Why? Because I hope that everyone would be courteous when traveling and follow some basic etiquette rules...but it really doesn't happen, does it? People end up being just as rude and uncouth as they are when I encounter them in my day-to-day life, and it really should STOP. Still, it makes me feel better to post it, even if only a few people will see it.
If you know of someone who's a bad traveler, please share it with them. Find a way to bring it to their attention because NO ONE should have to put up with bad travelers, EVER.
It's a bit wordy, but then, that's ME!
Airplane Etiquette 101
Having traveled on economy-priced airlines fairly often in my adult life, I have to say that basic airline etiquette is really lacking amongst many of its passengers. As with so many other aspects of society today, common courtesy has certainly gone missing in a lot of cases, but it's more than just that. Why do people think that hurtling through the sky in a pressurized metal tube at hundreds of miles per hour gives them license to do anything they please is beyond me. Let's start at the beginning and take an imaginary flight, shall we?
Pre-boarding and boarding
When you board an aircraft headed for any destination - whether it be for business or pleasure and whether you're lucky enough to have a direct flight or not - all passengers will board the plane in some particular order that is predefined by the airline, and the order probably depends upon the type of aircraft you are traveling in. Most of the larger airlines board their first class passengers first, or according to their assigned seating arrangement on the plane. This has certainly prevented the unnecessary flaring of tempers while waiting in a sometimes seemingly endless line where everyone accuses everyone else of stealing "their spot".
Still, some people will try to walk up to the front of the line of the currently boarding passenger group and step into line and onto the plane without waiting for their grouping to be called. When discovered by the airline personnel - or when they are revealed by the other passengers who have been patiently waiting in line in the correct order - they usually have one of these reactions:
- Shock or surprise - "I didn't know this was the new boarding procedure!" is a common response. Southwest Airlines (my favorite carrier) has had their "new" boarding procedure in place for a couple of years now, with ample media coverage and repeated reminders given by the attendants at the gates. Spare me the acting job and go to your place in line, thank you.
- Indifference - "Oh, it's not my turn yet? Well, since I'm already here, can't I go ahead and board now?" Answer: A resounding "NO!" from the rest of us in line. Just get your butt back in line like everyone else and wait your turn. Next time, get your boarding pass earlier or get a better seat and then you won't have to worry about waiting so long.
- Anger - "Why the heck can't I board now? It's not my fault that the 'C' group boarding passes were the only ones left!" That might be correct, but it's not anyone else's fault, either. Someone has to board at the end of the line, and I've survived it before. Be a man and get in line.
Once you actually get on the plane, then you just have to get to your seat. If you fly with an airline that has assigned seating, that's great; your wait time to actually get to your seat and get buckled up probably won't be that long...unless you are behind a family that has decided they are going to carry on every item they purchased on vacation OR because they just don't want to pay for any extra luggage to be stowed below the aircraft in the cargo hold. No, these people would rather take up every bit of overhead bin space, the space under their seats (to the front AND back of them - you didn't need to actually put your feet on the floor, did you?), and possibly the seat beside another family member. They will try to stuff, pack, fold and rearrange their carry-on luggage for several minutes while you and the other passengers stand behind them in a somewhat patient manner. If you're lucky, a flight attendant will intervene and get them to their seats before you or someone else has the chance to club them over the head with a laptop. This is good, because I'm sure that the computer repair companies are tired of fixing dented laptops used as battering rams by frustrated fliers. I'm sure they would much rather spend their time removing viruses from hard drives or some other serious thing.
While you're taking this long walk onto the plane, be sure to remember to hold your carry-on items in FRONT OF you, not drag them along behind you. Why would you want to jostle everyone in their seats when you bag bounces from side to side on its trek down the aisle? There's no need to take out someone's fast food beverage and the top of Grandma's head while you're walking. Keeping your bag in front of you keeps it safe, in your sight, and out of everyone else's way.
Now you'll have to deal with "bin hogs" - people who intend to sit in a row further back on the plane, but who like to stow the bulk of their carry-on items in the front of the plane. They think they're being smart because they can just grab their bag as they exit the plane, but they are really inconveniencing other passengers. Let me tell you, if there's a shortage of bin space and someone saw you put your bag in an overhead bin on the third row before heading to the back of the plane, you can bet that the flight attendants will be notified and your luggage will possibly end up in the cargo hold after all. I can't guarantee that I would be totally innocent in that situation, and the flight attendants are on my side, too, because they know how important it is to sit near your own bags for security reasons.
