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updated: 12/31/2010 8:21 AM

Etiquette doesn't travel very well

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Last week, while traveling home for Christmas from California, my cousin Tom had a knee-jerking response. Literally. The passenger seated in front of him reclined his seat so quickly it hit Tom's knee. And Tom's foot responded with a swift kick. It turned into a verbal battle that escalated to where the other passenger said, "Do you want a piece of me?" Tom decided he would rather have peace on earth than a piece of the passenger, so he sat down.

Tom isn't the only passenger having problems finding the good-will-towards-men spirit this season. When Mike Caswell boarded a flight from Detroit to New York, he watched two women battle over who should put their bag in the overhead bin. "I thought it would turn into an all-out brawl," said Mike, who calmed the two women by rearranging bags so both would fit in the space.

According to ticket agent Tom Benjamin, today's passengers often forget their manners. And who can blame them? There's no personal service left in the service industry. Passengers book flights on their computers, check in at kiosks and head for the ultimate humiliation -- the security checkpoint. They take off their shoes, endure personal pat-downs and hope the X-ray machine doesn't reveal everything. By the time they get on their aircraft, they're ready to kick their dogs, or the passenger seated next to them, and common courtesies simply don't fly.

So what are the biggest breaches of etiquette? I ran an unofficial survey with some of my readers. Here are their biggest complaints:

• Lack of patience: Ed C. writes, "People crowd the gate like they're going to miss their flight ... when the agent calls a group to board, passengers in a different group try to board first and it slows everything down."

Molly F. writes, "Why are they (passengers) in such a hurry when there's no place to go? A couple of months ago, the line for customs in Chicago looked like a line for Small World at Disneyland. It barely moved a foot and people behind me were yelling for me to catch up."

• Lack of awareness: Todd G. writes, "Passengers with kids are the worst. It's like they turn off their brains. ... I've had to deplane with juice and jelly all over my jacket from small fingers while the parents just smile like idiots."

Susie G. writes, "It's the odors that get to me. People spray on perfume and bring greasy food onboard that makes the whole plane smell. I even sat next to a woman who polished her nails. It smelled like she was painting a house."

• Lack of hygiene: Kaley T. writes, "I sat next to a woman who kept sneezing and coughing in my face. She even dropped her used tissues on the floor. It's like they want to make everybody sick."

Jean C. writes, "It's the bathrooms. How can people leave a bathroom with water in the sink, tissues on the floor and trash on the counter? There's no regard for other people's health."

Other writers complained about passengers who can't stop talking and those who hoard the overhead space. But one thing was clear from all the letters, "Peace on earth, good will towards man," is not up in the air.

• Gail Todd, a freelance writer worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached via e-mail at