Coming straight to you from an 11 hour flight (LHR-LAX) I am only half way through, I’ve got some thoughts I want to get off my chest, thoughts I am confident if listened to by the masses and adapted might make travel for us all a little bit more enjoyable, or at least- a little less painful. Let’s call it airplane etiquette 101.
So here’s the reality, planes are getting bigger, seats are getting smaller. I was spoiled on a more recent trip to be in business class for all our VERY long flights. And as I’ve said before, even 15 hours is manageable when the food is good, the entertainment options many, the alcohol flowing, and the seat a bed.
Well, our return to South Africa (after only three months being away) was glorious, but one thing was not: Flying economy class. So we have 9 of the most annoying passenger habits and simple tips to minimize the stress on each one. Want to be a good human being while flying? Dramatic I know, but still, I implore you (equally dramatic)- read on!
Using AVOD, AKA Audio Video on Demand
Technology, I don’t need to tell you, is improving. The screen on my British Airways A380 is beautiful. I’ve got a USB hookup, an abundant amount of films, TV, and music to choose from. I can chat via instant message with other passengers, though so far my wife has denied my chat requests and the public chat rooms are empty. So much for that feature.
But here’s the first point I want to make on etiquette: It’s a friggin touch screen. Why as technology gets better humans have the tendency to act more like neanderthals is beside me. The dude behind me thinks he must practically punch the touch screen to get results he wants. Now, this wouldn’t be too horrible if it was once every 2 hours or so as he selects a new movie. But he is indecisive, or, I don’t know what, but he won’t stop pounding the touch screen which in turn gives my seat a nice little (annoying) nudge every damn time.
Be gentle to the touch screens. First, we want these bad boys to last and I may not be a tech guru but it sure seems beating it up doesn’t spell durability. Next, I have tested this thanks to my friend behind me in seat 73A and it turns out my hypothesis was correct: The screens respond much better to slow and gentle touch rather than punching at the buttons on the screen.
Let’s Talk Reclining
This is a big one for me. I wrote about it last year when passengers were in the midst of throwing soda on one another over their right to recline vs. another passengers right not to have you in their lap. It’s perhaps of little surprise I think there should be limits to reclining, at least if you want to be civilized and well, I am on British Airways. I sacrificed the trendiness of Virgin Atlantic for this stiff 1950’s version of what I imagine the UK to have been like generations ago. But I digress. Since I just took a cheap shot at BA I’ll pay them a compliment next: They’ve done some good stuff on their A380 as far as recline goes. For a tall person, it’s the first time in recent memory the guy reclined all the way back and didn’t crush my legs. But personal space is still limited of course. You need to sleep, and I get that. But let’s all promise something: Food, crappy it may be in economy, is still food and thus sacred.
And so when it’s meal service, how about we all take our seats out of recline? The dude in front of me was fully reclined, to the point he kept having to lean forward in his seat to eat his meal. Meanwhile, until I said enough is enough, I was trying to navigate eating by holding a hot metal tin of food almost up against my chin. Often times when I fly LAN to South America, their flight attendants push each passenger seat up as they provide meal service. I love it!
Don’t recline during meal service, just don’t. If you’re reclined on, ask nicely if the person can scoot forward during meal time. If they don’t oblige, you have 10 hours to bounce your knee against the back of their seat AND do the next annoying habit I will discuss momentarily. And also, when you do recline, do it slow. I watched Laura’s laptop almost get crushed as the man before her slammed back in record time, trapping her screen.
Grab Your Seat, Not Mine
I find myself with two thoughts when I try to get out of the window seat to go to the bathroom. First, I wish I did yoga more. Because being more flexible might help navigating multiple seats to get to the aisle. Then when I achieve some sort of exit, sometimes graceful, often not, I’m proud of my circus like feat. But nothing ruins a good nap, something hard to get in economy seats, than the person before you grabbing your seat (and sometimes some of your hair) as they then use your seat to pull themselves up and out of theirs. The heavier the person, the more it feels like someone is attacking you. I’ve woken up startled too many times as someone does this.
There’s an easy fix on this. Lean forward, place your hand on your seat (not the one in front of you), and lift yourself that way. The only person you disturb is, well, no one. Your fellow presumably kind passengers seated in the row before you will go on napping uninterrupted.
Spending Too Much Time In Your Humble Abode
I get it, we each have our own bathroom customs and traditions. At home, you might be the dude who gets through an entire issue of tThe Economist while taking care of your business. And you know what, it’s your home, to each their own and so to you I say kudos for not having your legs fall asleep.
But when close to 100 people are sharing 2, maybe 4 bathrooms at most, the game changes. For long haul flights, we’ve got multiple things going on. You’re using the bathroom, brushing teeth and doing some other BASIC grooming, and maybe even doing a scene change into pajamas.
I don’t really care what you do, so long as you follow the golden rules. OK, that’s not true. For just as soon as I drafted this, someone (on a different British Airways flight), made a really bad poo. Like so smelly they turned the plane around. No joke. But back to the golden rules:
1. GIGO. Get In. Get Out. That line you waited in, it hasn’t gone away. Be a team player and do only what you need to do, with the time you need to do it, and get out.