So you've finally stored your carry-on items. Good for you! Notice those two people in the row to your left or right? Yep, one person is sitting by the window, and the other person is sitting by the aisle. That means that it's the middle seat for you, my friend. Just because neither person will make eye contact with you doesn't mean you can't ask nicely for either seat if you really want the window or need the aisle. It doesn't guarantee you'll get the seat you ask for, either - that's what "open seating" means. Of course, they're both probably hoping that no one will ask for any of the seats and just pick another row, giving them more arm and leg room and allowing them to stretch out during a full flight. If you're flying on a truly full flight, though, someone's going to have to make a compromise somewhere, but it doesn't mean it has to be YOU all the time. Just ask politely and you'll (hopefully) get a polite response from one - or both - of them, even if it's a polite "no".
Which brings up another point: if you know that you'll need to get up more than once during the flight to use the restroom or take care of a medical issue or something else, letting a flight attendant or seat mate know before the flight takes off will allow everyone to be seated in a place that is as comfortable as possible for all parties. You don't have to share too much personal information to get a point across, but just let someone know so that you can be re-seated quickly and efficiently if needed. Maybe sitting toward the front or back of the plane in order to have quick access to the restroom - or even choosing an aisle seat over a window seat or an exit row over some other row - would be best for you. Air travelers should always remember that they are not the only ones flying and no one should be inconvenienced more than is absolutely necessary.
If you're traveling with small children, remember that federal law requires at least one parent or guardian sit beside each child (or one parent or guardian between two or more children on the same row or aisle) in their party during the entire flight. I've seen parents attempt to abandon their offspring by sitting the child in the first available seat they find and then scurrying off towards the back of the plane, sometimes with a little smile on their face. Flight attendants and wily passengers like me have an eye for this play, too, but I doubt if too many passengers would allow someone to place a small child beside them before the offending adult runs off in obvious relief.
Now your plane is in the air. You've reached 10,000 feet and the pilot has advised it is now okay to turn on approved electronic devices. What should you do? Well, you can turn on your iPod or iPad, get out your laptop, work on crossword puzzles or Sudoku, read your book or newspaper, or even talk your seat neighbor about your trip. There are lots of options here - I'm sure I've missed a few favorites. You should not start pestering the flight attendants for drinks and snacks or blankets and pillows. They will attend to each of the passengers, row by row, in turn. Bugging the flight attendants as soon as possible just takes away from the time they need to take care of everyone efficiently. If you need additional, personalized care, an upgrade to a first class ticket or booking a flight on another airline might be advisable for you.
When relaxing during a flight, be sure not to overdo it and relax too much. That's right - don't relax too much. Remember that you are on an airplane, in a confined space, and try to resist the urge to do any of these things unless you are on an overseas flight or the flight attendants give the passengers specific permission. Don't:
- Take off your shoes. You are not at home, and these people don't know you. Even though you may feel the urge to do it, keep those shoes on and all your foot scents to yourself. You'll also be keeping your shoes out of the aisles and other passengers' personal space, but I'm really concerned about the smell factor here. You may not think they smell, but...
- Fully recline your seat on a full flight. Yes, you may be tired, but there are other passengers who are probably just as tired as you are. If you're on a full flight, ask the person seated behind you if they mind before you recline. They may have a child seated on their lap that loves to pull hair, and if mom or dad falls asleep, there's no telling what horrible things Junior may be able to do to you before the parents even realize it. Recline at your own risk.
- Prop up your feet. There is no reason for this that I can fathom that is not medically related. If you need extra leg room due to your height, size, or a medical condition, talk to a flight attendant before the flight. No one wants to share their armrest (or headrest, or seat) with someone's footwear - or foot. And if you get a cramp, just stand up in front of your seat or in the aisle as soon as you can. Jamming your foot or leg into someone else's lap is NOT the way to make friends on a flight.
- Undo your belt and/or pants. You might be surprised to know I have personally experienced this little show twice! Maybe you should wear looser pants on the plane, or eat a little less before the flight takes off to ensure your own comfort. If you see someone doing this, it's best just to let the flight attendant know and allow them to handle the situation. You don't want to cause a confrontation with another passenger if you can possibly avoid one. In fact, any time you feel uncomfortable asking another passenger to do (or not to do) something on a flight, let the flight attendants act as your go-between. They have the authority to ask all passengers to behave in a manner which befits a traveler.
