Monday, August 15, 2011

First Class or No Class?

I am very fortunate, as a Diamond Medallion member with Delta, to get upgraded to first class on about 98% of my flights. The behaviors I witness in the front cabin, however, can sometimes be anything but first class. Don't get me wrong. Many first class passengers are there because they, like me, are very frequent fliers. As a result, they understand airline etiquette. They also know that, even though things might not always go smoothly, they know not to look a gift horse in the mouth. They are courteous to their fellow passengers, and polite (read un-demanding) to the flight attendants. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed levels of arrogance and impatience up front that I never encountered back in coach.

A well-dressed business professional sat across the aisle from me today. He, along with quite a few of the others in first class, was busy with his iPad and cell phone during the entire boarding process. Every frequent flier is well aware of the FAA regulation that dictates that, once the boarding door is closed, all electronic devices must be turned completely off. Whether or not these devices actually interfere with the navigational system of the aircraft, the regulation states that the devices must remain in the off position until the aircraft has reached an altitude of 10,000 ft. When the announcement was made requesting the electronic shut-down, this man continued reading and typing on his iPad, as if he were exempt from the regulation. He also used his phone several times. He did this brazenly as the flight staff repeatedly walked by without asking him to comply. At least he didn't pull the trick I've often seen, where adult passengers act like children and hide their device as the flight attendant walks by, only to pull it back out once the danger of being caught has passed. Yes indeed. Adults really do behave that way.

As I watched this man completely disregard the regulation, the plane pushed back from the gate and headed toward the runway. He continued reading email and typing replies on his iPad. I refrained from saying something, but perhaps I should have. I wanted to ask him what made him believe that he was actually exempt from the FAA regulation. I wanted to ask him that on the off chance that electronic devices actually do interfere with the aircraft's navigational system (I have my own questions about that), was he aware that his indiscretion could be putting himself and all of his fellow passengers and crew in danger, all so he could answer a few more emails. I kept my mouth shut.

Once the plane was in the air, this gentleman (and I use the term loosely) suddenly reclined his seatback as far as it would go with no consideration whatsoever for the person sitting behind him, who was actually quite startled by the move. And once the plane landed and arrived at the gate, this same passenger jumped out of his seat and immediately began clawing his way past other passengers in his effort to retrieve his bag from an overhead bin, and then decided that he deserved to push past everyone ahead of him to regain his original position, in order to be one of the first off the plane. He exhibited complete disregard for his fellow passengers.

Fortunately, I did not witness any arrogance toward the flight attendants. I have occasionally seen business men become demanding oafs, particularly with female flight attendants. They behave as if every comfort they desire should be met immediately by the flight crew. I’ve heard more rude behavior by entitled business people than I care to remember.

I’m not always impressed by the service provided in first class, but I’m completely impressed when I see a flight attendant deal courteously with a passenger who exhibits quite the opposite behavior. Witnessing professionalism such as that, along with personal courtesies extended to one another by seasoned travelers who know the drill, helps to restore my confidence that human beings really can treat each other with respect and consideration. And the ones who don’t tend to remind me that I still can.