The Anecdote to Airport Stress


This spring is shaping up to be the season of Airlines Behaving Badly. One clever person redrew a United seat map to replace the economy seats with the words “Fight Club.” And that’s not far from the truth, even when the flight attendants are on their best behavior. Because, dear travelers, we are part of the problem.

Let me be clear: I’m not defending or excusing the airlines or victim-blaming the passengers in any way whatsoever. What United did was horrible, and frankly, I think many airlines behave abominably toward their customers even when they’re not literally dragging them off a plane. They have zero excuse for treating their customers as they do, and considering that their workforce operates in a high-tension environment every single day, they should be able to cope with that tension better. They get away with it only because the industry is now largely monopolized and their customers have little or no choice but to continuing flying with them.

But, looking beyond these specific incidents to the future of air travel, even if the airlines start acting like perfect little angels, the flying environment is not going to get appreciably more civilized without some effort from us. We need to behave ourselves better, too.

How many times have you seen a passenger yelling at an airline employee, or another passenger, or a family member? How many times have you been that yelling passenger?

Look, I get it. Flying can be anxiety provoking and stressful, and stress tends to make tempers shorter and manners thinner. The aggravations of flying also give us a convenient outlet (i.e., excuse) to vent our frustrations with other things going on in our lives. (In other words, when we’re yelling about overhead bins, we may actually be mad about something else entirely.) But air travel is not inherently stressful, as evidenced by the number of people who don’t get “worked up” when they fly. Being stressed, anxious and short-tempered is a subjective experience over which you have control. I’ll repeat that: You can control whether your next trip to the airport is the trigger for an emotional meltdown, or just another way to get from Point A to Point B, no different from hopping in your car.

Basically, if we want to make the flying experience better for everybody, we all need to make an effort to calm down. Many years ago, I was having a mild anxiety attack on my way to the airport for a business trip, when I decided: This is ridiculous. I started repeating a mantra in my head: Flying is easy and effortless and safe. Over and over until I believed it. By the time I got to the airport, I was much more relaxed and didn’t once feel the need to snip or gripe at anybody. Since then, I’ve used this technique to nip any air-travel jitters and frustrations in the bud before they bloom into a freak-out.

So: Take lots of deep breaths when you feel your temper rising; repeat a positive mantra when your anxiety swells; think thoughts of gratitude when frustrations start to creep in. After all, if you’re traveling for work, that means you have a good job, and if you’re traveling for vacation, that means you have the time and resources to take a vacation…and those are very good things, right? Sure, maybe you’re tired and you really want to get home, and yes, it’s a total bummer when your flight is delayed or canceled, but…is that really the worst thing that’s ever happened to you? (If it is, congratulations.)

I’ve written before about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and the appropriate perspective when you travel, and nowhere is this more important than in the airport. If you wait until you hit the beach to put on your vacation game face, you’re almost certainly doomed to spend the first stage of your vacation (i.e., the “getting there” part) twisted in emotional knots. Instead, make a commitment to yourself to get into the proper frame of mind even before you leave the house. No matter what happens, go with the flow, stay positive, maintain perspective, practice kindness – and please, no yelling.


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