To be honest, I'm hesitant to
address business travelers on the subject of behavior and manners. Not
because I don't have lots to say on the subject, particularly as
it applies to travel. But mostly because I consider the folks who read these columns to be a well-mannered, professional, civilized,
and compassionate bunch. Individuals who, though regularly provoked by
fellow travelers and travel-vendor and security personnel, refuse to
raise their voice, lose their temper, or demonstrate abusive behavior.
Why, you're all the very models of modern manners mavens! You'd never
cause trouble, even if your anger and frustration with how you are
treated is often justified.
(And as a life-long
questioner of authority and rule challenger, I feel a bit hypocritical
cautioning others to "follow the rules." But I'm older, although not
necessarily wiser. So I've learned that there are times when you best
keep your thoughts to yourself and comply.)
That said, I
remind myself that even the most sanguine and restrained among us can lose it. And some of us, let's be frank, are
so stressed out that it takes little provocation to set us off these
days. (Sleep deprivation alone heightens our nervous system's response
to just about anything—or anyone—that gets in the way of our travel
agenda. And who knows what even the most self-controlled among us will do if
ENCOUNTERS, INCREASED HOSTILITY
can shrug off a one-time encounter that leaves them angry and shaken.
But what if you're a really frequent traveler who routinely encounters
the same challenges and problems?
After being wanded and patted down and ordered about by security
screeners who shout at you as if you're deaf as well as dumb for the
umpteenth time, who hasn't struggled to resist speaking our mind? And
what does it matter if most airline personnel treat you well when
you're path is regularly crossed by a few who are seemingly hell-bent on
imposing their personal misery on you?
On the flip
side, some travelers are anger-challenged folks who see and create
trouble where none exists—or who can escalate a simple misunderstanding
or miscommunication into an epic confrontation. (If you're one of those
folks, admit it and get professional help to deal with your issues and
temper. You'll lower your stress level and reduce your risk of provoking
or escalating situations.) These road warriors are unhappy and angry
before they arrive at the airport. The travel experience, admittedly
flawed, is just one more opportunity for them to vent their hostility
and dissatisfaction with life in general.
BEHAVIOR—AND ATTITUDE—ARE SECURITY ISSUES
But these days,
"losing it" isn't just about displaying bad manners or inappropriate
behavior. Today, if you mouth off, fail to comply with a directive,
confront, or give attitude (as construed and defined, subjectively, by airline staff and security
personnel), you can find yourself in a lot of trouble. Like being
detained by airport security. Maybe even being jailed. You don't have
to be a real troublemaker to find yourself in big trouble. You just have
perceived as one!
The New York
Times' Joe Sharkey recently devoted two
columns to the implications of the Transportation Security
Administration's new enforcement policy. In a nutshell, the new
guidelines provide screeners with more discretion to set fines and more authority to call you on your remarks or behavior.
If you pack a
banned item, for example, you can no longer just slough it off with an
apology, no matter how sincere. Now the item is not only confiscated,
but the screener can also fine you ($250 up to $7,500 depending on where
you're searched and whether you're carrying an actual weapon or firearm,
although how you'd overlook packing one of those is beyond me). And the
screener gets to factor in so-called "aggravating" and "mitigating"
factors, which include your attitude, previous violations, and your
travel experience. Think that's going to set off more than a few
travelers who honestly forgot what they packed?
But fines for
packing banned items may be the least of it as Sharkey explains in "Airport
Hurdles and the Nonflying Nuns." Sharkey rightly questions how some
screeners will handle their expanded authority when they can impose
"fines and sanctions...for offenses such as 'nonphysical' interference
What, you may
ask, is "nonphysical interference"? According to the TSA
spokesperson Sharkey pinned down, it's "...any conduct that
interferes with a screener's ability to do his or her job." She cited
the example of "...a passenger directed to secondary screening and
they're verbally abusive, and the screener has to shut down the
checkpoint." And if that isn't an ambiguous and broad enough
definition, she went on to say that it includes "any nonphysical
situation that in any way would interfere with the screener and
his or her ability to continue to work, or interfere with their ability
to do their jobs."
Yikes. Is it
just me who is having visions of out-of-control TSA screeners jumping on
anyone, no matter how polite, who responds to or questions their actions?
I'd like to believe most checkpoint screeners are too professional to
let their own emotions get in the way of their professionalism. But I'm
not that naive.
yourself warned. Need an example of how a simple situation can
quickly escalate into major mayhem? Read on. (If you don't need any more
convincing that you should keep a lid on your behavior, skip ahead to
Avoid Trouble, below.)
