NEW YORK Robb Dougherty, a Texas hairstylist, used to be a frequent flier on the Lubbock to San Antonio route. But he couldnt stand the nasty travelers hed constantly encounter people who felt entitled, who talked down to flight attendants, who raged when they werent poured a full cup of soda or given an extra pillow.
Once, it was such a thrilling, exciting adventure to fly, saidDougherty, 41, who now stays close to home in Corpus Christi. Its become just a nasty experience. People swat you with their bags and dont apologize. No smiles. No nothing.
Dougherty is just one of countless disillusioned travelers whove been venting their frustrations since news broke of the spectacular meltdown of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who cursed a passenger on the public-address system and then left his plane and likely his career behind with one dramatic escape down an emergency slide.
Many, but not all, gripe about nasty fellow passengers. To some, flight attendants are equally to blame for unfriendly skies.
Jim Erickson, for example, says he wouldnt have gotten on a plane a few years back if hed known hed be getting sick. But he got worse on board, requiring a number of trips to the lavatory, which meant squeezing by flight attendants with their carts.
One attendant accidentally splashed a bit of water on herself as she backed up a row to let him pass.
She got very rude with me, said Erickson, a business analyst from Fort Worth, Texas. I remember it left me feeling genuinely bad. Not only her words, but her continued attitude and looks at me for the remainder of the flight. Other flight attendants did nothing. Not even a quick apology while the meanie wasnt looking!
Erickson, who was a platinum-level flier, using the carrier (he prefers not to say which) twice a week, hastens to add that this is one bad experience, not an indictment of all flights or flight attendants.
But he bemoans the incivility or mere indifference that he sees on airplanes these days even if most flights pass smoothly with little drama.
Airline travel used to be a big event that prompted you to put on your suit and tie, says Erickson, 34. Pilots stood at the doorway ... flight attendants were glamorous hosts and hostesses. Now, many American carriers have become cattle cars.
Of course, its hardly just on airplanes that many see a breakdown in civility.
Its everywhere, says Courtney Mitchell, 42, of Hollywood, Fla. No one makes eye contact anymore, and if you say hello, people act like youre going to kill them. Honestly, everyone is just so stressed out.
How did it come to this? Passengers and those in the travel industry cite several factors, among them post-Sept. 11 security concerns, packed planes and budget-tightening, leading to dreaded fees.
I think theres a feeling out there that youre getting taken when you fly, said Pauline Frommer, creator of Pauline Frommer Guides and daughter of Arthur Frommer.
Flying is a high-stress experience. Youre just a number when you fly. Its not like other parts of your life. Any feeling of control you have is gone, she added.
That can lead to severe anxiety, says Katherine Muller, a clinical psychologist at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York, who flies frequently and has suffered her own anxiety on flights at times.
Youre in this tight place with limited mobility, says Muller. Youre subject to all these rules, surrounded by people. You have no access to your regular stuff. All this for hours in a row.
Starting to feel claustrophobic?
On top of that, a lot of people have fears about flying. They may not talk about it, but they have it, she said. Some people self-medicate, with pills and alcohol, so their behavior becomes less inhibited.
Needless to say, Muller does not recommend such a solution.
As for flight attendants, Muller points out that theyre people too, subject to nerves, just like us.
Traci Dolan, a bartender in St. Albans, W.Va., applauds the captain who, upon landing but before reaching the gate, stopped the plane she was on mid-tarmac and refused to move because one passenger, ignoring the flight attendants, was blithely moving about, collecting his luggage.
If you dont sit down, Im not moving this plane, she quotes the captain as saying. I thought that was brilliant! The guy wasnt happy, but he sat down.
Another time, she became sick on a plane, possibly from food poisoning, and needed a change of clothes. Flight attendants asked around the cabin. One passenger gave her pants, another a T-shirt.
And they knew they wouldnt get them back, she says.
So for all the depressing stories, its worth noting the heartening ones.
Like that of Mollie Hemingway, a mom from Washington, D.C., who fondly recalls a flight attendant traveling as a passenger, no less who became her guardian angel on what seemed destined to be a flight from, well, a place with no angels.
Flying to Denver with her daughters, ages 1 and 2, Hemingway was stressed to the point of sobbing when her older child soiled her car seat minutes after takeoff, meaning Mom had to balance two kids on her lap.
Changing diapers in the tiny bathroom was a challenge. And the sleep-deprived girls were melting down, turning into crazed beings that kicked the seats in front of them, Hemingway reports.
The flight attendants were nowhere to be seen, until the angel appeared, offering to take the baby.
I practically threw the baby at her, Hemingway says. Later, she exchanged seats so she could sit next to me, and she helped me entertain the girls. I am so thankful for her help.
Hemingway says she had a great return flight on Southwest, where the attendants were helpful and fellow passengers kind. Was it simple luck or something else?
Pat Fitzgerald has a theory. A father of two young kids in Ruckersville, Va., Fitzgerald, 43, says he used to be one of these jerks who hated flying and acted like I hated flying and you know what, others were hateful to me. Then I decided there are some things that are out of my control and decided to just roll with it and smile.
And you know what? Other people gave me a smile and treated me nice, too. Funny how life works that way, he said.