Why it never pays to be rude on a flight

Rude and uncooperative passengers can make flying difficult for airline staff and fliers alike --that we know.  Even though you might not feel like it, there are costs for not being at least civil when traveling.

And contrary to popular belief, you can reap benefits for being nice and going the extra mile for your fellow passengers --even scoring a coveted upgrade.

Consider my experience on a recent American Airlines flight between Los Angeles and New York's JFK  --and two other incidents --when passengers made life difficult for all.

Flight #1: LA to NYC

Lo and behold, the seat next to me in business class was empty as the door was about to close. With so many people attaining "status" in American's frequent flier program, or paying $75 plus 15,000 miles for a one-way upgrade, it almost never happens on this route.

Two minutes before scheduled takeoff and there was a kerfuffle in economy. Someone was not happy with his seat and was letting the cabin crew know about it in no uncertain terms. Angry voices wafted over the boarding music. Maybe someone wanted to sit next to a traveling companion. I was never able to find out.

A gate agent and a flight attendant appeared at my row.

Gate agent: "Is this seat occupied?"

Me (crestfallen): "Um, Noooo…."

Gate agent: "Well, I need to upgrade someone."

Flight attendant: "Shouldn't we upgrade 12C?" (Row 12 is in the economy cabin).

Gate agent, exasperated: "I an NOT rewarding that kind of behavior with an upgrade!" (Her exact words.)

I'm guessing that 12C had some kind of status. Or felt he did. Or was the source of the problem.

So who got the upgrade? A young man who, I later learned, volunteered to change his seat to settle whatever dispute was going on back there. He had never flown in business or first class in his life.

Young man, after the flight attendant pours the Lanson Champagne: "Dude, how much does this cost?"

Me: "It's free."

Young man: "Free? As much as you want free?"

Me: "Yup, free. Enjoy!"

A menu is handed out.

Young man: "Is this free too?"

Me: "Yes, everything is free."

I took as much pleasure watching him enjoy his well-deserved upgrade as he did experiencing it.

During the flight, a couple of flight attendants stopped by to thank him profusely for being such a trooper. "Things like that really do make our job easier," one said.

Young man, sotto voce, as a passenger (tank top, tattoos, gym shorts, muscles, baseball-cap-on-backward) strolls past us to use the business class lavatory: "That's the jerk who gave the flight attendants a hard time." You guessed it, 12C. Although he didn't get upgraded, he still felt he was entitled to use our lavatory, which he did several times during the flight.

Lesson: people really do get upgraded just for being nice. Sure, it doesn't happen all the time but it does happen. And even if you're not going be upgraded, be nice anyway.

Flight #2: Virgin Atlantic JFK to London in economy.

Me to seat mate: "Good morning!" (It was a daylight flight).

Seat mate: "Mmmmm."

Me, still chirpy: "Don't worry I am not going to talk to you. Just saying good morning!"

Seatmate: "Mmmmm."

Three hours into the flight, Mmmmm, after several cocktails, spills a full cup of hot coffee on my pants, my seat, my tray table. I'm soaked. My seat is soaked.

Me: "Ouch!"

Seat mate: "Ooops."

I got up for some towels, the crew gave me a pair of Upper Class pajamas to change into, and put a blanket on my wet seat.

Seat mate, upon my return: "So what's your name?"

Me: "That's ok."

Seat mate: "No really, what's your name?"

Me: "Really, that's ok."

Seat mate: "I'm Robert. What do you do?"

Suddenly he's a Chatty Cathy and wants to be best bruhs? He just did not stop. Did he ever apologize? No. Offer to pay for dry cleaning? You’re kidding.

Me (exasperated at this point): "Look, I really was just saying hello. Oh, and I told the cabin crew that you're cut off." (Maybe I'd listen if he offered to give me $10 for some dry cleaning.)

But  I was in a mood.

Lesson: Jerks only get one chance to make a first impression.

Flight no. 3: Paris to London on British Airways (a 40-minute flight), Club World

(Club World, BA's European business class, is a 3-by-3 configuration with the middle seat blocked; I'm in the window seat, aisle seat is obviously a business guy).

Me, before takeoff, sweet as pie: "Excuse me please, I need to use the lavatory."

Aisle seat (he just sits there): "Harrumph. You couldn't have used the W.C. in the terminal?"

Me (no longer sweet as pie): "Don't give me that attitude. I didn't choose the window seat! Get up or I’ll climb over you."

Aisle seat: "Harrumph!" (not his exact word but you get the drift).  He elevates his rather portly frame.

Me (20 minutes after takeoff): "I need to use the lavatory." (I didn't really have to).

Aisle seat: "Harrumph!"

Lesson: Just get up from the aisle seat when asked without making a fuss.