By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 7/8/2008 12:47:40 PM ET 2008-07-08T16:47:40

While it is true that kindness can be contagious, it seems that in the air, rudeness has become an epidemic.

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With many airlines cutting capacity to alleviate fuel costs, along with oversold flights, tense employees worried about their jobs, ticket price hikes with endless hidden fees, dollar woes and lines for every phase of the flight, it’s no wonder that everyone is so rude to one another. There is a certain tension in the air that seems to say, “Don’t mess with me.”

When many of us feel like lashing out, most of us hold our tongues. But have you ever seen the extremely rude passengers who get rewarded in the form of upgrades, free drinks or something that lends justification for their actions?

Believe it or not, it doesn’t always work out that way; in fact, many times it backfires. Here are some classic cases:

1. Coating the tarmac
A VIP first-class female passenger stormed onboard and threw her full-length fur coat at the flight attendant at the door and shouted, “Do something with this!” The flight attendant who, because she was too close to her retirement for any disciplinary action to be taken, walked to the jetway door, tossed the coat on to the tarmac, and exclaimed to the other flight attendant “Well, I did something with it like she said.”

2. Custer’s last stand
A flight attendant, who was on his last flight before starting his new once-in-a-lifetime job, was not willing to take any crap from anyone. He decided to make an example out of a mildly rude frequent flier. He vented and humiliated this man who, ironically enough, turned out to be his future dream-job’s boss, or I should say ex-boss.

3. Won’t budge
The flight was oversold and when the gate agent entered the airplane and went to a male passenger, who when confronted with a seat change quickly replied, “I booked this seat months in advance, so just turn around and pedal your request elsewhere.” When the gate agent tried to respond, the very rude gentleman cut her off and yelled “Go away now!” She regrouped and said to the passenger next to the rude gentleman, “Well Sir, it appears that I have a rejected upgrade to first class. Would you care to take his place?” In which he quickly accepted as the look of regret lingered on the rude passenger’s face. This scenario happens all the time. Rule of thumb: Listen first, and then react.

4. Don’t bite the hand that flies
A pilot showed up for a flight one day and was confronted by a passenger who decided to chastise him for the horrible airline he which he worked. He decided not to fly, stating that he was too emotionally upset to fly that day. The flight was canceled and the pilot did not get in trouble for his actions, for there was something in his contract about being “fit to fly.” I wish I had that in my work rules.

5. Insecurity
Nobody likes airport security with their long lines, inconsistent procedures and holier-than-thou attitude, but most of us know when to keep a civil tongue. Well, apparently the businessman in front of me in line did not. He lashed out at every security agent and made very rude comments to every one in his way. The supervisor noticed this, donned his rubber gloves and quickly escorted this man to a private location. I can’t say for sure what exactly happened, but when I saw him onboard; he appeared a much more humbled individual.

6. Snail mail
A passenger decided to vent his frustration about a certain male flight attendant. He wrote a complaint letter using words such as “imbecile, incompetent idiot, and a waste of skin” followed by leaving his own name and address at the end in case the airline wished to compensate him for his inconvenience. Well, what this gentleman didn’t know was that the flight attendant has a right to see all letters in his file. He copied down the address and signed up our rude passenger for every bit of junk mail, pornographic literature and magazine subscription possible.

7. Identity crisis
A well-known rock star sitting in his first class seat decided to be rude to every flight attendant that crossed his path. One elderly flight attendant had just about enough. When a special request by the rocker was over the top, she simply replied “No.” Shocked and appalled by her attitude he quickly replied, “Do you know who I am?” The flight attendant quickly made the following announcement to the rest of the airplane, “Ladies and Gentleman, we have a passenger who doesn’t seem to know who he is, if you have any information leading to his identity, it would be greatly appreciated.” This is a classic tale told many different ways, but this was on a Pan Am flight and I actually saw the complaint letter from the rock star which she kept laminated as a personal souvenir.

8. Plastic smile
A burnt-out flight attendant who loved to make fun of the passengers on his flight got caught when one of the customers recorded his rude comments with a hidden microphone and posted them on the Internet. When the employee was approached by his supervisor and denied the whole event, the tape was played and there was one more for the unemployment line.

9. Saying it with flowers
It was a common practice to give out carnations to the rudest passengers on international flights. This way when they went through customs the agent would automatically send them to agriculture which would make them often late for their connecting flights.

10. Politically incorrect
I once sat next to a politician in first class who was unaware that I was a flight attendant traveling as a passenger. He had a few cocktails and proceeded to vent that all male cabin crew were either not real men or lacked the education to do any other job. Then he commented on how women in the cockpit behaved more like men and only got the job because of affirmative action. I guess he also wasn’t aware that my wife was a pilot but I soon clued him in on it. I wonder if he ever read any of my writing.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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