- Release excessive gasses. Either end. Seriously. There are so many over-the-counter remedies out in the market for all types of gas and bloating that make this very easily controllable (or more manageable). If you are prone to any gassiness, you should seriously consider preparing yourself for relief before you get on the plane and make sure you take your remedy before your symptoms take over. Truly, your cabin mates will be extremely grateful for this bit of thoughtfulness, and I am speaking very specifically for one of my family members who always seems to get a gassy neighbor on every flight.
Also, if you were already out like a light while the initial drink ordering took place, don't demand the flight attendants do your bidding as soon as you snap to consciousness; they will get to you as soon as they are done with the other passengers. The same goes for that second (or third) round of drinks. They will get to you in good time, so be patient.
Approach, landing and exiting the aircraft
Now you are approaching the airport. You know this because a flight attendant or pilot has shared this information with all the passengers via the intercom system. Please don't wait until someone comes by your seat to personally beg you to throw away your trash, turn off your electronic devices, and make sure your seat back and tray table are both in their full, upright and locked positions. When they ask, respond by doing. It saves time for everyone.
Make sure you take your last restroom break or return items to the overhead bins by this time. Flight attendants are not usually really happy with passengers who need to use the facilities or rummage around in their baggage during the final approach. Neither are the pilots, for that matter. Unless there is a medical emergency (which is certainly an exception), you will be ushered back to your seat to wait out the remainder of the flight, so be mindful of how much time you have before the plane lands.
You're on the ground. Your plane is now taxiing down the runway and headed to the designated arrival gate. There are those individuals who are so eager to get to their destination that they just cannot wait to hop out of their seats, grab all of their precious belongings, turn on their cell phones and hit the terminal running. These people should seriously consider traveling on a private jet. No matter how eager you are to get off of that plane and get to your rental car, hotel, onto a connecting flight or back to your house, remember that once again YOU are not the only person on the plane. Just as you got on the plane in a certain order, you will exit the plane in a similar fashion. If you are seated in the back of the plane, just stay seated until the rows in front of you have cleared of all exiting passengers. Pretend you're at church, if that helps. If not, remember the guy in the second row with the dented laptop who almost leveled you when boarded the plane; he'll be watching for you, too.
If you have a lot of items to remove from the overhead bins, consider letting a couple of people go by before you try to yank everything out and whack your way to the exit door. Or just wait until most of the passengers have exited the plane to avoid collisions. You won't be more than five minutes behind your original exit time, and chances are you'd be stuck in the terminal behind an elderly couple walking calmly to the baggage claim area, anyway.
Wait until you are in the terminal to call "your people". You don't need to have a cell phone attached to your ear as soon as the wheels hit the tarmac (or even a little bit before). Before the invention of cell phones, people actually had to wait to make phone calls until they got off the planes - seriously! And if you're trying to drag your extra-large bag down the aisle with one hand and balance your briefcase, suit jacket and phone with the other arm while exiting the plane, you're not only making yourself look like a fool, but you're once again probably whacking someone who doesn't deserve it. They should be whacking YOU. I'm calling Laptop Guy.
Remember that, if you needed a wheelchair to get ON the plane safely, you need one to get OFF the plane safely. Airlines usually base the number of wheelchairs waiting at the arrival gate on the number they are informed of by the personnel in the departure city. This helps ensure that everyone will be transported off of the plane and delivered to those waiting for them in the terminal as efficiently and safely as possible. If you truly needed a wheelchair when you boarded, wait until the flight attendants inform you that it's your turn to exit, and they will provide assistance as needed. Attempting to walk at a time like that could cause others to suddenly require their own wheelchairs.
If you really didn't need a wheelchair when you departed but wanted to get on the plane first by using the pre-boarding procedures, SHAME ON YOU. Don't be surprised if you get dirty looks from fully capable passengers and others who actually need assistance. And don't be surprised if you're asked to sit down and wait until other passengers have exited the plane. I have seen a few hip-checks in my time and know that people don't take too kindly to being duped by other passengers looking to skirt the policies. I may have even been the source of a couple of those hip-checks myself, but my memory is a little foggy at times.
So, that about sums it up. Follow these rules of basic airplane etiquette to help make your trip a pleasurable one. Believe me, you're helping others, too, and I promise I won't give you any dirty looks the next time you're on my flight. I might even smile and talk to you for a minute or two before I put my own headphones on.