Travel & Leisure
updated 12/30/2011 12:47:49 PM ET 2011-12-30T17:47:49

“I had to fight to keep my eyes open” are words you never want to hear from your pilot. But two British pilots were so fatigued earlier this year that they admitted to falling asleep—on the same plane. Thankfully, autopilot kicked in.

Flight delays and lack of legroom are still cause for airline complaints, but passengers are just as concerned about being treated professionally. In fact, fellow airline employees should be worried as well: a Southwest pilot ran afoul in March when his cockpit rant against colleagues who were too gay, too heavy, and too old was broadcast to air traffic control.

Passengers have also been singled out in public—and refused boarding—for their weight, and even fashion choices are at the root of a few recent high-profile incidents. One woman’s too-short shorts caught the attention of a JetBlue employee who allegedly asked her to prove that she was wearing underwear.

Other blunders result not from what airline employees say, but what they fail to do. Kosher passengers traveling from Tel Aviv to London were unpleasantly surprised to find bacon baguettes and ham melts on board. EasyJet staff apparently forgot to stock the plane with pork-free products. And this after launching a special kosher menu just four months earlier.

While no one wants to be disrespected, errors that put travelers at risk certainly rank more seriously on the scale of blunders. Still, as alarming as it is to hear about a drowsy pilot, these incidents are also quite rare—in fact, air travel becomes safer every year.

Of course, passengers have their own part to play in keeping air travel civil and safe. Consider the recent flare-up with Alec Baldwin, who was kicked off an American Airlines flight after he allegedly refused to quit playing Words With Friends on his cell phone and throwing a tantrum. Or the case of Gerard Depardieu, who was told to wait until takeoff to use the toilet, but urinated in the CityJet cabin instead (he claims he was aiming for a bottle)—another incident in a long tradition of celebrity air rage.

While this plane-as-bathroom trend hopefully won’t stick, passengers and airlines are likely to continue to make mistakes and make headlines for them.

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