Yesterday marked the end of the school year for me, so other than turning in final grades next week, I am free for the next three months! Task #1 is getting back on the blog and, of course, embarking on the travel that inspires it. Just in time for the summer’s flights, the Wall Street Journal has come out with an article, “The Rules for Packed Planes,” that got me thinking about taking to the skies again soon.
The article outlines the basics of airplane etiquette: stay in your own seat, don’t cut in line to board, and don’t hog the overhead bin space. I have a few observations and additional suggestions for a summer in which U.S. airlines alone are expected to carry 222 million passengers with a 90% overall load factor. There will be someone in that middle seat, folks, so take it from someone whose mother was Amy Vanderbilt, Emily Post, and Miss Manners all rolled into one person: basic etiquette is the glue that holds society together, in spite of the current belief that personal freedoms trump all else, and this is especially true at 35,000 feet, squeezed into a tin can with hundreds of other people.
In no particular order, here are my own etiquette guidelines for plane travel this busy summer season:
Please wear enough clothing. You don’t need to dress for a QE II ocean crossing, but guys, I beg you to please cover your hairy armpits, hairy legs, and feet (hairy or not). Ladies, I don’t want to see your thong when you hoist that bag into the overhead space or your midriff when you climb over me to get out of your seat. At the very least, please don’t take your shoes and socks off during the flight! Can I convince you by saying that airplanes seem to be a lot colder these days? Even if shorts, a tank top, and flip flops are your preferred travel outfit, please consider bundling up a bit more just to keep from freezing. You will be warmer, and I will be happier.
Please don’t get wasted. I recently spent a long flight next to a man who was buzzed when he boarded and then proceeded to have at least another four beers. He talked to me non-stop in a slurred voice. “Am I bothering you? … because I’m really bored, because there’s no wifi and usually there’s wifi on all planes now, and my son is in a different row … are you trying to read that book? … I’m sorry to bother you, but my wife reads longer books than that … so here’s a picture of my dog … ” He texted throughout the flight and called his son multiple times until the flight attendant finally confiscated his phone. I read exactly one sentence of my book in four hours and could not wait to get off that plane.
Please do not engage in any significant personal grooming. That certainly means no toenail clipping, but brushing your hair onto my tray table is also disgusting. I can live with make-up application at the end of an overseas flight, but tooth flossing is a big no-no (and yes, I have seen it). Nail filing, marginally ok; under-nail cleaning, please no!
Please don’t fully recline your seat. That’s a controversial one, I know, with recliners believing that they’ve paid for a reclining seat and damn it, they’re going to recline. I honestly don’t think that the few additional inches you get could possibly make your seat that much more comfortable, but they do make my seat infinitely less commodious. I am much more relaxed about this on night flights; if everyone is sleeping anyway and there’s no meal service for a number of hours, recline away.
Please keep your entertainment volume at a reasonable level and don’t even think about forgetting your own earphones. On another recent flight, delayed until nearly midnight for takeoff, a young woman next to me played excruciatingly loud music that escaped her earbuds and blasted right through my own. I was trying to sleep, but even if I had been reading or watching a movie, I would not have been able to concentrate over the volume of her music. I asked her politely if she would turn it down just a little and received a death stare (and no volume reduction) in reply. Airplane noise offenses also include little kids playing videogames with pings, whizzes, and explosions, as well as the unfathomably clueless adults who watch sporting events or movies on their phones without any earphones at all.
Please follow the rule about one bag in the overhead. I have no qualms about removing your raincoat, your hat, and your Disney stuffed animal if you’ve spread that out next to your carry-on in the bin, but it would be so nice if I didn’t have to track you down and get you to hold that stuff until later. There is usually enough space to load those items on top of bags once everyone’s suitcase is in, so please be a polite rule-follower and hang on to those smaller items until everyone has put his bag in the overhead.
I really enjoy flying and, for the most part, find it perfectly pleasant much of the time. I do agree with the writer and his airline sources who say that manners have deteriorated in recent years, but I have found that asking nicely and behaving well myself often influence others’ conduct. With airlines themselves making travel less and less pleasurable (smaller seats, crabbier flight attendants, more frequent delays), I’ve noticed that many passengers seem to feel a new kinship with each other – it’s us against them – and there is often a we’re-all-in-this-together attitude that makes everyone a little bit more flexible and nice.
For me, the summer will bring flights to Texas, Israel and Jordan so far. Where are you headed in the (come on, let’s keep it) friendly skies?