Air Travel in the “Me” Millennium


Sure, flying today has diverged from the mythological “golden era of air travel”  so many passengers hold as a yardstick to their own recent airline experience. That can’t help being a disappointment, but there’s more to the story: it ain’t all one-sided.

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Passengers, too, in the contemporary age of the selfie, have also diverged from the model of decorum and self-restraint that went hand-in-hand with the Utopian but long past air travel legend. That new, self-focused, unrestrained millennial attitude dictates much of what happens in today’s air travel. Let me explain.

Hand-in-hand with the genteel, bygone airline images was a foundation of passenger behavioral restraint and courtesy that has also vanished like the sixties. And like it or not, here are some major changes wrought by the millennial evolution away from the self-restraint and personal responsibility that characterized the era they claim to miss.

  1. People today simply will not be told what to do. That runs the gamut from emergency instructions that could save their own lives to procedural norms that make boarding actually better for the group–but only if the individual cooperates. Today’s air traveler knows the rules, hears the requests, and the directives as applicable to the group, but optional for themselves.

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2. Self-restraint: the “self” now overshadows the restraint in two major ways. First, the “self” aspect of the traveling public fuels a sense of entitlement rather than restraint. That’s even in the subtlest nuance of boarding which creates a massive, obstructive knot of bag-dragging humanity ignoring the simple instruction to “please board only when your group is called,” to the life-threatening free-for-all luggage grab in an emergency evacuation. In the “self” era, there is no rule that must be followed, no directive that can’t be ignored, because that’s the way people are wired today.

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Second, the notion of self trumps the concept of fairness: a cell phone video with zero context and outrageous, often aggressive passenger behavior is not only tolerated–it’s embraced and celebrated on social media. Nothing is too outrageous for a passenger to say or do and whatever that atrocity is, someone else must provide compensation.

3. Personal responsibility: everything is someone else’s fault, so everyone is a victim, and every victim needs “compensation.” Whether it’s a mechanical delay to correct a glitch in a complex, $100 million dollar machine or a weather delay, today’s self goes from zero to outrage without passing through rational thought (weather is outside of a business’s control; complex machines break) and goes right to the worst aspect of self: one must proclaim their insult and outrage on the thoughtless, unmediated scrum that is social media.

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Anything goes in the self-centered rush to scream your bombastic victimization into cyberspace. Thanks, @HeimBBQ–did you recall that in your local marketplace about 50,000 employees you just maligned also make restaurant choices?

3. Helplessness has displaced personal responsibility: if anything, air travel has gotten even simpler in the digital era. The ubiquitous smart phone that conducts audio, video and photo outrage across the internet spectrum also has the capability–if used–to supply instant, accurate answers. But, the personal responsibility aspect (what’s your flight number?) falls by the wayside of many people who can remember a date, time and address–except at the airport. Google has the instantaneous and accurate answer–but only if you know how to ask the question.

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4. The marketplace: it’s easy, perhaps convenient, to overlook the driving force in the air travel industry, and that is price. But the fact is, when the Civil Aeronautics Board relinquished control of airfare and routes, the deliberate government “hands off” approach left the marketplace in the hands of consumers: you asked for dirt cheap airfares–you got it. Don’t say that your $600 transcon airfare is “too expensive” as you book your flight on your $1,000 smart phone so you can attend an hours-long entertainment (sports, music, whatever) event for another thousand dollars. The whining makes for effective social media click bait–but it just doesn’t fly, logically or literally.

So there you have it: the air travel reality is a narrative of change, of evolution, of price and self–and the results might be dismal, but the responsibility is shared equally between consumers and the marketplace they drive.

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In the final analysis, no, it’s really not “about you,” but in fact it is mostly because of you, despite how negative a connotation the idea of personal responsibility is in today’s world of “me.” Air travel is still the dumb beast slaved to your buying choices, and the airfare “steal” you foghorn on your social media feed fuels the very enroute outrage you tweet later. In a very real sense, you are both the cause and the effect.

So fasten your safety belt–it’s going to get bumpy, and the whining only louder and less justified.

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5 Responses to “Air Travel in the “Me” Millennium”

  1. Bill Brandt Says:

    I might add 1 thing I read – that with the advent of the 747 air travel morphed to a mass transit model. But Chris makes excellent points as to what so many passengers are today. It’s throughout society – “I’m important and the only one that matters”.

  2. Spot on!

  3. Larry D. Gregory, P.E. Says:

    Terrific, and well said. How can I post this on Facebook?  Larry D. Gregory, P.E. Tulsa, Oklahoma

  4. Sharon Austin Says:

    Right on, Captain Manno. This 60+ air traveller totally agrees. Who knows where common sense, civil or personal responsibility, or (God forbid) MANNERS have disappeared to. Gone with the 60’s, as you so succinctly said. Oddly I find myself wondering about the role of parents, or the lack of same. As a baby boomer, I was raised in home where mom did not work, she was busy taking care of the 4 of us. We were taught to respect elders, address them as Mr or Mrs whomever, respect and obey people of authority – policemen, firemen, our teachers, anyone with whom we did business. Rules and laws were there for a reason, and we obeyed them. I could go on, but you get the picture.
    Somewhere, who knows when, more women joined the work force. With the added income families could do or have “more”. Meanwhile, who was raising the children? Latchkey kids raised themselves, child care centers and who knows who else. Certainly nobody that had the time, much else cared about the kids. Couple that with all the technology that flowed forth, stuff that they HAD TO HAVE.
    In the end, finding anyone under the age of 50 or so that does not believe that the world OWES THEM anything and everything that they want is next to impossible.
    Adherence to laws is no longer universal; those laws are subject to each person’s interpretation. Remember when green meant go, yellow was time to brake, an red was STOP? Today red only applies to the guy behind the guy who is behind me.
    Keep your letters coming, Captain Manno. You are a reminder that the world I knew actually existed.

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