The recent unfortunate scuffle on United Airlines involving a passenger who was “reaccommodated”–whatever that is—has brought the focus squarely back to the issue of air travel.
Perhaps you can still remember a time when traveling by plane was actually something you looked forward to unless, of course, you suffered from a fear of flying. People dressed up in their “Sunday best” to fly. Passengers didn’t bite, claw and scratch their way onto the plane. All seats were spacious and comfortable. You chose window or aisle based on whether or not you wanted to check the landscape below, not in order to gain extra leg room. Flight attendants were friendly and greeted passengers with a smile. The airlines served real food, and occasionally it was pretty good. There were skycaps to help you with your luggage which you never had to wrestle with on board the plane. It magically disappeared while you flew off in comfort. You never saw it again until you landed. What’s more, it was always waiting for you upon arrival.
I could go on and on reminiscing about the “good ole days”, but they are long gone and times have changed. Flying today is an ordeal which the majority of people dread. When I fly, I worry about whether my flight will be on time, if I will make my connections, if my luggage will get lost, if my seatmate will be one of those overweight people who clearly needs to have purchased two seats, or if I will get stuck on the tarmac for endless hours without food or drink. It used to be that I worried about crashing. That’s way down on my list now. I have too many other things on my mind.
Given that everyone involved in air travel today approaches it in something akin to combat mode, it seems worthwhile to ponder the rules of airplane etiquette and consider what would happen if people took the time to be kinder to and more respectful of others as they fly the formerly friendly skies.
To that end, let me suggest ten rules of flying etiquette that, when observed by all, could transform the air travel experience.
Respect the space of others. The airlines have rules in place to limit the number of bags you can carry on, but some passengers manage to get around them. Don’t take on a bag that consumes all the room in the overhead compartment or one that doesn’t quite fit under the seat in front of you, but spills into your seatmate’s space.
Middle seat gets the armrest. That seems only fair since the people on either side can lean right or left for more room. The armrests are certainly not big enough to accommodate one arm let alone two.
Be considerate when you recline your seat. Note whether the person behind you is using the tray table. Alert people when you plan to recline so neither their laptop nor their snack ends up in their lap. Rarely does anyone follow this rule.
Don’t be a Chatty Cathy. I believe that everyone should acknowledge seatmates with a smile and a greeting. Once you do that you will get a feel for the other person’s mood. Some people like to fly in silence. Let them. If that person is you, you can always whip out a book or your work paraphernalia once you have exchanged pleasantries.
Try not to be a jack-in-the–box. You know, the passenger who gets up and down forty times during the flight and has to crawl over other passengers. If you know you are one of those people who can’t get through a flight without using the lavatory, get an aisle seat.
Avoid alcohol during the flight. Alcohol and altitude do not mix. You don’t want to be the person who made headline news because of your behavior in-flight.
Control your kids. That is a good idea, no matter where you are, but children who are out of control on an airplane can ruin the flight for everyone. Make sure they keep their voices low and their arms and legs in check. Anyone who has ever had the child behind them kick their seat knows the urge to kill.
Keep the space around you odor free. That means bathe before you fly and make sure your clothes are clean and fresh. Anyone had that experience? But don’t douse yourself in perfume. That can be as unpleasant as poor hygiene.
Pay attention to how security works. If you fly often, you should be prepared to remove your shoes, take out your laptop and toiletries and shed your jacket or sweater. Don’t wait until you are ready to place your carry-on luggage on the security belt to attend to all this. If you are moving more slowly than others in line while you disrobe, let them go ahead of you.
Be considerate of people with close connections when the flight has landed. How many times have you heard a flight attendant request that people with time to spare remain in their seats and let others get off first? Few people ever honor that request.
Good manners won’t make planes any less crowded, seats any more comfortable or security checks any less stressful; but they could help you and your fellow passengers arrive at your destinations in a much better frame of mind—ready to go to work or enjoy your vacation. When you follow these rules, others make take notice and follow suit. We can always hope.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, sought-after speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her at LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs and products. More business etiquette information is available in her best-selling books Manners That Sell – Adding the Polish That Builds Profits and Lydia Ramsey’s Little Book of Table Manners. Invite Lydia to speak at your next conference or meeting.