With the holidays upon us, more than a few people will be taking to those formerly friendly skies to visit family and friends or perhaps to take a special vacation. Wherever they are headed, one thing is for sure—their air travel will have its share of challenges.
British Airways has unveiled an unofficial rulebook on flying etiquette in an effort to help their passengers handle some sticky in-flight issues. The airline surveyed 1,500 travelers in the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy to get their thoughts on etiquette in the air.
Given the diversity of countries and cultures, there were naturally conflicting opinions on the do’s and don’ts of mile high manners. The results are food for thought for those taking flight.
The airline tackled what it considered to be the four biggest areas of contention: Should you take off your shoes and socks in flight? Who owns the armrest? Should you engage in pillow talk with your seatmate? And what are the rules about waking a sleeping neighbor?
Shoes and socks on or off? Not surprisingly, travelers overwhelmingly agreed that removing your socks is unacceptable, but taking off your shoes is all right. The one group taking the opposite approach was the Italians. Apparently, taking off either is tantamount to undressing in flight. My perspective on this is that it’s fine to take off your shoes as long as your socks are clean. And no bare feet, no matter when you last washed them.
Who owns the rights to the armrest? There was general agreement that every flier should have at least one. The point of contention was the middle seat. Is that passenger entitled to one, two or none? American and British fliers seemed to want to claim both armrests; whereas the French, Germans and Italians said that he who asks first shall prevail. Now that hardly seems fair to me. The poor soul who is wedged in a middle seat ought to be given more consideration. Besides, I can never recall hearing anyone asking permission for an armrest. More often than not there is a silent battle between seatmates.
Pillow talk: is it okay to chit chat? There was general agreement that passengers should acknowledge each other with a smile and a quick greeting. After that US and UK fliers are not eager to engage in conversation and have their subtle ways of sending that message—like taking out a book or putting on their headset. Italians, being the friendly warm people that they are, enjoy a good in-flight conversation. Ignoring your seatmate entirely may cause you to miss out on a good connection and an interesting experience. I once sold copies of one of my books to a seatmate.
Should you wake a sleeping seatmate? You need to make a trip to the lavatory and the person between you and the aisle is asleep. What to do? This could well be my favorite. 80% of travelers say that it’s okay to wake your neighbor, but 40% say that you should only do it once per flight. I wonder if there was any consideration given to the time in flight. It seems to me one needs to be more flexible on this issue. However,if you find yourself making frequent trips to the restroom, book an aisle seat. And don’t overlook the etiquette of climbing over. Global etiquette dictates that you make a face-to-face exit. Try it; it’s not easy.
The fourth question begs a fifth: What to do about the seatmate who is snoring? Here is where the majority of people tended to be polite and said they would ignore those intermittent outbursts—all except the British who would not hesitate to give a chap a nudge.
There are indeed rules of flying etiquette to be observed when you take off for the holidays, it’s clear that not everyone can agree on what they should be. Perhaps that’s why there is so much turmoil in the air these days.
You can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can manage your own manners. Showing as much consideration for your fellow passengers as you would like for them to show you could just possibly bring about a return of the friendly skies. Oh for the good ole days.
Lydia Ramsey is on a mission to stamp out rudeness and enhance professional conduct in the workplace. She is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, sought-after speaker, trainer, author and newspaper columnist. She is the author of Manners That Sell – Adding the Polish That Builds Profits and Lydia Ramsey’s Little Book of Table Manners.
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