Hold it!

Not going the extra mile: On a flight home from Europe on Air France, my wife, Sheila, decided she needed to use the facilities. When she got up, the plane hit a bump, the seat-belt light came on and the flight attendant told her to sit down. Later, when she saw people moving about, she stood up and again the flight attendant told her to sit down, this time more forcefully, finally asking, "What country are you from, madam?" When told, he then gave her a verbal dressing-down for being an American who didn't follow rules. Just then a bathroom door behind him slammed and he relented but not before reciting a disclaimer for injury. What was the proper response?

— Danilo Gurovich



Answer: Talk about your bad air day. The Guroviches were on vacation, but it sounds as though their flight attendant was on a power trip, and Air France did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Fatigue and stress are bad traveling companions, and when you factor in a full bladder, you have the makings of an international, if not an altogether xenophobic, incident.

That doesn't have to happen, says Jeff Greenwald, author and executive director of the Ethical Traveler (, who thinks all travelers are accidental ambassadors.

Presumably that includes flight attendants, but as Greenwald reminded me, you can meet a jerk anywhere.

Good perspective.

For more, I turned to Roger Cargile, a friend of mine who retired in 2003 after 24 years as an American Airlines flight attendant. Cargile described the balancing act between enforcing rules and being empathetic that flight attendants follow every day. "As a human being, I can't say, 'Sit there in agony.' "

Because, really, isn't sitting in coach agony enough?

Besides, it's rude not to help someone in need, although one expert — a professor at Johns Hopkins and the author of "Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct," no less — thinks the passenger could have resolved the loo to-do herself.

"Sheila could have said, 'I am about to have an accident. What do you suggest that I do?' This way she would have shown her willingness to respect the steward's authority," says P.M. Forni. "Escorting Sheila to the toilet and telling her, 'Please return to your seat as soon as possible' seems like a reasonable solution to me."

As for the display of national superiority?

It might feel satisfying to mutter the "saved your French bacon in World War II" mantra under your breath, but it's really just mental mudslinging. Let it go.

"When we talk about civility and good manners, we are not talking about … the right fork for the salad," Forni says. "We are talking about how to treat one another — and what is more important than that?"

So breathe deeply, take the high road, make your enemy your friend, and don't look back. You'll be a wee bit better for it.