Want to know just how bad it's gotten up there? Two words: Knee Defender.
The devious pocket-size gadget, available on the Internet, locks onto your lowered tray table so the passenger in front of you cannot recline in flight.
Oh, dear. Remember when flying was fun? Christopher Elliott does. He took his first flight in 1969, from New York to Munich, Germany, with his well-traveled parents. A mere tot, he relived the adventure through photographs that we'd now have to see to believe: Travelers dressed in suits and their finest dresses, meals served on china, abundant legroom.
Today, Elliott is a syndicated travel writer who flies as little as possible.
"The thrill is gone," he says. And the shrill is growing. Who can blame us? Canceled flights and mergers. Endless security lines, cattle-call waiting areas, mishandled or lost bags, sardine seating, passengers bumped at the last minute.
"They took what was left of our dignity when they took away our meals," said the 6-foot-1 Elliott, noting they also took away as much as 8 inches of "seat pitch," the space between seats.
Still, staying out of the air isn't an option for many of us, particularly with summer approaching. Lashing out shouldn't be, either. Yes, our civility is being challenged, and we have two options: crying like a baby on approach or being our biggest selves.
With Elliott's help, we offer these scenarios:
In the waiting area
Low road: Cluster around the gate. Put your briefcase on the chair next to you so nobody can sit there. Talk loudly on your Bluetooth and gesture wildly.
High road: Make sure other travelers know that the seat next to you is available. If someone elderly or pregnant walks up, offer your seat. You might also find a nearby gate that's empty and sit there (while keeping track of the time).
Low road: Argue with them. Be demanding. They don't have anything to do but focus on your needs, right?
High road: Develop empathy. Smile as you board. Say hello to them by name. Have eye contact, thank them when they serve you a beverage.
Low road: Put your carry-on bag in the first available bin toward the front, so you can jump up, grab it and exit quickly. It's a dog-eat-dog world, baby.
High road: Put your carry-on above your own seat or, better, under your seat.
Low road: Aim your air vent at the head of the person who is leaning back into your lap.
High road: Before you lean back, look behind you and ask eye-to-eye, "Is it OK if I lean back just a little?"
Travelers with kids
Low road: Avoid eye contact with a harried parent assigned to a different row than his or her minor child. Is it your fault these leisure-travel losers were forced to take middle seats in separate rows?
High road: Get over yourself! Be a mensch for three hours and give up your choice aisle or window seat. You'll be richly rewarded in heaven and, if not, you'll be richly rewarded by not having to sit next to the kid.
Low road: Drink lots of water (it's good for you when you're flying!) and get out of your seat at least three times to use the bathroom.
High road: Know that you drink a lot of water when flying and reserve an aisle seat.
Low road: Create a trap for people seated in the middle and window seats. Bring on steaming coffee and a footlong sub with chips. Spread out food, paperwork and laptop on tray table, extend leg into aisle.
High road: Adapt gracefully to your temporary environment. Discard food trash quickly. Work if you must, but don't forget to acknowledge your neighbors with a smile or small talk so they'll feel more comfortable asking to get past you to the restroom.
Low road: Pick up something in the airport food court that is really stinky. Spicy Italian is good, or onion rings, or maybe something with blue cheese.
High road : Eat before the flight or pack healthful, smell-free snacks. Consider sharing with your famished seatmates.