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Sue’s Air Travel Etiquette Guide

Sue’s Air Travel Etiquette Guide

Sad to think we may need one, but given the recent rash of reclining-seat-based bad behavior and a discussion with a flight attendant on a flight not long ago, it appears that we do. So here’s my first stab at creating a guide that, if followed, might just keep the bloodletting to a minimum (until the next seat-space downshift, that is).  This is already getting long, so I’ll limit it to on-board behavior only for now.

1. When boarding, move quickly to your seat, put your bag in the overhead bin if you have a carryon, and take a seat. Do not open your bag and start rooting through it while standing in the aisle, swim upstream for a better overhead bin locale, or stop to chat with someone. Carry your bag low and in front of you while walking down the aisle to avoid smashing it into the people you're passing who are already seated. Update: Andy Brice with PerfectTablePlan e-mailed me this addition: "Think twice before putting anything lethally heavy or pointy in an overhead bin, even if the regulations allow it. If you have no choice, then make sure you stow it above your head—not someone else's! Better
still, put it in the hold."

2. Do store your carryon in the bin by your seat if at all possible. Do not stash it in the first open bin you come to, thinking it’ll be easy to grab on the way out, because the person sitting in the seat under it likely will have to store theirs by your seat, bogging everyone down both coming and going.

3. Wait to fasten your seatbelt until everyone in your row is seated so they don’t have to wait for you to unbuckle before letting them in. And do stand aside to let people squeeze into the middle and window seats. Don’t make them have to make the dreaded, “Should I subject their face to my belly or my backside?” decision.

You may also want to check out To Recline or Not to Recline: Is that Really the Question?

4. At least pretend to listen to the flight attendant’s spiel. So few do, and it’s very disheartening for them. Oh, and you might learn something you need to know in an emergency. It’s not etiquette, but it is a good idea to actually count the number of rows to the nearest exit so you could count off by seatback if the aisle is obscured by smoke. Not that that would ever happen, but…

5. Try to avoid reclining the seatback if at all possible. If you must recline, please notify the person behind you that it’s going down so they can clear their tray tables and try to find somewhere to put their knees.

6. The person in the middle seat is already miserable. The least you can do is let them have the armrest.

7. Do not let your leg flop over into your neighbor’s foot space, nor your elbow venture over the armrest. Sleeping head-floppers, I know you can’t help it, but try. Please try.

8. Keep it clean (1). Whether “it” refers to your feet, your armpits, or your sandwich, do everything in your power to ensure that any bad odors floating around are not emanating from you. If you do insist on reclining, please make sure your hair, which is now in the face of the person behind you, is either clean or covered.

9. Keep it clean (2). Try not to watch anything on your tablet or laptop that would horrify the mother of the toddler in the seat next to you, even if the kid is screaming non-stop anyway. And no fooling around under the blanket or in the rest room, either—this is shared space, even if you think everyone else is asleep (I for one won’t be, and I really don't want to even think about what you're up to).

10. Don’t haul yourself up by grabbing the seatback in front of you, then slingshot your poor neighbor’s head when you let it go. Just don’t. And unless turbulence violently hurls you about as you progress down the aisle, don’t grab seatbacks as you go either.

11. If you have a seatback entertainment system, use a light touch when changing channels, or use the controls on the armrest. Otherwise your efforts to choose entertainment will feel like a toddler kicking the kidneys of the person in front of you.

12. Do not perform any personal grooming functions, such as nail clipping, scab-scratching, anything to do with your nose or teeth, etc., in public. Again, just gross.

13. On an overnight flight, make sure all your devices and alarms are turned off, especially if you’re a deep sleeper or taking a sleeping pill. I had one flight where it took three flight attendants to dig through my neighbor’s stuff to find his beeping phone that was keeping everyone but him awake.

14. If you know you’re going to sleep like the dead, don’t take the aisle seat so your row-mates are forced to climb over your comatose body to get to the loo. Likewise, if you’re a pacer or have a weak bladder, take the aisle seat so your row-mates won’t have to bob up and down like corks to accommodate your need to get up regularly.

15. If your neighbor is reading/working/watching something/otherwise occupied, don’t try to engage them repeatedly in conversation. If you’re fortunate enough to get a meal on the flight, that might be the time to exchange brief pleasantries with someone who obviously is not in a conversational mood.

16. If you travel with small children, do your best to keep them quiet and happy, and for the sake of all, don’t change them on the tray table or the lap of the person next to you (see #8). Also, kids will be kids, but your neighbors will be more forgiving of their misbehavior if they see that you’re trying to rein them in, instead of acting like everyone else is in the wrong for not admiring how good little Lizzie’s lungs are when she throws a screaming tantrum. I'll spare you the story of a little girl mounting a deadly My Little Pony attack on her seatmate's head while the mother beamed admiringly—"look how strong she is!"...

17. If the lavatory door sign says it's occupied, believe it. Repeatedly rattling the handle isn't going to change anything.

18. Respect people's aural space, too. That means not cranking up that game, movie, or tune so loud that everyone around you has to listen to a tinny version of it with you. And if/when, heaven forfend, cellphone use becomes the norm on planes—oh, just please don't do it. Is there anything that really couldn't wait a couple of hours until after you land? No one around you wants to hear your conversation, no matter how important/fascinating/urgent it is to you.

19. If you want a window seat (or an aisle, or to sit with your significant other, or whatever your preference is), book it. Don't ask others to give up the seat they may have specifically booked in advance for the same reason you now covet it. If you absolutely feel you must ask someone to give up their (better) seat for your (worse) one, be really polite and apologetic about it, and if they agree, thank them effusively.

20. When the plane touches down, don't immediately unsnap your seatbelt, grab your bag, and prepare to dash down the aisle. Just relax in your seat until it's your turn to get up, since no matter how frazzled you get about exiting, you're not going anywhere until then anyway, so all that frantic elbowing isn't going to get you out of the plane any faster. And do make sure that your carryon doesn't bonk someone on the head on its way down. One final note: Please take your trash with you. Just because it's really well hidden in the seat pocket doesn't mean that it no longer exists!

Do you agree or disagree with any of these, or have something to add? Please do so in the comments below, or send me an email.

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