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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 4/2/2007 6:05:06 PM ET 2007-04-02T22:05:06

“Apology not accepted.”

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That’s the terse response JetBlue, American Airlines and other carriers are getting from passengers who were forced to spend anywhere from four to fifteen  hours trapped inside grounded and diverted airplanes in New York, Austin, and other cities as a result of bad weather around Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

Several airlines have issued apologies and everyone vows to do whatever they can to keep this from happening again. Officials for American Airlines are sorry about the “regrettable events” and promise that, in the future, passengers will be allowed to get off any plane that is delayed for more than four hours.

JetBlue founder and CEO David G. Neeleman said he was “humiliated and mortified” by his airline’s inability to cope with the snafu and that the company “should have done better.” The airline has offered full refunds and round-trip vouchers for fliers inconvenienced by three hours or more.

But for many folks forced to endure being trapped for even a few hours in a crowded metal tube with little food, water, fresh air and, in some cases, no working toilets — and for those of us who have read all about it — the response to all this after-the-fact wringing-of-hands is still “apology not accepted.”

Instead, travelers nationwide are joining forces to call for legislation that creates an air passengers’ bill of rights.

In addition to establishing rules that mandate levels of compensation for canceled, delayed, and diverted flights, much of what people are clamoring for, really, seems to fall under the heading of common courtesy and basic etiquette. That’s how I would describe the demands for: a timely procedure for handling complaints; better communications with customers about the status of their flights; and considerate attention to the needs of all travelers.

It shouldn’t be that hard — these are definitely not unreasonable requests. And it shouldn’t be only the airlines that are forced to attend a refresher course in courtesy.  Some of us — and many of our fellow travelers — could stand to brush up on the rules of the road as well. While a vacation, business trip or weekend away from home can offer the opportunity to relax and cut loose, it should never be the excuse for acting rude.

Yet all too often, that's exactly what happens.

You know what I’m talking about. That guy at the table next to you in the restaurant who ignores the glares and comments of other diners while he conducts a loud, expletive-filled cell-phone conversation with co-workers back at the office. Hotel guests who decide that the “This is a Smoke-Free Hotel” sign in the lobby is an invitation to turn the outdoor pool deck into their private smoking lounge. Speeding drivers on the Interstate who use obscene hand gestures and horns instead of their turn signals. And bin-hogging airline passengers who will argue from the moment they sit down about their right to recline their seatback all the way back while you’re obviously trying to work on your laptop.

Some say the culprit is new technology and the blurred lines between public and private space. Others blame cities, highways, airports and a nationwide air traffic system lagging decades behind the needs of today's travelers. And then there is the frustration and impatience provoked by ever-shifting security measures put in place to combat the realities of the modern world.

Perhaps folks are too stressed out to care anymore. More likely they just don't know or remember what's correct or expected.

So in an attempt to smooth the waters a bit, I’ve been asked to launch MSNBC.com’s Well-Mannered Traveler column. In this weekly forum I’ll try to tackle all manner of travel-related etiquette issues, everything from tips on tipping and traveling with — or near — unruly kids or intoxicated co-workers to who gets the armrest, how to get a seatmate on a bus, plane or train to stop yakking, and how to complain about poor service in a most effective manner. I’ll call on folks who work in and around the travel and customer service industry to share some of their tips, insights, and advice on these matters and I’ll weigh in with opinionated rules of my own.

Slideshow: Around the World Mostly, though, I hope to hear from you. When it comes to travel etiquette and civility on the road, what irks or puzzles you most?  What strategies and tips can you share to help ensure that plane rides are pleasant and stress-free, that one’s traveling companions are well-behaved and that as houseguests we become welcomed visitors who get invited back again and again?

Harriet Baskas, The Well-Mannered Traveler, also writes about airports and air travel for USATODAY.com and is the author of “Stuck at the Airport.”

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