#1: FOLLOW THE AIRLINES' DIRECTIVES--OR
GO TO JAIL!
I didn't think
much of the following item when I first saw it. I considered it an
anomaly and something that wouldn't happen on a U.S. carrier. But after
reading travelers comments (posted in online blogs and bulletin boards)
on related incidents on U.S. and foreign carriers, I'm more
concerned about the possible fallout for such "misbehaving" travelers.
column in Condé Nast Traveler's January, 2004, issue devotes
two pages to the sobering saga of a family who flew Mexicana Airlines to
Puerto Vallarta and ended up detained at the airport police station.
Their "crime": They used the toilet in the Executive Class cabin (They
were flying coach.) after a flight attendant forbid them to do so.
flight attendant was so disturbed by the disregard for the directive
that the FA spoke to the captain who drafted a note for the passengers
(the Meisel family from Evanston, Illinois). According to Henry Meisel,
who wrote a letter to CNT's Ombudsman,
the captain's note "accused us of endangering the safety of
other passengers and threatened to invalidate our tickets home." Meisel,
who says he was "stunned by the absurdity of the accusation..."
that he laughed. A big mistake, he realized too late. (According to Mexicana's crew, Meisel's reaction "caused further disruption to the
passengers seated near him." The carrier, according to CNT,
incident "not as a case of passengers being denied permission to use the
Executive Class bathroom, but of its crew responding to a situation that
they felt could compromise the safety and well-being of the passengers
in their care." (!)
landed, police boarded and Meisel and his wife and three children were
piled into a patrol car and taken to the airport police station.
Mexicana's captain filed a report. Meisel typed up their
statements, paid a $420 "administrative fee," and they were released.
After visits to the U.S. Consulate and the Mexican Government Tourist
Office, Meisel was notifed that Mexicana had dropped all charges. The
$420 fee was returned and Mexicana subsequently issued the Meisels a
Neither I nor
CNT's Ombudsman were present so there's no way to tell which version
(the Meisel's or Mexicana's flight crew) is accurate. But this much is
clear: Disobey the orders of a flight crew and you could find
yourself in big trouble.
found Mexicana's actions to be "defensible." Citing the recent
increase (from $1,000 to $25,000) in the penalty for unruly in-flight
behavior, the Ombudsman cautioned fellow flyers to heed and
follow "directions from a flight attendant, no matter how trivial or
unrelated to aircraft safety, they may seem..."
The Wellness Concierge says: Don't even consider ignoring a flight
attendant's directive--whether it's about using the loo or anything
You may question the wisdom, necessity or even the validity of a
directive but remember: You're in a no-win situation. You're at
the mercy of the captain and the crew, like it or not.
And given their justified anxiety and the airlines' escalating security
concerns, flight crews are not in the mood to debate their
Most important, don't dismiss or
ridicule any missive from the captain.
The time to express your dissatisfaction with how you are treated is
after you're off the flight—unless you're willing to deal with the
possibility of being removed from a flight!
#2: KEEP YOUR OPINIONS TO YOURSELF!
You'd think an
airline pilot would have the maturity and good sense to refrain from
inappropriate behavior. Think again. Maybe it's the fatigue. Maybe it's
the uniform. Maybe it's personal ego or arrogance.
In January, an
American Airlines pilot was arrested and fined almost $13,000 when he
made an obscene gesture while being photographed by South American
immigration officials at the Sao Paulo airport. The pilot, like many
others, objected to the new procedure of fingerprinting and
photographing U.S. travelers. Unfortunately, he picked the wrong form to
express his dissatisfaction.
You're entitled to your opinion, but if you express it via words or
gestures, expect to pay the consequences.
HOW TO AVOID
When faced with
a customer service, security-related, or other problematic situation,
either on the ground or in the air, ensure that you respond in a way
that does not jeopardize your own safety and well-being or compromise
your travel plans.
► Don't think you are immune from serious trouble. Hey, nuns
have been ejected from flights—and they did nothing except make a
clearly questionable flight crew "uncomfortable."
► Don't try to "pull rank." Your nationality, frequent-flyer
program status, title, company, wealth, or connections mean nothing. And
shoving them in the face of a typical airline, immigration, or security
employee when you're behaving badly or not following rules, won't save
your ass. If anything, these folks may become even more determined to
teach you a lesson by making you an example to discourage others from
► Be polite and respectful. Everybody likes being treated well
and some folks, especially those with just enough power to make your
life miserable, demand it. Failure to show respect can quickly escalate
even a minor situation.
