking!

There’s a lack of consistency at airport security, depending on which airport and which country you are flying from – items that can be banned or allowed range from tweezers to nail scissors to baby changing items. I’ve even been told a lipstick is a liquid but a pressed eye shadow is not.

As passengers, we have rules and regulations thrown at us every step of the way and woe betide us if we fail to comply. On the other hand, when things go wrong and flights are delayed or overbooked, try getting a refund! The Civil Aviation Authority used to act for passengers making a complaint, but now their services are being cut back and many airlines (including British Airways and Easyjet) are registering with the Centre of Effective Dispute Resolution (ADR) – using that service will cost each passenger £25. One MP called this decision ‘disgraceful’ and I agree.

Asking passengers to be a ‘little less selfish’ as American Airlines puts it, is a huge joke. When airlines start treating us like the highly intelligent people we, and not like inhabitants of a zoo, then behavior will improve. In the meantime, it’s our money that’s keeping them afloat – something most CEO’s seem to have forgotten. 

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