With another unruly passenger, airplanes are apparently becoming subways in the sky

Passengers walk past Air Canada planes on the runway at Pearson International Airport in Toronto April 13, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (Reuters)

When an airline passenger was arrested at Vancouver International Airport over the weekend and accused of being a general jerk on board a flight from China, it underlined a sad fact most of us have come to realize: Common courtesy is not a given in-flight accessory.

Cursing and complaining is common, drinking and carousing often goes too far. Jockeying for space, fighting for elbow room and invading fellow passengers' senses with unfortunate smells, sights and the oomph-oomph of unwelcome music are all too frequent. With scores, if not hundreds, of strangers cramped together for extended periods, one would desire a world where we go out of our way not to inconvenience others. Too often, the opposite is true.

Air travel is not the classy, dignified experience it was pictured to be in its Mad Men-era heyday. Today, airplanes are little more than subways in the sky.

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While we all have airline horror stories – do you really need to take off your shoes and cut your nails? – few can compare to two recent instances that forced police to get involved.

In Vancouver, 25-year-old Abdul Zain Ali was charged with causing a disturbance, mischief and assault after he allegedly got violently intoxicated on board a China Southern Airlines flight.

One passenger told The Province the individual and his friends had been acting cocky and rowdy even before they got on the plane. About halfway to Vancouver, the man started screaming and swearing as he ran through the aisles.

And then there was another arrest in Halifax last week, after a man and a woman were caught engaging in a "sexual act" at their seats. That incident ended with the female allegedly becoming verbally and physically abusive as she resisted arrest.

Extreme examples, sure, but the Internet is full of stories about rude passengers, mid-flight feuds and anonymous flight attendances sharing their nightmares.

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For a taste, peruse FlightsfromHell.com, a site dedicated to sharing the worst flight stories. Contained within are stories about sisters attacking one another over an argument about their inheritance, a sophisticated businessman who got progressively drunk and handsy and many more.

Air travel horror stories are so common that when a television producer live-tweeted his feud with "Diane in 7A," a self-involved fellow passenger, complete with an exchange of acidic notes and a slap across the face, no one questioned the story's veracity until it was outed as a hoax days later.

The issue of airline codes of conduct has been in the news recently, with major weather-related cancellations and backlogs causing chaos in Canadian airspace this winter. And a passenger "bill of rights" has been crafted and proposed and debated for years.

But there is a flip-side to having rights, and that is having responsibilities. Namely, the responsibility of acting with courtesy and consideration for fellow passengers. That means, of course, not getting drunk and running down the aisles. But it also means limiting how far you tilt your seat back, or keeping your shoes on for the duration, or using headphones while watching a movie on your iPad.

All of this is inevitable when you are spending a few dollars to ride the subway during rush hour, but we should expect more from each other when we are flying the friendly skies.

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