Terminally bad behaviour at the airport


(First appeared on The Age, SMH, WA Today websites on Thurs, July 18)

In my experience, the majority of people are reasonably polite, but there are exceptions everywhere.

Anyone who drops rubbish next to a bin, cuts you off while driving, doesn’t restock the toilet paper after starting the last roll, and real estate agents.

Then there are the monsters most people become as soon as they enter an airport.

One phrase I’ve never heard at an airport: Excuse me.

People push, shove, cough, sneeze and pulverize my toes with luggage that is supposedly carry-on but, as it weighs as much as a baby elephant, needs to be wheeled.

The third time my toes were flattened to something a little more 2D, I promised myself I’d never wear my footwear of choice (thongs) at the airport again.

There, rudeness surrounds me like a sea of ill-will; all the pushing-in, the muttering complaints, the banging on toilet doors and the shoving at collection carousels. Do people think their bags will evaporate if not claimed on their first time around it?

Last week a guy took my stuff out of the overhead locker and said to me, ‘Sorry pal, that’s my space.’

I replied, ‘You’re not my pal,’ I said before moving my stuff to a different overhead locker. I didn’t bother arguing further, he was obviously a real estate agent. I learnt a long time ago that people who get into arguments on planes tend to find themselves very quickly off the plane.

Then there are the non-stop complaints.  When a plane is delayed, arrives late, runs out of the chicken, makes an unscheduled stop, or people are asked to keep their seatbelts fastened, turn off their phone, stop singing and not play cricket in the aisle, the complaints are louder (and huffier) than usual.

Last year while I was working on a remote mine site, a group of us flew home for Christmas in a tiny plane so small it had propellers. It was also during a mammoth storm.

There was lightning, torrential rain, the plane was being tossed like confetti by the turbulence, and even the one airhostess was strapped-in the whole way.

When we made an unscheduled stop to refuel and a safety check, around half the blokes began loudly swearing, yelling and whinging. If they weren’t all about twice my size (and wasn’t paralysed with fear) I might’ve said something.

You know what the one thing is that’s achieved by every single person who has ever complained in any of these circumstances? Nothing. Apart from making a tense situation even worse.

At university, I studied Mechanical Engineering. As part of that degree I learned how planes work and while impressive, the equations did involve a fair few fudge factors. Kind of like the way everyone knows the ingredients of Coca Cola, but the exact way they go together is still a mystery to everyone, especially Pepsi.

At the end of one particularly perplexing lecture on aerodynamics, I asked the professor how often he flew.

“Never,” he replied.

“An aeroplane is an aluminium tube floating around in an incredibly unpredictable environment and compared to sea or land, if anything goes wrong in the air, you’re much more likely to die.”

According to the facts, flying is amazingly safe. Apparently much safer than driving, wireless internet, fluorescent lights, Christmas and breathing. I haven’t checked if all those things are actually correct, but flying is really safe.

That plane belly whacking into San Francisco was the first major air mishap involving people for a while. Oh, and those new Dreamliner 787 planes that have a habit of spontaneously combusting.

Really though, thousands of planes take off and land every day, and it’s a miracle that they so rarely drop out of the sky. Which isn’t as comforting as it should be. While I’m landing or taking-off, apparently the most dangerous times, I repeatedly remind myself that maybe it’s my turn.

A massive part of the reason so few planes go splat are the extraordinarily tight safety regulations.

You might miss your connection, a meeting, the football, your wedding. That’s just bad luck.

Do you think the plane is late because of some personal vendetta against you? It’s nothing to do with you. Some need to stop acting like it is. If you want planes to be on time more often, then get ready for them to start going splat more often.

Air travel is not just extremely complicated, it is also incredibly cheap. I recently flew from Melbourne to Sydney for less than it cost to get to the airport. A few years from now, when the environmental impacts will properly be taken into account, the prices will skyrocket.

Flying is frustrating. Missing a flight by one minute, then not being allowed on although it’s been delayed by two hours. The exorbitant fees for extra baggage, and three times last year my bags were lost. Unfortunately they always found them, as I need new jeans and jocks.

We are able to fly in the sky to any continent in a matter of hours, and it safer and cheaper than travelling by land or sea is truly phenomenal. Playing the outraged toddler at the airport doesn’t change anything. All you’re doing is making the world a much worse place for everyone around you, especially the staff.

Instead why not write a letter? I did, and got a free flight. (Seriously. People don’t write enough letters anymore.)

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian. Follow him (@xaviertoby) on Twitter.