At JFK airport, some workers getting trained to be N.I.C.E.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone who worked at the airport was nice?

At John F. Kennedy International Airport, they’re working on it.

On May 22, 30 veterans who work at the airport for several airlines, government agencies and private security and service companies will get N.I.C.E (Neutralize Irritations Customers Experience) program training to teach them how to use skills learned in the military to help frustrated passengers at the airport.

Many other airport employees at JFK have already gone through N.I.C.E training offered by the Human Resiliency Institute based at New York’s Fordham University, which also has a special program for veterans. Now the program is tapping vets already working at the airport to use their leadership skills to help enhance customer service.

“Through our Edge4Vets program, we at Fordham have first-hand knowledge of the strong leadership strengths vets possess,” said institute director Tom Murphy. “Now we’re tapping resources offered by vets working at the airport and training them to apply their inherent leadership strengths and their ‘N.I.C.E.’ tools to help their airport enhance service.”

Murphy said the special N.I.C.E. Corps training for veterans at the kick-off event in JFK Terminal 4 Tuesday will include will include role–playing exercises in which the veterans will use the keen observation skills they’ve learned in the military to spot and come to the aid of passengers in need of assistance. Members of the N.I.C.E. Corps will also be trained to note when other airport employees go out of their way to help frustrated passengers and to document those success stories on the ‘N.I.C.E’ website.

Employees caught using N.I.C.E. skills become eligible to win a variety of incentive awards, including gift checks, meals, and hotel stays. Two veterans participating in the JFK N.I.C.E. Corps will win a fishing trip to Alaska so they can catch salmon for a salmon-bake for the whole team.

The chance of winning that fishing trip isn’t what convinced veteran Egbert Haynes, a TSA supervisor at JFK, to volunteer to be captain of the JFK N.I.C.E. Corps. “I’m from New York; when I need fish I go to the fish market,” said Haynes. “But when I heard of the program and saw the potential to recognize the good things done daily by airport employees outside of their job description, it all made sense.”

In addition to JFK, employees at Los Angeles International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport have been trained in the N.I.C.E. program.

*My story, JFK trains its workers to be N.I.C.E., first appeared on

On the airplane: do you have the right to recline?

Each Friday on’s Overhead Bin, I have the pleasure of answering a travel question sent in by a reader. This week the topic was that age-old question:

Do passengers have a right to recline their seats on an airplane?

When Jeanne Gillert flies on an airplane, she rarely reclines her seatback “out of consideration for the passengers behind me.” But she’s sick and tired of other passengers who insist on reclining their seatbacks and ramming their seat into her knees.

Gillert, a program officer for a private family foundation in Tulsa, Okla., says she’s tried “gently pointing out to people that the reason they can’t move their seat back any more is because of my knees; not just that the chair is sticking.”

Sometimes that works. “Men usually get it, apologize and quit trying,” said Gillert. “Women on the other hand are horrible! One woman told me to sit up straighter, then got a stewardess to tell me it was her right to recline her seat into my knees and that I would just have to live with it or pay for a more expensive ticket in business.”

That answer doesn’t sit right with Gillert, who asked Overhead Bin, “Since when do we have the ‘right to recline?’ ”

Unless an airplane seat does not have a recline position — Allegiant, Ryanair and Spirit Airlines have entire planes with non-reclining seats — passengers do indeed have “the right to recline.” But issues clearly arise around if, when and how passengers choose to use the amenity.

Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute advises passengers who wish to recline to be sure to do it slowly. “You can also turn to the person behind you and give them a heads up that you’re going to push your seat back,” said Post. “Asking them if it’s OK is nice, but if they say ‘no,’ you have to be prepared to honor their wishes.”

If the person in front of you pushes their seat back quickly, there isn’t a tremendous amount you can do about, said Post. “The best you could do is tap them on the shoulder — although that’s a little much — and say something like, ‘Do you mind just giving me heads up next time?’ ”

When faced with a rude recliner, another option is to request to be moved to a new seat. However, with planes flying very full these days, that’s not always possible.

Some travelers make use of the downloadable “courtesy cards” offered by the creators of the controversial (and on some airlines, prohibited) Knee Defender, a small plastic device that limits how far a seat can be reclined. One version of the card requests that a passenger not recline their seat; the other informs them that you will be using your gadget.

Another defense is to study up on seat pitch (the distance from your seat to the seat in front you) before your flight. Many airlines post this information on their websites, and sites such as SeatGuru, SeatMaestro and SeatExpert post annotated airplane seat charts noting which seats have added legroom and which seats do not recline.

You also might seek out a flight on a plane sporting a new type of seat. On its first 787 airplane, ANA (All Nippon Airlines) equipped the economy cabin with seats that do not recline but instead have a seat cushion that pushes out a few inches.

Whatever you do, try to not get into an argument or over the reclining actions of another passenger. At the end of May 2010, an in-flight fist fight over a reclined seat ended with Air Force fighter jets escorting a Ghana-bound United Airlines flight back to Washington-Dulles International Airport.

What are your rights regarding the Overhead Bin?

At’s Overhead Bin blog, I’ve been tracking down answers to a big question each week. This week: What to do about Overhead Bin hogs.

We’ve all seen them on airplanes: Fellow passengers who put their stuff in an overhead bin toward the front of the plane before sneaking off to an assigned seat way in the back.

When that happens, some passengers seated up front end up having to store their bags in the rear of the plane.

“Do I have any recourse about what is in the overhead bin over my head?” writes Barbara, a nurse from Elizabeth City, N.C.

“I’ve ended up with my bag being placed all the way in the back and it delays my deplaning ’til the very end. I actually once missed my connection because I had to wait so long to get my carry on.”

“This is a huge flight attendant pet peeve,” said Sara Keagle, a flight attendant who writes the The Flying Pinto blog. “Most flight attendants I know close the first few rows of overhead bins at the start of boarding because of this issue.”

Keagle says that when she and other flight attendants are on duty as the aisle flight attendants, they’ll try to police the situation. But Heather Poole, a flight attendant who writes the Galley Gossip column for, noted that passengers can’t always rely on bin space being saved. “Because we are usually staffed with FAA minimum crew, there aren’t enough of us on board to direct passengers to other bins.”

Bottom line: It can be irritating, but the overhead bins are first come, first serve. “You don’t have any recourse or right to the bin above your seat,” said Poole, who pointed out that one way to get first dibs on the overhead bins is to pay the extra fee most airlines now charge to passengers who wish to board early.

And bin hogs, beware. Overhead Bin has heard from flight attendants who make note of bin abusers − and then quietly gate-check those bags right before departure.