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":
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Parents and other guardians will not allow their children to scream, kick, or otherwise misbehave.
- Before leaving the restroom on board, passengers shall leave no trace that they had ever used it.
- 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.
- Passengers in the mood for love shall refrain from using the restroom for some afternoon delight.
- 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.
- 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.