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Teens grounded by manners, not by looks

Long ago, when I was deep into the ugly duckling phase of my teen years, my mom would remind me that “beauty is only skin deep” and suggest I focus on being smart and nice instead.

Sort of a mixed message, sure, but definitely not the “just stand there, look pretty and stamp your feet if you want something” instructions Nisreen Swedberg and Sarah Williams seem to have received.

Police were called in to escort these two 18-year-olds off a Tampa-to-Los Angeles flight operated by Southwest Airlines this past Valentine's Day. The duo had caused an in-flight disruption. And these days, when that happens, airlines and law enforcement officials don't mess around.

What caused the ruckus? Well, it seems that first Swedberg felt sorely dissed by not being served water before take-off and then getting skipped over during the in-flight beverage service. Then Williams needed to use the lavatory, but found it occupied. Either she really had to go, or she's not accustomed to having to wait — regardless, witnesses say she banged on the door and then got into a heated exchange with the passenger who finally emerged from the bathroom.

Southwest Airlines spokesperson Beth Harbin says the police were called in to meet the flight in Los Angeles because “the girls were verbally abusive to another customer ... using profanities ... and getting in his face.”

Airplanes, especially full 737s, are very contained spaces, Harbin emphasized, and situations like this capture everyone's attention. “You cannot let an incident elevate in that environment. Flight attendants are asked to contain and calm situations as quickly as they can. But at 30,000 feet we don't have the opportunity to just ask someone to leave.”

Although it sounds like that would have been an appealing option.

The young women have a different take on the story — one they were all too happy to share with a local TV station in Tampa Bay. As the camera panned up her legs, past her brightly manicured nails and off-the-shoulder blouse, Nisreen Swedberg calmly explained how unfairly she'd been treated, how she didn't feel as if she'd done anything wrong and that she was surely singled out “based on my looks.” On the phone, Swedberg's friend, Sarah Williams, told the TV reporter, “I think they were just discriminating against [us] because we were young, decent-looking girls. I mean, nobody else on the plane looked like us — except us.”

Get a clue
Ladies, it wasn't that you were “too pretty to fly.” You were too rude. And, sadly, stereotypically clueless. However, you're not alone. There are plenty of other travelers — novice and experienced, pretty and not so pretty — who sometimes forget their manners. So here are a few very simple tips to keep in mind.

Parched on a plane?
Ms. Swedberg says she was denied water before take-off and then skipped over during the beverage service.

It happens.

On the ground, flight attendants are focused on getting everyone settled in their seats and ready for take-off. Southwest Airlines is especially keen on the quick turnaround, so handing out and then gathering up cups before take-off can muck up the works. A better option is to buy a bottle of water in the terminal and bring it aboard.

Or sit tight until the beverage cart comes by. If you're overlooked during the in-flight service, try not to take it personally. Flight attendants sometimes forget which row they're working on and skip a passenger. Sometimes they even skip a pretty passenger. No need for a tantrum. Simply speak up or ring your call button before the cart gets too far down the aisle. You can say something like “Excuse me, my seatmates are enjoying their drinks, but you seem to have missed me. ...”

Long lav lines?
My best advice here will sound all too familiar to anyone who's ever been a kid or who has kids: use the facilities before you start your trip. Even if you don't think you need to. The worst airport restroom will likely be cleaner — and easier to get into and out of — than those miniature bathrooms on the airplane.

Once on board, it's not unusual for a line to form outside the lav. At home, banging on the door may get a sibling to hurry things along, but that behavior just won't cut it on an airplane. You just have to wait your turn. If someone has been in the bathroom a really long time, though, ask a flight attendant to knock and see if something is wrong. That's a nice way of letting the lav-hogger know folks are waiting. Plus, if there is something wrong, you may help save someone's day.

And try not to be too impatient about getting your turn in the bathroom. While there are no rules (yet) about how long someone can tally in an airplane lavatory, if someone has been in there a while, you probably don't want to rush right in there after them anyway.