Ask Erin: Response to airline woes; Experiences shared and a clarification about airplane air

Ask Erin - Richard Walker
Ask Erin
— image credit: Richard Walker

Last week I wrote about a recent unpleasant airplane ride (“Buckle up—there may be turbulence or rudeness ahead,” Aug. 5 edition of Kitsap Week). In the column, I recounted the poor behavior I witnessed from fellow airline passengers, as well as airline employees. My conclusion was that air travel isn’t what it used to be. (You know, back in the day when full-meals were served, complete with dessert.)

I received many emails from readers sharing their own horrid air-travel stories.

While waiting on the taxiway on a flight from Dallas, one person witnessed physical violence when the woman seated next to him stood up and began beating the man sitting behind her.

The man’s crime? Allegedly kicking her seat. The reader wrote, “The flight attendants rushed down the aisle and told her if she got out of her seat again, they would go back to the terminal and have her arrested. She sat there fuming the whole flight. I was afraid to ask her to get up so that I could use the rest room!”

I heard from an ex-airline pilot who agreed that air travel has changed over the years.

He also wanted to address the line in my column where I said, “Rude behavior circulates through the cabin like the recycled air coming through the vents.” He wrote, “As an ex-pilot training instructor, I need to offer one correction that seems to be a common misunderstanding among the traveling public: there is no recycled air on an airplane.  As you are probably aware, the aircraft is pressurized to maintain a cabin altitude that will be breathable. The engines produce very high-pressure air that is cooled before being pumped into the cabin.  Cabin pressure is automatically controlled by valves (about the size of dinner plates) that allow pressure to be released from the cabin.  Think of the plane as an airtight tube, air (not oxygen) is pumped in and then let out.  Nothing going out comes back in, it’s just not possible.”

I told him that his explanation was a relief. Before, I often worried that if, say a passenger in row 14 sneezes, would it blow down on me in row 27? I was under the impression that airplane air was "germ-ier" than air on the ground.

He eased that concern as well. He wrote, “Actually the air above 10,000-15,000 feet is very clean and most airliners are flying from 28,000-41,000 feet so it’s pretty pure.” Though he did admit that people get sick from air travel due to being in such close quarters and the fact that everyone touches the overhead compartments and the armrests as they walk down the aisle. They are probably as nasty as the handrails on an escalator, he wrote. (Note to self: frequently apply hand sanitizer on my next flight.)

A reader emailed that the rudeness I experienced in the column was “a sad commentary on our times. Sorry you had to endure this to get the material for the article, but at least you could share.”

I haven’t completely lost all hope for future traveling. Surely we can turn our act around. But like maneuvering a jumbo-jet, that may be easier said than done.



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