July 4th, 2008
02:38 PM ET

The Passenger's Bill of Duties

Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
The Ethics Guy, BusinessWeek

Last year, New York became the first state in the nation to pass a law establishing a bill of rights for airline passengers. The bill was in response to ten-hour flight delays at John F. Kennedy International airport, among other airline-related aggravations. Although the bill was struck down by a federal appeals court, and the Congressional bill introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe died in the Senate, the passenger's rights movement continues to plow ahead, and House speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to call up the bill after the 4th of July recess.

Passengers stranded on tarmacs are certainly entitled to be treated with respect, but with rights come responsibilities. I therefore propose the following "Passenger’s Bill of Duties":

  1. Passengers shall not take out their frustrations on personnel at the ticket counter or gate. Passengers shall appreciate the thankless nature of these jobs and will recognize that the surest way *not* to get what they want is to treat airline employees with contempt.
  2. When entering the cabin, passengers shall greet flight attendants with a smile. When disembarking, they shall say a sincere "thank you" to the attendants, as well as to the pilot, who got them safely to their destination. Passengers who experienced a delay in departing or arriving shall still express their gratitude to the crew, who were, after all, not responsible for the problem.
  3. Passengers shall pay attention to the safety demonstration before take-off, no matter how many times they have seen it before. They shall also turn off cell phones, pagers, and all other electronic devices when directed to do so and shall not rely upon reminders from conscientious fellow passengers.
  4. After striking up a conversation with a neighbor, passengers shall take cues from the other person when a gabfest isn’t welcome. A few hours in an airplane is the only time many people have to enjoy a bit of solitude.
  5. Parents and other guardians will not allow their children to scream, kick, or otherwise misbehave.
  6. Before leaving the restroom on board, passengers shall leave no trace that they had ever used it.
  7. Passengers shall keep their elbows and the edges of their newspapers away from their neighbors. Each passenger is entitled to his or her share of unencumbered space. No passenger shall assume that the armrest is for him or her alone.
  8. Passengers in the mood for love shall refrain from using the restroom for some afternoon delight.
  9. When the in-flight movie starts, passengers shall do as they’re asked and lower the shades. They may not want to watch the film, but they shall recognize that others may wish to do so. On their portable DVD players and laptops, passengers shall refrain from watching pornography, extreme violence, or other material that might reasonably offend the sensibilities of fellow passengers.
  10. Passengers shall clean up after themselves. Flight attendants are there to ensure the comfort and safety of customers and are not maids, nannies, or caretakers. Upon disembarking, passengers shall take their remaining trash with them and deposit it in the appropriate receptacle in the airport, rather than in the seat pocket, on the floor, or elsewhere.

All of these rules may be boiled down to one simple idea: we ought to think about how our actions affect other people. That is, after all, the essence of both etiquette and ethics, two institutions that are the basis of a well-functioning community.

Passengers who take their responsibilities as seriously as their rights will go a long way toward ensuring a pleasant flying experience for everyone, including themselves. Being respectful is simply the right thing to do.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Bruce Weinstein
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Oscar

    I agree people should be respectful. But respect is a two way street. If Airlines dont give it which most dont then you shouldnt have give it back.

    July 7, 2008 at 9:26 am |
  2. Michelle, Spring Valley,CA

    haha! If everyone followed this, flying might actually become enjoyable (:

    I agree expressing gratitude to airline employees is extremely important, after all, they handle cranky passengers all day long, an most still manage to smile at us. It migh just make their day.

    July 7, 2008 at 9:26 am |
  3. Vito San Diego

    Have modern societies degenerated that much? Its bothering to think that we have to reiterate these ethics when they should be common sense. My parents taught me these things, and I think all responsible parents should teach their children these ethics for use in all situations, not just during travel. Its good to be good to other people, even if its sometimes difficult. lt'll go a long way make life easier for everybody.

    July 7, 2008 at 2:30 am |
  4. Janice

    Thank you! I could not agree more.

    Courtesy and respect should be something we all attempt to show in every situation. Far more of the unpleasant flights I've experienced have been the result of fellow passengers, rather than the crew.

    July 6, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  5. justin young

    i feel like the men and women from the armed forces who serve our country are being shorted. they are being shorted in the sense of recognition. now i am not a political represenative or even a person whos words mean a damn thing to those in command. however, i am a man living in the united states and know what it is like to struggle to eat and pay bills and deal with everyday stress. all i would like to see from cnn or other broadcast networks is a group or company to man up. i mean, devote a whole program on a daily basis to update current events happening all across the globe. not just 20 seconds of detail or constant reporters reporting the same garb. on and off again. lets get into detail; elaborate a little bit. get the people at home to feel as if they are standing in the front line with the marines, make them so into whats happening they paint their faces camo at home and turn the tv down to be shady. the troops are the real celebrities. thats a fact!!!!!!!!!