► Don't take rule enforcement personally. You may feel like you
are being singled out (and, in fact, you may be) but, generally
speaking, it's not about you, but your failure to follow instructions
► Comply, politely, with directives. Register your complaints later.
► Don't view encounters as power struggles. Yes, you are the
customer. But there are situations when that role is secondary. At a
time when almost everything is considered a safety or security issue,
being the "buyer" is irrelevant. And these days, even the most
professional staffers are so stressed-out that they'll respond poorly
when pushed or repeatedly challenged.
before you speak. Take a breath. Compose yourself.
► Speak as slowly—and calmly—as you can. Raising your voice
immediately escalates any situation.
► Say nothing! This is particularly important for the more
volatile and vocal among us who rush to respond. Take time to listen and
then internally review your options before speaking or acting.
► Repeat what you've heard to be sure you are correctly
understanding what you've been asked to do. Many times, one or both
parties will misstate something. Anger (or fear) often reduce our ability to
► Monitor your physical behavior, including your expressions and
gestures. Try to stay as passive and neutral in your demeanor as
possible. Just as someone else's expression can trigger a negative
response in us, we can set off someone else by moving close to them,
throwing our hands about or near them, making a face, or using obscene
► Avoid verbal or physical threats.
► Remember: It's not about being "right."
► Know your
personal hot buttons. For some, it's a tone of voice, a look, a
perceived attitude, a lack of understanding, or a failure to help as
quickly or in the manner we wish.
take a breath, make a mental note that this is happening and remind
yourself to not respond. It's not easy to de-program ourselves,
but it can be done. (Pretend your spouse or boss or someone you respect
is standing next to you.)
► Respond in the moment. I read a psychology factoid once that said
something like 95 percent of our response to something happening now is
based on our experience in the past. Focus on this situation, not all
the other problems you may have had in the past with other staffers.
► Consider your location. The repercussions from your actions may
be more serious when you're out of the country. What may be viewed as a
minor problem here, could land you in jail elsewhere. More importantly, your
resources and rights may be limited.
► Don't drink when you're at the airport or in flight. Even if
you don't think it alters your behavior, there's a good chance that it
may, and not for the better. When someone smells liquor on your breath,
they won't need a breathalyzer to stop you from boarding or otherwise
interfere with or question your travel plans. And if you begin to
complain or challenge anyone when you've been drinking, your words and
actions are likely to be almost automatically ignored. Unfair as it may
seem (a few drinks does not make a drunk), staffers have to deal with
too many real drunks to test your blood-alcohol levels. They'll simply
label and tune you out.
► Get more sleep. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived folks
are generally more cranky and anxious than their more well-rested
counterparts. We're less likely to respond inappropriately when we've
had a good night's sleep, or even a short, solid nap.
► Cut down on air travel. Some folks find it more restful and
less problematic to drive as much as six or seven hours. When you can't
deal with the system, bypass it.
Got a tip or
suggestion on how to stay cool and calm on the go?
E-mail your thoughts and I'll
share them in an upcoming column.
Copyright© 2002 to 2004, Marlene
R. Fedin; no reprint or reuse, on or offline,
express permission of the author
BEFORE YOU E-MAIL ME WITH YOUR OBJECTIONS:
My suggestions are not about giving up your rights or going along to go
along. (I'm a big believer in preserving our civil liberties.) And I'm not trying to diminish the seriousness of some
situations, which may be so problematic that you require legal counsel
to deal with how you were treated.
Finally, I'm not saying that I believe the airlines, TSA
screeners, or government officials are always right or justified in how they perform their jobs
or enforce rules or directives. My goal is to get you to concentrate on your
behavior and how it can help—or hurt—you. And to consider that your
actions can either increase, or minimize, your personal risk as you
navigate the travel landscape.
Every effort is made to provide current, working links. However,
given the nature of the Web and the frequency of change on
individual sites, some links may not be available. If you can't find
a noted resource or you find an error, please
I'll correct errors and
provide you with updated information, where available.
Information is compiled from medical and scientific journals and
related professional publications, which have vetted the research
data that they present. Additional information resources include
medical and other professionals that I have interviewed.
The material you
see here is provided for information purposes only and is not a
substitute for consulting a healthcare professional.