What is the social contract we agree to when we fly?

When you put down money for your ticket, and your airline promises to bring you from point A to point B, it can sometimes feel as though that is the extent to which you ‘owe’ one another. But are there other responsibilities of travellers and airlines to one another?

Until we can teleport, every journey is going to be a social one – and it sometimes appears that travelling has become less and less pleasant, and everyone wants to just survive, rather than enjoy, the experience. This means that sometimes it's necessary for passengers to extend some compassion to one another.

We’re used to insulating ourselves

Flying requires leaving one’s comfort zone, physically and emotionally, and adopting a certain degree of flexibility. This is in direct opposition to the minutely-detailed customisation of our personal lives - with personalised alarms and integrated cross-platform calendars and memorable photos that pop up whenever we’re sending quick check-in notes to our family and friends. Even the way we receive the greater world is carefully designed: a Twitter feed brings the reader only what they care about, and even friends can have their volume turned down on Facebook if they’re sending out updates you don’t care for.

Perhaps we’ve gotten used to living in the world of curated playlists, and have forgotten how to turn on the radio and go with the flow.

What not to do

It’s little surprise, then that when passengers enter the airport, they often appear to be on edge, stressed out, and generally unsure how to cope with not only deviations from their plans, but the little inconveniences inherent in executing any plan publicly. A child kicks, and it leads to a passenger threatening to punch the father. A man takes up too much space, and their seatmate writes a viral diatribe about the horror of their body. Most recently, three flights have to perform emergency diversions as air travellers fought over whether or not to recline a seat. All the myriad inconveniences incurred by travellers take their toll, and then entitled behaviour emerges.

A call for compassion

Travel is a way of life these days, with people relocating more than ever before. An ocean may separate families, or a job opportunity may be across a continent, so we are obligated to accommodate a wide variety of people in public transit spaces. Travellers need to contain as much negativity as possible, and recognise that there are variables beyond our control and there are limits to other people’s capabilities – a child’s tantrums may be caused by disability that a flight attendant can’t cure, a surly gate agent may be getting laid off, and the purchase of a ticket is not the end of our social obligations to one another.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details.

Thumbnail and background image from gettyimages

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