Traveling the Troubled Skies

February 27th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

With everyone on airplanes seemingly inconvenienced by one thing or another, how do we keep things from getting out of hand?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

There have been plenty of stories in the news over the last few years about the growing tension between airline crew and passengers disobeying the rule about powering down electronics before takeoff. Travelers are, frankly, angry about the multitude of inconveniences to air travel, from long security lines to paying for services a la carte that were once included with the price of a ticket (in-flight meals, checked bags, even pillows and blankets).

A recent article by Susan Stellin in The New York Times contends that it might not be the inconveniences to those traveling in what many call “cattle class” that are causing the frustration, but the fact that airlines are investing more money in amenities for higher-paying customers. An ever-stratifying travel experience is keeping some people literally in their place – and causing “minor tiffs” to escalate faster.

Stellin recounts the story of one Zurich-to-Dulles passenger who used the passageway behind the galley in the plane’s midsection to visit his wife seated on the opposite aisle, after asking a flight attendant about a sign telling passengers not to go beyond the curtain separating economy class from the rest of the plane. But when he began recording the conversation, the situation escalated quickly: the flight attendant seized his phone and federal air marshals held him against a counter with his hands behind his back.

The incident left the passenger with questions about his rights, “like whether there is a policy restricting economy-class passengers to their own cabin (not just their own bathrooms), whether travelers are prohibited from videotaping flight crew and what recourse passengers have if airline or security personnel overreact.” The Federal Aviation Administration does not have a rule limiting passenger movement on a plane, but federal regulations state that no one may “assault, threaten, intimidate or interfere with a crew member in the performance of the crew member’s duties aboard an aircraft.”

Few people would dispute that airline staffs are stressed to the limit in carrying out an ever-growing list of responsibilities. On the other hand, many travelers now feel, as one man told Stellin, “that you check your civil liberties when you check your bag.”

Maybe that Zurich passenger didn’t need to be apprehended by air marshals, but was recording a conversation with a flight attendant just provoking a problem? The answer probably isn’t black and white. What travel experiences have left you longing for solid ground? Let us know here.