Jerk-Free Flying

A quick lesson on how to make everyone’s flight more enjoyable


I’ve got a good story to tell you. It's kind of one of those tales from the olden days. But that makes me sound like I’m working a Little House on the Prairie vibe, and who wants that? So, I’m going to call it a throwback. Oh yeah, saying throwback is sooo much better. I may even be feeling kind of hip.

   Now, before I begin my throwback, I must warn that what I’m about to share may shock and even frighten you — perhaps making you question everything you thought you knew about the world, especially if you were born after 1979.

   Are you ready? Because I’m about to blow your mind. Here goes: People — as in humans, bipedal mammals, scientifically referred to as Homo sapiens — used to dress up, as in donning one step below evening wear, to board a plane.

   Are you still with me? I know that was a lot to take in. If you’re feeling faint, there’s no shame in sitting down and doing a couple of cleansing exhales.

   Better now? I hope so, because I want you to join me on a journey back to 1972. Mark Spitz was swimming up a storm to Olympic Gold Medal glory, Watergate was getting juicy, the handheld calculator had been invented, and my mother was having a nervous breakdown.

   The stress from the extensive clothing and grooming required for her family of six to fly on a 747 Boeing jumbo jet was this close to stroking her out.

   There were haircuts for everyone, new outfits were purchased, shoes were shined, clothes were starched and lectures on good manners were given repeatedly (along with threats if those good manners weren’t used). My mother’s favorite refrain during the pre-airline boarding time was, “I want all of you to act like you’re about to be at Buckingham Palace taking tea with the Queen of England.”

    When my eldest brother (bravely, I thought) asked, “Why the Queen of England and not the president?”

   My mother pursed her lips and hissed, “Because no one wants to take tea with Richard Nixon.”

   Being the youngest, I could not care less who I took tea with; all I wanted to do was admire myself in my smashing new sailor dress with nautical navy and white stripes, a jaunty collar with embroidered anchors accessorized with a red hair bow and patent leather Mary Jane shoes that I had polished with Vaseline (Don’t ask why. It was a thing.) I was the epitome of ‘70s styling.

   In fact, my whole family was fancy. My brothers had on seersucker suits, and my dad was working a bow tie. My mom’s look could best be described as aging Texas debutante: the maternal years. She even wore white gloves.

   When we boarded the plane, there were 400 more passengers dressed exactly like us. Looking back, it was as if the entire cast of Mad Men had been on the jet. There wasn’t a shred of denim or a tennis shoe in site. Air travel was something “you didn’t disrespect with common clothes or common behavior.” (Again, words from my mother.)

   I never would have imagined all those years ago that in the future, flying would have soared right by common and taken a sharp, whiplash-inducing detour to ugly, really, really ugly. With the beat-downs, drag-offs, baby strollers being brandished as WMDs and all the other assorted melees, we might as well attach wings to an outlaw biker bar.

   I feel like something has to be done. Being worried about terrorism when you fly is stressful enough. We shouldn't have to live in fear about a crazed flight attendant or passengers “that aren't afraid to mix it up.”

   This is why I feel we need to kick it old-school and in homage to my mother and all the cotillion and etiquette classes I was forced to attend, establish a mandatory manners class for anyone who steps on a plane: pilots, flight attendants and passengers. I’m thinking if you’re going to be fastening a seat belt and putting your tray table in an upright position, you’re taking this class. We could call it Air Etiquette or something more to the point like Jerk-Free Flying. Hmm, I like that, and the acronym is snazzy — JFF.

   JFF would be offered in two separate classes: one for airline staff and one for passengers. The airline-staff class would be taught by kindergarten teachers. Is there anyone better and more qualified to teach a class on crowd control, using your inside voice, sharing is caring, playing well with others, getting the best out of an uncooperative human or turning around a tantrum?

   Heck no.

   I daresay, if some flight attendants had the happy, persuasive demeanor of your kid’s kindergarten teacher, a lot of the recent incidents would have never happened, been nipped in the bud or solved with a cookie. Included in the airport-staff class would be a lecture on “Your Word Is Your Bond.” Any staff that has problems understanding that concept would be forced to watch special episodes of Barney where the purple dinosaur explains and sings about such fundamental moral issues.

   As for that passenger JFF class, it needs three areas of focus. 1. You’re not that fascinating or special, so please follow the rules of the airline and common decency. 2. Silence is golden, especially at 40,000 feet and 3. Although your seat can go back, does it really have to go all the way back?

   An exam would also be given to test passengers’ spatial relationships skills. For example, you have a “carryon” the size of a baby hippo. The overhead bin has room for a something the size of a Chihuahua. How do you think you’re going to stuff your hippo into the bin?

   A. By recklessly taking out other items already in the bin because your stuff is more important.

   B. By repeatedly jamming your hippo in the bin and not caring if the bin doors won’t shut because that’s not your problem.

   C. Throwing a hissy fit because there’s not enough bin space for your hippo.

   D. None of the above, because you’re not crazy.

   If you answered anything besides D, you’re not allowed to board a commercial aircraft — ever.

   Just imagine a plane full of passengers who have graduated with honors from the Jerk-Free Flying School and airline employees who radiate sunshine and have the problem-solving skills of the very best kindergarten teachers. Can you say hello to fabulous?

   Sure, there would still be fools who would think Homer Simpson-themed fleece pajama bottoms are suitable daywear for boarding a plane. Plus, I don’t think there’s anything we can do about folks wearing flip-flops with toe nails so long they’re curling under the rubber sole, but at least they wouldn’t recline their seat all the way back.

   I call that a win. Come on, let’s do this! Who’s with me on starting the Jerk-Free Flying School?