Lucy Ellmann in The Baffler:
NOT ALL THAT LONG AGO, air travel was a clear badge of elite cultural distinction, from the “jet set” to the Sinatra-mangling ad slogan, “Come Fly With Me.” Droit-de-seigneur sexual fantasies of stewardess life were memorialized in that elegantly titled sixties tell-all Coffee, Tea, or Me? People actually used to dress up to take a plane. But that’s all over. Now you need a bulletproof vest when dealing with the cabin crew.
Airlines seem to be competing for Jerk of the Year awards. When they’re not bumping people off, figuratively or literally, they’re frighteningly “reaching out” to the customers they abused, customers with “issues.” (The language is patronizing and predatory.) We’re all sorry United’s planes are so attractive to terrorists. The staff must be under constant strain. But so are the passengers, with whom these tin-pot dictators are increasingly strict, banning leggings on ten-year-olds and bodily removing people from the passenger manifests.
Delta recruited airport police to threaten a couple with jail and the confiscation of their children, all for refusing to give up seats they’d paid for on a flight from Hawaii to LA. An American Airlines flight attendant bullied a tired mother of twin babies over her stroller, and then readied himself to punch a passenger who rose to her defense. These companies seem very exacting about how their customers behave—while apparently giving staff (or airport-based security officials) full license to unleash their inner demons. In airplane disaster movies, the pilot’s always wrestling with the yoke, trying to get full throttle; now these exertions are directed towards throttling the yokels.