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Bad Behavior On Airplanes

Flown lately? Outrageous behavior is out of control. Here's why:

Excuse me while I go on a rant here:

I fly a lot these days, but I remember back years ago what a treat it was to fly. Passengers would dress up—skirts and heels for women, coat and often a tie for gentlemen. Food service was included, and the meal was good, hot and served with a cloth napkin and real silverware—spoon, fork and yes, a sharpened knife. "Stewardesses"—the young women with big smiles and little skirts—greeted every passenger like a best friend. Everyone was gracious and courteous. You see, in the 1960s and 70s flight travel was rare, exciting and very special.

Today, air travel is the most popular method for distance traveling. The National Air Traffic Controllers Association estimates that 1.5 million people fly in the US…per day.

As more and more people take to the not-so-friendly skies, stories of rude, disgusting and selfish behavior abound. Take the mom who changed a baby's dirty diaper on her tray table, another who flossed sending bits of food everywhere, or as happened to me recently, a guy who kept passing gas and bragging about how rank it was. This was followed on my next flight by a woman who kept sneezing and blowing her nose in her hand... all the while telling me about her rude children with no manners.

As for a dress code, it’s non-existent, with many passengers dressing like they are heading to the beach or about to mow the lawn. One man was allowed to board wearing only lingerie, stockings and heels, while one woman decided that her seat was a good place to change her clothes. My son was on a long flight recently sitting next to two obnoxious guys playing a drinking game (no drink limit for them apparently) which he found mildly amusing….until one of them promptly threw up in his (my son's) lap and laughed about it.

The airplane is not an extension of your home. You're with 200 strangers. When the captain says "Relax and enjoy the flight," this does not give you permission to start snipping away at an ingrown toenail, apply your make up or use a mirror to pick the dandruff out of your hair.

Some passengers are rude, refusing to turn off the smartphone, kicking the seat in front or insisting their oversized bag can be crammed in front of your seat. For others, engaging in gross behavior that should be limited to the privacy of a bathroom is, unfortunately, becoming the norm.

Would you pop a zit while sandwiched between two strangers? Would you use a refresh towelette at your seat to clean your underarms? Or would you brush your teeth and spit the remnants into the glass you just drank a soda from?

Why are passengers behaving badly? Simple, we are becoming a nation of rude narcissists. Basic, decent behavior has been lost with day-to-day living in a smartphone, computer screen world where reality stars serve as role models. The sense of entitlement and privilege is exemplified by the thought: “I want to do what I want, when I want…. and I will!”

The pampered generation is now all grown up and this bad behavior is contagious. The 'If he can do it, why can't I?' mindset continues to flourish and our "It's all about me" society continues to rumble out of control.

Airlines are currently discussing enacting a dress code so passengers will know ahead of time what will fly and what won't. While that's a good start, there needs to be a behavior code as well included in the Passenger Bill of Rights.

This outrageous behavior must not be considered cute or silly. It's rude and offensive, and should not be tolerated. And while this may help the airlines, flight attendants and fellow passengers, it does nothing to address the same or worse on the ground. But it’s a good start.

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

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