    July 6, 2008 at 9:27 am |
  6. Brenda Ponsard

    Thank you Bruce for those responsibilities. A dear friend of mine is an airline captain for a major airline. I cannot tell you the frustration he feels when his passengers experience discomfort of any kind. No one, crew included, like being stranded on the tarmac. Many times it is the tower that causes this. So, thank you again for the great support of our airline staff.

    July 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  7. Sabrina in Los Angeles


    Your list is delightful and I thought a given, but yes I encounter those who don't follow these rules either.

    Sad that we have to right down what is correct.

    Hopefully the airlines will sign off on the "passengers bill of rights" and the "passengers bill of duties" so flying will be properly handled by all.

    July 5, 2008 at 1:25 am |
  8. Barbara - Las Vegas, NV

    Bruce – Thank you!!! All very good, "common sense" rules.

    Could I also suggest:

    11 – Please bathe. And lay off the perfume or cologne.

    Thanks! Happy 4th!

    July 5, 2008 at 12:15 am |
  9. Kathleen

    Anderson and Erica –

    You did a much needed show tonight, however: Re Orack Obama;
    How is it you did not mention much of Brack's Obama's past – - about his first elections in Chicago and WHO funded these early campaigns and who is he now beholding to. It goes back to the Chicago ....???.... (group for lack of a better word) that you did not delve into. Who financed his home, what bank and at what rate. Who helped him with the financing for that home and the price he got it for. I resent that so much of the past of Obama is glossed over by the media. I hoped for more from you Anderson and was deeply disappointed.

    Also regarding Michelle .... you truly glossed over her past. Her anger and her affirmative action admission into Princeton. Her very angry these at Princeton. Have you read it. Also her law degree at Harvard. Another affirmative action so called education. Also her first job out she starts working for Mayor Daley!! HOW?? And now Vice President of the University of Chicago Hospitals.

    You did not talk about their leftist leanings. And why was he sent back to Hawaii by his own mother because she could not manage him in Indonesia. And why his own sister (half) has said they were Muslims both of their fathers were Muslims. And what about his mother ....that woudl be an interesting book of its own what about her own rebellion.

    I feel it would have been better if you had gone back to John McCain's childhood and the demands put on him by his family. His own troubles adjusting back to civilization after the war. His first marriage. His first three children. Why did you have to play up her drug issue when it was truly related to an injury to her back from an auto accident. You did not speak at all about the excellent work she has done in Special Needs education. The excellent work she has done globally for children. The fact that she brought two children hom from Mother Teresa's orphanage and had them operated on for their cleft palates. There was so much more you SHOULD have done.

    The disappointing thing is that most people watch the media and that is where they receive most of their opinions. I had hoped that your story would have developed both sides for all the deep involvement as to WHY these two men want to be our next president

    July 4, 2008 at 11:34 pm |
  10. Renee

    How about my personal pet peeves:

    1. Passengers shall take a bath before boarding the plane.

    2. Passengers shall brush their teeth and/or use breath mints prior to boarding the plane.

    3. Passengers shall refrain from using other passenger's arms as their personal pillows.

    July 4, 2008 at 9:12 pm |
  11. James Dylan

    These are the things you teach five year old children. If a person hasn't learned it by the time they've exited adolescence they are not going to be taught by an airline or by a blog. They would need more extensive therapy or a type of reeducation, taming.
    When ever I read Bruce Weinstein's writings I can't help but think of Nietzsche's thought on the "last man" in "Thus Spoke Zarathustra." They board the plane and then blink. Pull down the window shade and blink. Move their trays to the upright position and blink. Say thank you or apologize and blink.
    Perhaps I see more fault, not in those who offend, in those who are so easy to offend. Like those seven dirty words which some believe are the words of the devil himself and the path to the down fall of society. Such fearful comments make me laugh. I cry when I think of the overwhelming censorship which seemingly prohibits one from even thinking of uttering the f-word; a beautiful word that is a noun, verb and adjective. When placed well can offer such relief as to remove bad feelings on a matter or at least better explain the feeling of frustration in an efficient manner. If only George Carlin was still gracing this world with his presence.

    July 4, 2008 at 5:22 pm |