Fly The Nice Skies

Video monitor in Song Airlines jet seatback for in-flight entertainment system, photo 2003/11/17
If your parents didn't teach you, then you probably learned the hard way that there is no free lunch. However, there are free airline tickets. To get them, all you have to do is something that your parents probably did teach you — be nice.

The airline Song recently announced a program in which nice passengers will be rewarded with free tickets. Each flight attendant will have four tickets to give away at his or her discretion on each flight. Examples of behavior worthy of a free trip include helping another passenger carry a bag, assisting a flight attendant, and staying "upbeat" during a difficult situation. Airlines have always given things away to passengers who threw tantrums and complained loudly. Now, one is actually going to reward good behavior.

I've got a question about this. Aren't we always supposed to act nice anyway? Do we need to reward people for acting the way they should? Shouldn't we expect passengers to try not to make a difficult situation worse? Can't we just assume that people will help other people who need assistance? I guess not.

Politeness and consideration have become more and more rare these days. Song has faced up to the fact that, well, some people just aren't very nice — especially when they travel. Many people act as if nobody else who is traveling is important. If they need all the baggage space and all the blankets and pillows for themselves, they feel they are entitled to them. Waiting in lines and following directions are not for them. They don't consider pushing people out of the way rude because, they're in a hurry — not like the rest of us.

Now that rudeness is so commonplace, I won't be surprised if airlines start giving free flights not only to people who are nice, but also to people who are just not particularly rude and obnoxious. "You didn't get drunk and talk loudly the entire flight. Here's a free ticket." "You didn't treat the flight attendant like dirt," and "You didn't elbow the passenger next to you throughout the meal. Free tickets for both of you."

One caveat: if rewarding good behavior on airplanes catches on, watch out for the "Kiss Up Factor." Will passengers start tripping over each other, trying to help those who need assistance? Are they going to try to outdo each other with acts of kindness? Will we have to tell over-eager passengers, "Stop helping me! I can feed myself." Soon an obsequious traveler may say something like, "If they gave a trophy for flight attendants, you'd win first prize." And then another passenger will jump in and say, "'Trophy?' Are you kidding? She deserves the Nobel Prize for Flight Attendants. Except, she'd probably be too dedicated to her job to go to Sweden to accept."

If rewarding niceness catches on, other businesses will probably try it. Maybe soon, if I say "thank you" to the bank teller, I'll get some free money. "Doc, that's the warmest stethoscope I've ever felt" might earn a free checkup. And we might as well try, "Thanks for showing it to me. That is the prettiest diamond I've ever seen."

It's a shame that an airline has to offer a prize for acting the way we should act. However, anything that encourages niceness and discourages rudeness is probably a good thing. Even if their motives are not pure, maybe as more and more people do nice things, they'll get in the habit. Then maybe they'll act nice not because of a possible reward, but just because it's a nice thing to do.

In that spirit, I don't expect anything in return, but all of you may read my next column for free.

Good news! Next week, I will have counted and analyzed all the votes in the first Garver Poll. I'll report the results here. Since I'm making up the rules as I go along, I can tell you that it is not too late to vote now.

Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.

By Lloyd Garver