When we go out in public, we expect to be treated civilly and fairly by those with whom we interact. We enter into an unspoken contract: we form lines, we wait our turn, we give those in need a hand, we respect accommodations that give equal access. For example, when I'm waiting to place my order at the deli, I like to think the person taking orders will take mine before the person's who arrived after me. Likewise, I appreciate it if the person who arrives after me makes sure I get to place my order before theirs.
But when people butt in line, try to take advantage of the situation to get ahead more quickly, or try to game the situation to their advantage at the expense of others, that's unacceptable.
Consider the following:
I was waiting to board an airplane recently. The waiting area was packed with people in wheelchairs. In fact, I counted 15 wheelchairs. Fifteen people with their attendants waiting to roll down the jetway. The announcement came calling all those who needed assistance to board the plane first. When I boarded the plane all 15 were comfortably settled in their seats near the front with their bags stowed in the overhead bins. "Nice," I thought. "That's a considerate way to do things."
When the plane landed and pulled up to the jetway for deplaning, the flight attendant came on the intercom: "Welcome to New York City. If you need assistance, please remain seated until the other passengers have deplaned so we can better assist you."
As I walked down the aisle to exit, I couldn't help but notice that only one of the 15 people who had needed assistance boarding the plane was waiting for assistance to deplane. That meant the other 14 had more than enough mobility to walk off the plane, up the jetway, and into the terminal. They had been faking it, gaming the system so they could board before the rest of us. And they may well have faked it so they could cut the line at the security clearance as well.
People claim there are too many rules today, and perhaps that's true. But in many cases the rules are made in response to rude behavior to prevent people from taking advantage of each other. If the airlines figure out that people are abusing the wheelchair service to get on a plane first, airlines might end up requiring some proof of need before making a wheelchair available. There's a rule I wouldn't want to see, but it sure is galling to watch those people game the system to their advantage over the rest of the passengers.
Of course, these people are compounding their egregious behavior. By faking the need for a wheelchair, they are doing a disservice to the people who legitimately do need one.
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About the author
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers' questions in The Boston Sunday Globe's weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business" and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book "Essential Manners For Men" was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of "Essential Manners for Couples," "Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf," and co-author of "A Wedding Like No Other." Post is Emily Post's great-grandson. His media appearances include "CBS Sunday Morning," CBS's "The Early Show," NBC's "Today," ABC's "Good Morning America," and "Fox News."