May 6, 2009 — -- We've all heard about (and sometimes seen for ourselves) the ugly side of the airlines.
I'm talking about Surly Sue, the flight attendant with the fake smile, the snippy manner and the "don't even think about asking for another pack of peanuts" glare. Or how about the Clueless Customer Service Guy, who has no idea when the next available flight is, and clearly doesn't care.
The ones I call nightmare passengers -- the people who torment the flight crews and leave the rest of us begging for mercy. Yes, their numbers are tiny, too. But not tiny enough.
In case you haven't been keeping up, here's my short list of Worst Passengers of 2009:
Exiting a Plane Too Soon
What the heck's going on? Well, maybe not much. After all, most of us don't run into these people in the air or anywhere else, thank goodness.
And, as Emily Post, author of the definitive "Etiquette," once said, "Since it is not likely that anyone would go around the world being deliberately offensive to others, it may be taken for granted that obnoxious behavior is either the fault of thoughtlessness or ignorance."
Or alcohol. Amazing what a big part this plays in bad behavior in the air (and elsewhere). Not always, of course. But when the pilot of an AirTran jet flying from Cancun to Baltimore radioed ahead to alert authorities about two passengers with nausea and fever -- in other words, possible swine flu victims -- the crew must have been chagrined to discover the two were merely drunk.
So how's a flier supposed to survive these days? Same way airline employees must: by following the old "do unto others." A little courtesy on both sides can go a long way to keeping us comfortable in those sardine tins called planes.
More Bad Passengers
And don't forget, often your fellow passengers are the good guys. Remember the "I Have a Bomb" incident? A bunch of passengers came to the rescue, including guitarist Chris Llewellyn who was on his way to a gig with rapper Asher Roth of "I Love College" fame. "I'm not going to go down with the plane," Llewellyn remembered thinking. Nice job.
So what to do if you have a legitimate complaint during your flight? Here's one example of getting your message across the right way.
A man who was disappointed in a meal he'd been served aboard a Virgin flight decided to complain to Richard Branson personally. His hilarious, yet perfectly polite letter recounts his dismay at peeling back the foil covering his entree, and, well, I'll let him tell it.
"Imagine being a 12-year-old boy, Richard. Now imagine it's Christmas morning and you're there with your final present to open. Only you open the present and [that much anticipated stereo] is not in there. It's your hamster, Richard. It's your hamster in the box and it's not breathing."
Did Branson flinch? Of course not. This is one entrepreneur who leavens his genius with a playful sense of humor. He promptly called the fellow and offered him a job as taste tester for airline cuisine.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.