Companies & Industries

The Passenger's Bill of Duties


It's time for a return to civility when it comes to airplane travel. But travelers should remember that with rights come responsibilities

New York recently 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 a 10-hour delay earlier this year at John F. Kennedy International Airport, among other airline-related aggravations.

Rep. Mike Thompson and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Olympia Snowe introduced a similar bill in Congress earlier in 2007.

Although passengers stranded on tarmacs are certainly entitled to be treated with respect, it is also true that with rights come responsibilities. I therefore propose the following Passenger's Bill of Duties:

1. Passengers shall not take out 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. If there are delays in departing or arriving, this shall not prevent passengers from expressing gratitude for the crew's hard work.

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 more conscientious fellow passengers.

4. After striking up a conversation with a neighbor, passengers shall take cues from the other person if a gabfest isn't welcome. For many, a few hours in an airplane is their only time to enjoy a bit of solitude.

5. Children shall not be allowed to scream, kick, or otherwise misbehave while on the plane.

6. Passengers shall leave restrooms in pristine condition.

7. Passengers shall keep elbows and the edges of newspapers away from 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 such.

9. When the in-flight movie starts, do as you're asked and lower the shades. Passengers may not want to watch the film, but should recognize that others wish to do so. On portable DVD players and laptops, refrain from watching pornography, extreme violence, and other material that might reasonably offend the sensibilities of fellow passengers.

10. Passengers shall clean up after themselves. Flight attendants are there to ensure comfort and safety. They are not maids, nannies, or caretakers. Upon disembarking, passengers shall take remaining trash and deposit it in the appropriate receptacle in the airport, rather than in the seat pocket or underneath the seat.

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. And behaving respectfully is simply the right thing to do.

Bruce@TheEthicsGuy.com Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D. is the corporate consultant, author, and public speaker known as The Ethics Guy. He has appeared on numerous national television shows and is the author of several books on ethics. His “Ask the Ethics Guy!” appears every other week on businessweek.com/managing/.

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