Duane Hoffmann / MSNBC.com
By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 7/19/2007 9:19:27 AM ET 2007-07-19T13:19:27

Q:  I know my airline seat cushion is supposed to be a valuable emergency floatation device, but sometimes I feel like ripping it out and using it to bop an irritating seatmate over the head. May I?
Frustrated Fred in Row 98, Seat B.

A:Dear Frustrated Fred: If it wasn’t a sure bet that once you pick up that seat cushion and get a good look at all the icky gunk collected on the underside that you’ll be too grossed out to think about anything else, I’d say “Whoa there, let’s  step back a moment and talk about it.”

Instead, let’s talk about the Air Passengers’ Code of Cordiality.

Oh. You haven’t heard of it? That’s because it doesn’t officially exist. Yet.

Ideally, there’d be no actual need to draw up a Code of Cordiality for air travelers. But then again who’d have thought there’d be a need for a fliers’ rights movement? Or for the rash of proposed legislation to force airlines to  treat passengers in a somewhat sane and humane manner by not, say, keeping paying customers locked inside airplanes left sitting for hours at a gate or by a runway?

I’m all for better-behaved airlines. And while our elected officials and government agencies work on that, I’d like to see the rest of us work on being better-behaved passengers. Maybe it’s just the usual summertime crunch, but given some of the antics we’re reading about in the news, that I’ve witnessed first hand and that, I must admit, I’ve been tempted to try myself once or twice, I think it’s high time to introduce and formalize an Air Passenger’s Code of Cordiality.

What would the code include? And how would you go about distributing and enforcing something like that?

Each airline already has some sort of code-of-conduct rule buried in their contract of carriage. Those rules give an airline the right to refuse service to any passenger that a member of the flight crew decides is too disorderly, too abusive, too violent or who is behaving in a manner that the flight crew thinks might interfere with the operation of the airplane. That can and does cover a wide range of behavior, but in general those rules seem to get invoked only in the most extreme cases.

The Air Passengers’ Code of Cordiality would be something much different. I envision it as something that would address everyday passenger behavior. I don’t have it totally worked out, but I see the “code” starting with some truly basic rules. And by “rules” I mean behavior that, if we all agreed to abide by, would make air travel easier and much more pleasant for everyone.

This Code of Cordiality would not be hidden away in some hard-to-find paperwork, but posted at the gate and on each airline’s Web site, printed on airplane tray tables and on the laminated cards in the seat-back pockets. The code could also be read out loud during the pre-flight safety announcements.

And what would the Code of Cordiality include? For starters, I’d be happy if each and every passenger would agree to travel by these rules:

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When you board: Step lively! There’s a planeload of folks right behind you, so don’t dawdle and fuss as you find and settle into your seat. Be sure to leave room in the overhead bin so your seatmates can store their stuff. And don’t even think about putting your stuff over someone else’s seat at the front of the plane.

When you’re seated:  Be a responsible recliner and always look before you lean. Be a sport: let the person stuck in that middle seat have two armrests. And don’t make anyone have to climb over you to get to the aisle; stand up and make way.

During the flight: If you’re sleeping, don’t drool on strangers. If you’re eating, control your crumbs. If you’re listening to music, mind the levels. If your laptop is open to a confidential document or a movie with violent or erotic scenes, use a privacy filter on the screen or shut it down.

Kids in tow? It’s your responsibility to entertain them and to monitor their onboard behavior. And no, you may not use the tray tables and seat cushions as diaper changing stations.

For most of us, this list is packed with no-brainers. But think about it: on every flight there are folks who could use a little extra help. And wouldn’t you love to be able to hand a copy of the “code” to the parent of the little stinker who keeps kicking your seatback?

So how would the Air Passengers’ Code of Cordiality be enforced? Ideally it wouldn’t be the type of thing that someone has to enforce. I’m hoping that merely posting and distributing something like this could have an impact on onboard behavior. Perhaps simply reminding folks of “the basics” might help everyone be a more well-mannered traveler. But I wouldn’t be against asking every passenger to initial a copy of the “code” when they’re buying a ticket or printing out a boarding pass.

Or maybe we could just set up an area in the back of the plane where frustrated passengers can go to bop each other over the head with those gunky seat cushions.

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