I am flying from Philadelphia to Portland, Oregon. American Airlines has the only nonstop. I would rather be carried across the country by ants than fly American. The agents at check-in remind me of the Soup Nazi, a seemingly innocent question, such as asking for an aisle seat, resulting in No Trip for You! and being escorted off by German Shepherds. The flight attendants aren’t much better, glaring and hostile and mumbling dark thoughts of Dostoyevskian madness. They scare me.

So, I take Delta Air Lines even though the trip requires a connecting flight through Atlanta and takes three hours longer. It is a fine airline, the only fine airline left in the United States where service is still a job requirement. Delta wants you to fly. American hopes you never fly again.

I am in the Sky Priority line at Delta. Sky Priority presumably means you have flown before, since the status is generally gained by the amount of miles you have accumulated. That means you are an experienced traveler. That means it should take a minute to check in—show your ID, put your bags on the scale, and answer “no” when asked if you are carrying any of the following: lithium batteries, Cuban cigars, old Hustlers, an I.E.D., or a nuclear warhead.

Maybe it is just bad luck, the curse of the perennially impatient, but the traveler at the counter ahead of me feels like chatting with the ticket agent, lots of smiles and guffaws. I can only pray he will not pull up a picture of his dog or newborn. I mumble profanities, softly at first so nobody thinks I require a 72-hour hold in the booby hatch, then louder in the hopes that other passengers will join in and tell the man at the counter that the rest of us are at the airport with the intent of going somewhere. But I am always the only one who feels remotely bothered.

I remain silent, having learned my lesson long ago when I spoke up and narrowly escaped the joint. But why do we succumb? Why are we so passive?

We have given up.

We have lost our assertiveness, our willingness to stand up for ourselves and demand a minimum of courtesy. The great refrain of Howard Beale in the 1976 film Network—“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”—is an anachronism.

It’s the opposite now: we do take it, resigned instead of mad. We tolerate inconvenience and atrociously bad service. Go to a restaurant? The only way to get a menu most of the time is to stand upside down naked and sing the national anthem of Belarus (affectionately known as “My Belarusy”). Ask for the check? Bring a sleeping bag and be prepared to stay the weekend. Go to the hospital for a small emergency? No problem, as long as you accept there are no available doctors, nurses, or beds, and you have to drive 200 miles since there are no ambulances.

Why do we succumb? Why are we so passive?

I successfully navigate security. This is despite the guy in front of me, who, even though this is TSA PreCheck, and regardless of repeated warnings, has not taken his laptop out of his bag, is carrying his keys and phone and boat anchor in his pocket, and asks if it is all right to bring a keg.

I feel like a coffee, and there is a Dunkin’ Donuts in Terminal D just past security. But the line is halfway to Cleveland. I buy a drink at one of those travel marts, which should be quick but isn’t because it takes 10 minutes to figure out how to use the self-checkout terminals popping up everywhere, requiring help from the cashier, who is busier than ever telling people how to use the self-checkout.

Which appears to defeat the purpose.

I get to the gate. Airlines spend countless hours on the best way to board and shave off a few minutes. Back to front. Front to back. There is something called the WILMA system, in which passengers with window seats board first, followed by middle seats, followed by the aisle. It requires passengers to follow instructions, which as anyone who has flown will attest, is hopeless. The best system might be to line up all the passengers in a single row and on the count of three allow them to charge the Jetway. Or fill the plane with mud and have people wrestle it out. Instead, passengers line up like bumper cars in a pileup, then have to navigate through the aisle of a plane that is narrower than the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam.

Nor are matters helped when there is someone, because there is always someone, who spends 10 minutes trying to stuff into the overhead locker a suitcase bigger than the fuselage and argues that their 120-pound Bernese mountain dog is a service animal who will easily fit under the seat.

Complaining about anything is a very bad idea.

I was on a flight once from Hartford to Philadelphia. The gate agent said there would be a delay of about 40 minutes, even though the pilot leaving the plane whispered to her that it would be close to three hours. I told her she was lying, because she was lying, hoping that others would chime in and agree with me. Instead, two local police officers showed up. When I asked if I had the right to object to the obvious deceit, the response was admittedly convincing: “No. So shut the fuck up if you want to board the plane.”

I dutifully did shut up, which is what I should have done on a flight from St. Louis to Philadelphia when the gate agent said the delay was caused by bad weather in Philadelphia when there was no bad weather because I checked. I protested, but I kept it restrained enough not to get kicked off. That did eventually happen when the flight attendant on the plane announced there would be no drink service because she was tired and didn’t feel like it. “You are just being obstreperous,” I said, rather impressed with myself for plucking a mild four-syllable reproach out of thin air. I don’t think the flight attendant knew what the word meant, but apparently she got the gist, as seven very burly men showed up and told me I would not be flying tonight.

So, I carry my aggravations privately, let ticket agents and gate agents and flight attendants and passengers run roughshod over me. Keep to yourself. Say no evil. Always be polite and repeatedly say “thank you,” even though you have just been bumped and the next available flight out isn’t for a month. Travel is always going to be travel. Airports are crowded again, and so are planes. God, I miss the pandemic.

Buzz Bissinger is the author of Friday Night Lights and a co-author of Shooting Stars with LeBron James