Are airline passengers getting ruder? Deal with it!

Recent mayhem in the skies has obviously raised the question of whether passengers are getting ruder, and the consensus seems to be that we are. The average passenger may cite fuller planes, less room in overhead compartments and an endless array of fees as reasons for the lack of courtesy, not to mention an increasingly tough gauntlet from the curb to the gate. And, the cabin crew will probably lament the inability to work effectively with passengers who have increasingly absurd demands and hostile behavior.

What nobody seems to realize, however, is that this issue is not unique to the airlines.

Think about it: when times are tough for a company or sector, everyone becomes unhappy. Difficult market conditions leave employees stressed, as they worry about their jobs, don’t get raises and, as the cliché goes, have to “do more with less.” And, customers become increasingly demanding because every dollar they spend is more important, especially if you don’t know whether you’ll still have reliable income in the near future.
Does this sound like the airline industry? Of course. Passengers are looking at every expense carefully, whether they are traveling for leisure (personal expenditure) or business (where they have to answer to the finance department). They want more for less … and become frustrated by the fact that service and amenities are actually declining as ancillary fees are on the rise. This is the sort of situation that will make passengers ruder, and indeed, it has.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of stories about flight attendant meltdowns. Some of the people involved, of course, were probably wacky before economic conditions worsened, but it’s safe to assume that the implications of the recession for the aviation business have contributed to the likelihood of the insane and the absurd breaking out among airline employees.

Now, let’s think about business in general, outside the airline business. The same rules apply. Customers and clients become more difficult, more demanding, when times are tough. Having conducted business following the bursting of two bubbles (dotcom and structured finance), I’ve seen – and experienced – just how challenging it can be to keep your cool. But, the smarter folks in just about any business find a way to do so. Why? Because they realize that without their clients, they’d have no cash coming in. So, there’s a lot of anger behind smiles, tongue-biting and carefully concealed strained patience.

What matters, though, is the commitment to service levels. Professionals realize that the rudeness of their customers or clients does not change their own obligations to deliver the necessary product or service. If they fall short, the revenue sources (rude or not) will dry up. And, it’s better to have rude people paying you than none at all.

In the airline sector or anywhere else, there is no tacit or explicit obligation for customers to be polite, except for common courtesy, which is convention more than obligation. So, are passengers getting ruder? Of course. Does it matter? Not at all.

[photo by hoyasmeg via Flickr]