Golden rule helps make flying better than ever

Only a decade ago, according to statistics gathered by The Associated Press, passengers were 10 times likelier to die while flying on an American plane. The risk of dying in a car is hugely greater.

Despite the noisy coverage of crashes, I think air travelers finally grasp that planes are safe. (Some of the media reaction to the San Francisco crash, I suspect, had to do with fear of terrorism, not the more ordinary fear that a pilot or an airplane part had failed.)

Safety isn't the only way flying has improved.

"Remember how they used to feed you real meals?" a friend recently said.

I did. I remembered the bad food. The stench of the bad food. The sound of strangers chewing the bad food. The greasy napkins crumpled on top of the leftover bad food. All the complaints about how bad the food was.

In the intimate society of an airplane, happiness is a bag of pretzels.

I attribute some of my improved feeling about air travel to switching airlines. I abandoned the airline I'd flown for years and started flying one that lets you check two bags for free, offers onboard Wi-Fi, and doesn't charge for changing a ticket.

On this airline, there are no TV screens and that, too, is a blessing. No craning your neck so you can numb your mind with sitcoms.

The passengers, too, have improved.

They seem more polite than they did for a while, as if they understand that the golden rule — do unto others — also applies onboard. I swear that fewer people plunge their seats all the way back.

I may find passengers more polite because I'm now flying an airline that gives them more reason to be. But I also think that more of us have adjusted our expectations of flying and so we're not as cranky. We've figured out that an airplane is not a restaurant or a movie theater, so we have less to complain about.

There remains room for improvement, however, and not just by the airlines.

Strong, tall people? You will win a free ticket to heaven if you say to a short person struggling with the overhead bin, "Can I help you?"