Mark D. Roberts

Every time I fly on a plane these days, I marvel at the flagrant disobedience of my fellow passengers. For some reason I don’t quite understand, many air travelers seem to think that they are somehow exempt from following the rules.

airplane-inside-5.jpgFor example, when you board a plane, you will almost always hear something like this from a flight attendant: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a full flight today. This means we have limited overheard storage. So if you have a bag the is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you, please don’t put it in the overheard storage. And if you’re carrying two bags, the smaller bag must go under the seat in front of you, not in the overhead bin.” This message is repeated several times as people make their way to their seats. And yet, every time I fly I watch people quite knowingly put small items in the overhead storage, or put both of their carry one bags there. They know they’re disobeying the clear instructions of the flight attendant, yet they’re willing to break the rules for the sake of a little more leg room.

On a flight last week, the flight attendant even tried to appeal to conscience and decency. “For the sake of your fellow travelers,” she said, “please put smaller items under the seat in front of you because we have a full flight. Please think about others who are bringing on larger bags.” But, even with this appeal, I did not see one person retrieve his or her small bag from the overhead storage. What’s up with this?

The next instance of flagrant disobedience comes when the flight attendant tries to get everyone to turn off their cell phones and other electronic devices. The appeal goes something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have now closed the cabin doors in preparation for our departure today. This means we need to have all electronic devices turned off, including cell phones, two-way pagers, iPods, and computers. If your device has on off switch, you must turn it off now.” Most people do obey this instruction. But, without fail, several people try to be sneaky. They continue to use their PDAs, even hiding them from the flight attendants who are patroling the aisle. Inevitably, someone around me gets to hear, “Sir, you must turn off your cell phone now. No, not just closed, all the way off.” The flight attendant watches as the reluctant traveler powers down the phone.

On my most recent flight, I heard, for the first time, a specific instruction to turn off, not just cell phones, PDAs, and iPods, but also “iPads and electronic readers.” I’m guessing that Amazon isn’t very happy that iPads get named while Kindles are included with in the generic phrase “electronic readers.” 

The next instance of flagrant disobedience on airplanes comes when were close to landing. The flight attendant will say something like: “Ladies and gentlemen, in preparation for our landing today in San Antonio, we ask you to make sure your seat belt is securely fastened. Please stow all tray tables and bring all of your seats into the full, upright position.” A minute or so later we’ll hear the same request. Then the flight attendants go down the aisle to check on our progress.  Without fail, several passengers will not have fastened their seat belts, stowed their tray tables, and/or brought their seats into the full, upright position. They heard the instructions, but simply ignored them.

Also, around this time there will be the next instance of “turn off your electronic devices.” And, once again, many passengers will have to be scolded by the flight attendants.

So, it seems to me that every time I fly, I observe people disregarding clear, sensible instructions from flight attendants. They put luggage that belongs under the seat in the overhead bins. They fail to turn off their electronic devices when instructed to do so. And they don’t stow their tables or return their seats to the upright position. If you’ve been flying on a plane recently, I expect you’ve observed the same phenomena.

So here’s my question . . . WHY? Why do people disobey the clear and fair requests made by people in authority? What motivates people to engage in such flagrant disobedience? What is this all about, anyway? What do you think?

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