2. I love interactive water exhibits. I was in Millennial Park over the summer and loved the water area kids ran through and left puddles of liquid in their wake. This tiny cramped bathroom, it’s not Millennial Park, not by a long shot. This is a public service announcement primarily for our male readership, but the point is simple: Water from the tiny sink or something else, it doesn’t belong on the floor. Simple enough. And while I certainly hope every passenger keeps liquid where they need to be, I don’t bet on it, which brings me to my next point.
Some people have a foot fetish. I’m not one of them. And so my point is simple on this, be considerate with your feet. Again, I think there are some ground rules here-
1. Don’t take your shoes off if your feet will smell. Just don’t. You spent the whole day doing touristy stuff in a hot place? You are sweaty? Guess what, your feet and shoes will be nasty, keep em on for the rest of us. If you’re wearing TOMS without those fancy socks they make for them, I beg of you, do the hip thing you cute little hipster and don’t take those Argentine classics off.
2. If you do take your shoes off, and even if you don’t, keep your feet in your own personal space. When I feel your toes touch my elbow, we’ve crossed into a territory where I am within my ethical right to publicly humiliate you, crush your toes with my elbow, or both.
3. If you go to the bathroom in just socks, that’s your call. But no gripes if you come out with wet socks and an unpleasant stench.
When Boarding the Plane
I know, the airlines nickel and dime us. That’s why we all have avoided checking bags, and bring some pretty impressive baggage onto flights.
Tips: But still, there are common decency rules here too-
1. If you strung a bag over your shoulder, take it off when walking down the aisle. The 15 people whose faces you would have hit will thank you.
2. If you have a backpack, be aware of your dimensions. When you swing, that extra 12-24 inches attached to your back swings with you and most likely into the body of another person.
3. Shared space is shared space. Be conscientious of what you put up there. If you brought a lot on, it’s only fair a bit of that goes under your seat. Fold your jacket and place it on top of your baggage, not next to it. And as much as is possible, keep your luggage close to you. If you’re in the back of the plane, don’t drop your bag at seat 8 unless it really is the only place space is available.
Exiting the Plane
Again, there are simple rules:
1. Unless you have a tight connection, we’re all going to the same place. Don’t be that jackass that runs down the aisle only to advance three rows. The rest of us silently mock you, passing knowing glances that allow us a solidarity you’re not invited into. And what’s more, we exit the plane just 10 seconds after you do.
2. You took a lot of stuff out of your carry on. I mean, there’s your iPad, your glasses case, a water bottle, oh that pen and that other one in case the first one ran out of ink, and who knows what else. When you exit, there are three options. Option A: Get your bag down if you can, and pack it while we wait for the doors to open. Option B: Grab your bag, carry your loose items off, and repack once in the boarding area of the terminal. Option C: Grab your bag, find an open aisle of seats that’s been vacated, and tuck in there to repack your items.
You’ll notice there is no option D, one I seem to see too many passengers try and utilize: Don’t pay attention, and take your sweet time getting your bag down, and then keep your butt in the aisle while you organize your items, blocking the rest of us from exiting the plane.
Respect the Headphones
I am an introvert at heart. This usually shocks people who know me well, because they fail to understand it’s not about whether you like talking to people or not but rather where you draw your energy from. And on planes, I am usually tired. Maybe it’s because I am a cheap bastard and buy almost exclusively redeyes and 6 am flights. Or maybe I just finished work or am heading to it. But the point is this: If I have my headphones on, the message is as loud and clear as the music I pretend to be playing (because often I am listening to nothing, just avoiding talking): I don’t want to engage in small chat. I am sure your grandkids are cute, your job selling paper exciting, or whatever else you want to talk to me about interesting. When the earphones are in (or the book or newspaper up) I hope you understand it’s not you, it’s me, and “me” isn’t in the mood to talk with you. #SorryNotSorry
Be Kind, For Everyone You Meet
Yeah, you know the phrase. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle. And it might seem ironic after the epic bitchfest that was this post to make this the final point, but it’s important: People, at the end of the day, are unique. And so while I hope all of these suggestions are followed, the reality of the matter is often it won’t happen that way. And when they aren’t, be assertive where you need to be (excuse me sir, can you please stop hitting me in the face with your backpack) but also be gentle. We had a VERY fussy baby on our flight from Cape Town to London. A redeye. And I mean, this kid had vocal power Adelle would be jealous of, and stamina every marathon runner hopes for. And so when he would holler, you could see some passengers doing that thing every parent knows well, the mean stares, eye rolls, sighs, etc…
I’m about to have a kid and we don’t intend to let that stop us from traveling, so you know my bias. But bias aside, one thing is true: You were once that kid. Maybe it wasn’t on a plane, but somewhere at some point, you were the kid who was too fussy. The distractedly rude passenger trying to scramble off the plane, maybe they’re in town for a funeral.
The point I guess is simple: The airlines won’t make flying in economy any more civilized, because more often than not, that violates revenue models. So it’s up to us, the passengers, to find a way to deal with cramped quarters for long durations, and do it in a way that makes it manageable for us but is also respectful of those around you. When that happens, great. When it doesn’t, look at the bright side: You’re on a giant metal machine that flies, and you can get almost anywhere in the world in this metal bird,. That, and the places we get to see as modern-day travelers, make it all worth it in the end.
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