Summer travel advice? Try being nice

by Christopher Elliott on June 14, 2013

Steve Wood/Shutterstock Steve Wood/Shutterstock

 


Are you still forgetting to pack your manners when you travel? If you are, then please meet Grace, a flight attendant who recently turned to me for some career advice.

She’s had it up to here with her job, and she wants to know what to do next.

“I’m very aware that I’m in a service position,” she told me. “I am polite, not surly or rude.”

But passengers rarely return the favor.

“I got injured yesterday three times on the same flight,” she added. “I had my hand slammed in the lav door opening it for someone who I suppose had an emergency bathroom issue and could not wait for me to move. Someone rolled over my foot with a rollaboard. And my shoulder is on fire from helping with bags and such during boarding.”

Of course, I can’t reveal Grace’s full name and airline because she’s sure the company will fire her for talking to me. But I feel her pain.

She and her colleagues are suffering from low morale, and at no time will it be lower than during the summer, when inexperienced leisure travelers board her flights and treat her and her co-workers like a sky waitress.

“Nice isn’t working”

Grace says she’s confused. She can’t help but notice that colleagues who “bark orders” get results from their passengers. What’s more, airline management pats these grouchy crewmembers on the back for being so strict with regulations.

“Nice isn’t working,” she says. “I’m so confused. What should I do?”

At the beginning of the new year, I urged you to mind your manners on the road. Those of you who already do weren’t offended. But those of you who think the Graces of the world are sub-humans who are only there to serve you, were outraged.

Today, with the summer travel season just getting started, I want to talk to those of you who still don’t understand. You think your hotel bellman, flight attendant and restaurant server is some kind of indentured servant who is required to smile while you step all over that person like a doormat.

I’m sorry, but you’re wrong.

Don’t like travel? Get a mirror

When I hear from folks like Grace, it sheds a new light on other complaints I receive from travelers. Like the elderly couple flying from Palm Beach, Fla., to Newark recently — no need to give names, because I don’t want to embarrass them — who were kicked off their JetBlue Airways flight.

The reason? They allege a flight attendant “ordered” them to move a jacket into the overhead bin during boarding, and when they balked, they were shown the door. Refusing to comply with a flight attendant’s instructions is a violation of federal law, after all.

Now, I know there are flight attendants out there who let this whole “we’re-the-law” thing go to their head. But when I hear from employees like Grace, I wonder how many of them are pushed to it by passengers like us.

Are travelers to blame for the demise of politeness? It pains me to write this, but I think the answer is yes, at least partially.

Too many travelers have no concept of good manners. They don’t give a rip about civility. I know, because after my previous story about bad manners, they went on the offensive, vandalizing the comments in my blog with angry, ad-hominem attacks.

What’s your response to my simple, common-sense suggestion that a positive travel experience starts with you? If it’s self-righteous indignation — if you say to yourself, “I paid good money for that ticket, I’m entitled to some respect — then maybe you’re part of the problem.

Maybe you’re ruining travel for everyone else.

Politeness is a two-way street. When you give, you get. You should try it before you travel.

To all the flight attendants out there like Grace who are considering a career change, or worse, and are thinking of turning mean, I honestly hope you don’t.

Stay right there, Grace. Please. And don’t change a thing.

We need you.

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  • Linda

    Yes, Grace, we do need you. I am appalled at all the people who leave their manners, courtesy and common sense at home when traveling. When I visited the Grand Canyon, I had my fill of rude, inconsiderate AMERICANS that felt entitled to everything. These adults were rearing their children to imitate them and be takers, not givers. I, too, am an American whose child was taught to be a contributing, giving, hardworking citizen.

  • Marilyn

    I don’t think rudeness is restricted to travel. I think we as a society are not courteous. Just look at the comments on public forums and see how people feel free to call others foul names for expressing an opposing opinion. Think about the stories we read each year (Black Friday usually brings them out) about people being injured or even trampled to death so that others can get a bargain. I have seen toddlers elbowed at Easter egg hunts so that adults can run in and get more eggs for their own kids. So it is not surprising to me that anyone in a service type job is experiencing rude customer behavior. I don’t know what has led to this appalling lack of consideration, but just because “everyone else is doing it,” that is no excuse. We do need to mind our manners whether we are traveling or at home.

  • Tom

    As you suggest, the people that need to read your article and change their attitude are unlikely to do so and the ones who agree with what you say are not the problem.

  • Bob Stocking

    The airline industry has done a great deal to earn our scorn, but that is not an excuse to take it out on the individuals in front of us–no more than I’d want Grace to prejudge me as a difficult customer before I set foot on her plane. I can’t think of another industry where treating employees with anger and disrespect is not only tolerated but also accepted.

    I have two ideas as to why many people feel justified in how they treat airline employees. One is that we are uncomfortable with the prospect of spending a couple of hours sitting in close proximity to strangers, with nowhere to go. The other is that we are nervous about spending those hours in a tube in the air–while a few people have a full-blown fear of flying, for most of us it’s a lower-level nervousness. Combine these unconscious fears with the public acceptance of disrespectful treatment of airline employees, and poor Grace gets treated like a punching bag.

    As a Delta Diamond for four years, the only thing I feel I can do is treat every Grace I meet as well as I can. The last thing I say as I get off the plane is, “Thank you for your service.” It seems like a few kind words go a long way.

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