BOSTON — Anyone who steps aboard a commercial jetliner these days is aware that manners and politeness have taken a vacation from the wild blue yonder. In the world of air travel, getting there is no longer half the fun. It's more like being securely fastened halfway between the Twilight Zone and a Stephen King novel.
I have a simple plan to reduce obnoxious in-flight behavior by placing it in a context all Americans can appreciate instantly: Live, unrehearsed comedy. There must be hundreds of aspiring stand-ups who'd gladly accept a free ticket in return for a chance to sharpen their performance skills before a captive audience.
Southwest Airlines has experimented with having flight attendants use humor in routine announcements, but I favor a Lenny Bruce take-no-prisoners approach. An onboard comedian would be able to skewer every affront to civility that occurs inside the cabin, starting with the inevitable seating difficulties: "Excuse me, sir (or madam)! I can't help noticing that you have stopped cold in the aisle while searching for some vitally important item in your bag! I must point out that if everyone here caused a similar delay, we wouldn't be ready for takeoff until next month!"
But wait, you say. Won't this cause emotional turbulence? Of course, but it's my belief that exposing boors and flagrant rule violators to public ridicule is a more satisfying way of diffusing group anger and forcing compliance than any FAA regulations. Witty, biting commentary would create a sonic boom of hilarity once the plane reaches cruising altitude. "Folks, look here! We have someone who thinks an inch of clearance is enough to squeeze past the beverage cart! I'd recommend a running start, but maybe this person has mastered the secret art of total body compression!"
Many travelers now supply their own food. I can't forget the mother of two children who used a Swiss Army knife to open a can of pear slices. After using her bare hands to distribute the wet, dripping snacks, she drank the heavy syrup from the can. Dennis Miller would've feasted on the strange, sticky tableaux.
Audience questions would add fuel to performances. Why does the guy next to me think the arm rest is only for his seat? What blunt object is the child behind me using to pound the tray table like a conga drum? And what leads someone to push the call button for another beverage while the plane is descending steeply toward the runway?
I can see this idea taking off in many directions, including live video feeds on the Internet and HBO specials. Objective analysts who study the entertainment potential of airline comedy should all agree with my conclusion: The sky's the limit.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society