An American Airlines pilot’s message about good conduct goes viral

I never post on Facebook, but I remain on it to follow a group that posts pictures of women’s clothes from the 1850s to the 1960s. When it comes to street scene photos from the 1930s onward, the comments invariably include people noting how well-turned-out everyone was: hats, gloves, polished outfits. The word the commenters are looking for is decorum. We are a society without decorum in our appearance, speech, and behavior. We are the kids who flunked out of kindergarten. However, the enthusiastic response to a video from an American Airlines pilot pushing back against this behavior says that, maybe, Americans are finally getting tired of living in a perpetual badly run preschool.

When I was very little, in the 1960s, there was a last gasp for the rules of decorum. My mother had a drawerful of beautiful leather gloves because they were de rigueur in the 1950s when a woman left the house. By the early 1960s, even without gloves, no woman or man would dream of leaving the house unkempt. (Think: Rob and Laura Petri from The Dick Van Dyke Show. Even their casual clothes screamed “decency.”) These street scene images from the Facebook page I mentioned give a sense of the norms of decorum and decency that prevailed:

The hippies, of course, changed everything. Unkempt wasn’t just a fashion statement; it was a cry of liberation from what the left insisted were the stifling norms of America’s capitalist, traditionalist culture.

In the intervening decades, behavior has followed fashion. If you search “brawl” on the internet, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of stories about brawls in public venues, from parking lots to restaurants to (most recently) riverfronts. People no longer feel any obligation to exercise self-control. The same is true for what was once considered to be offensive public sexuality, whether it’s nude people parading in San Francisco, semi-clothed people photographed at stores, or endless public twerking.

The most disturbing brawls involve airports and airplanes because of safety concerns, especially when 30,000 feet in the air. I think we’ll all agree that, since 9/11, airports are deeply unpleasant experiences. As for the flight itself, air travel isn't comfortable unless you’re in first class—although the inflight entertainment is way better than it was just a decade ago. On most flights, they don’t even feed you unless you pay extra. But the real problem with air travel is that people no longer have any self-control:

There are no longer any reliably friendly skies or friendly airports. Not only have we stopped dressing like mature, self-controlled people, we’ve stopped acting like them, too.

But just as people commenting on those fashion posts yearn for a more refined era, it turns out that people generally wish for a level of social maturity extending beyond toddlers throwing tantrums. That’s the only explanation I can find for a viral video of an American Airlines pilot giving a pre-flight speech explaining to passengers that he expects them to behave politely and with respect for their fellow travelers:


Welcome on board our flight. Remember: The flight attendants are primarily here for your safety.  After that, they’re here to make your flight more enjoyable. They’re going to take care of you guys, but you will listen to what they have to say because they represent my will in the cockpit or in the cabin, and my will is what matters.

Be nice to each other. Be respectful to each other. I shouldn’t have to say that. You people should treat each other the way you want to be treated. But I have to say it every single flight because people don’t, and they’re selfish and rude, and we won’t have it, okay?

Stow your stuff. Get it out of everybody else’s way. Put your junk where it belongs. Everybody here paid for a space. Don’t lean on other people. Don’t fall asleep on other people. Don’t pass out on other people or drool on ‘em unless you’ve talked about it and they have a weather-assisted jacket.

All right. A little bit of fatherhood here, the other thing. The social experiment on listening to videos on speaker mode and talking on a cellphone on speaker mode…that is over, over and done in this country. Nobody wants to hear your video. I know you think it’s super sweet, and it probably is, but it’s your business, right? Keep it to yourself. Use your airbuds, your headphones, whatever it is. That’s your business, okay? It’s just part of being in a respectful society.

Middle seaters: I know it stinks to be in the middle. Raise ‘em up. Anybody in the middle? Like five people. Yeah, right. That’s full. All right. Nobody’s listening. Fine. You own both armrests. That is my gift to you.

Once upon a time in America, everything he said would have gone without saying. Today, it needs to be said, and people are grateful. As of now, the video has almost 460,000 likes and counting, and it’s beginning to be picked up by news sites. It also has uncountable positive comments, especially from flight attendants.

I like to look at history to remind myself that we can come back from this debased time. The dignified public behavior of early and mid-20th century America was a hangover from the Victorian era. However, many forget that the Victorian era's excessive manners were a reaction to the excesses and debauchery of the Georgian era. I highly recommend Robert Morrison’s The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern, which discusses that transition.

Image: American Airlines plane by Anna Zvereva. CC BY 2.0.

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