For pete’s sake, be considerate. Shawna’s guide to airport/airplane etiquette

Grumpy girl. When I got done taking self-
portraits and 7,000 cloud shots, I read SkyMall.
I really want the camera/recorder “spy pen.”

I am generally a peaceable person, but truth be told, I almost murdered a woman a couple weeks ago. I’d just given an awesome presentation at an awesome conference at an awesome hotel in Fairfax, Virginia. Unfortunately, the price of awesomeness was sleep deprivation thanks to the cross-country flight and resulting jet-lag. Sadly there is no rest for the wicked, so when I found myself smashed into a teeny tiny United seat, I thought, at least I can get some work done. And indeed I was, until the cretin in front of me suddenly reclined ALL THE WAY BACK. I’m talking tray-table-smashing-the-knees kind of reclined.

I fumed. I cursed in my mind. I passive-aggressively kicked her seat every 20 minutes for our 4.5 hour flight. And I mentally composed this post. (I would have actually composed it but her insensitive reclining meant that I had no room to even open up my laptop which meant I had nothing to do for the duration of our flight. Except for take self-portraits as you see below. Lovely.)

Of course, I got to thinking about all of the inconsiderate behavior I see in the airport and on airplanes. So I’m here to tell you: Be prepared, be considerate, be kind. And follow these tips:

To boil down this rant: Be considerate. That’s it.

1. Prepare thyself. People get seriously stressed at the airport, especially in line at security. You can avoid some irritation in line by being prepared. Know the rules, know where to go, wear easy clothing, have your ID and boarding pass ready, and stay calm. Believe it or not, security is not that big of a deal (usually) and the TSA officers are not (often) out to get you.

2. Look alive. Okay people, pay attention in the airport proper. It never fails that I will be walking behind folks who decide to just stop in the middle of a walkway or slow down to a snail’s pace. Not only is this disruptive to me, random walking person, but it can cause a serious bottle neck when the stopping is accomplished in high traffic areas, where people are deboarding planes, or where the skycabs are driving carts like bats out of hell.

The face of a weekly flyer. Luckily, my
commute is typically tame.

3. Chill out in line. By and large, it’s not a race. If you’re in line to board, the plane is probably not going to leave without you. Relax. Cramming and shoving and hurdling yourself toward the front is not going to make boarding faster. The other day, I was literally knocked over in line by a woman who just needed to get ahead of me. Luckily, we were close enough to a row of benches that I fell into a seat and not onto my butt, but it was close. Proceed in an orderly fashion friends and for the love of God, try a “pardon me” if you need to get by someone.

4. Eat appropriately. Bring snacks to avoid low blood sugar or sticker shock at on-board snack prices. Try trail mix, fruit, jerky, bagels, grape tomatoes, sandwiches. And please, for noses everywhere, eat flying-appropriate foods prior to flying. Avoid heavy meals or those that might induce gastric distress. Yes, this means saying NO to the jumbo spicy burrito or the beans and rice before flying. Likewise, forget bringing stinky food (fried, onion-laden, overly spiced) on the plane. The idea is to avoid polluting the cloistered environment! Imagine a nervous or airsick-prone flyer being hit with a breeze of fried burger and spicy curry. No bueno.

Truth be told, I’ve met some really cool people
on airplanes–a medium level rock star,
 a goldminer, and a gregarious Sacramento
restauranteur to name a few.

5. Be a courteous seatmate. Unless you’re sitting in First Class, it’s likely you’re going to be getting up close and personal with some strangers on your trip. Reduce the awkwardness by increasing your politeness quotient. What I mean by this is:

  • Exchange pleasantries, certainly, but look for social cues about whether or not someone is up for chatter. (If you’re observing me for instance, my Ipod, stack of research articles and pack of highlighters are clues that I am not interested in gabbing.)
  • Keep your body in your space boundaries… gentlemen especially, be aware that your fare does not generally include the right to encroach upon the leg room of others. Ahem.
  • In general, cede the arm rests to the schmuck in the middle seat. It sucks to the be in the middle and the only comfort is having access to those damn arm rests.
  • Middle seat folks, don’t take this arm rest honor too far. Keep them arms in your boundaries, please, thank you.
  • If someone needs to get up during the flight, for crying out loud, stand up and let them by. On a recent flight, a woman refused to stand up to let me pass so I had to climb over her and pretty well smash her in order to get to the restroom. No fun.
  • Take care when reclining. For me, I recline slightly unless it’s a red-eye flight and everyone is asleep. If you do decide to recline all the way, do it slowly in case the person behind you does have a laptop up.
Is decorum worse in airports than in other public
places? Or is it just more noticeable in
“contained” spaces?

6. Watch your personal noise level. During all points of travel, you’re likely to be sandwiched together with a bunch of other individuals. Think about the impact that your cell phone conversation, gum popping, game playing, conference-call-on-speaker-phone or food smacking has on others. Air travel is already stressful enough without having to put up with symphonies of excess noise from others. (Seriously, I can only turn up my Ipod so high before going deaf.)

7. Know who to blame/positively reframe. Security procedures, weather delays, mechanical failures. These are things that frontline employees cannot control. At all. Believe me, I’ve been there. I know how frustrating it is to have a three hour weather delay or be stuck on the tarmac due to a mechanical. The only thing you can control is your response to the situation, so try to make the best of it.
8. Lend a helping hand. Now, I can count on two hands the times that another passenger has helped me hoist my bag up into the overhead bin. But I remember each and every person who was kind. If you see someone struggling, consider giving some assistance. Help may be especially welcome for parents traveling with young ones. (For my thoughts about “Babies on Planes,” click here.)
I try my hardest not to make this face when
flying. Irrationally glaring at the back of someone’s
seat doesn’t improve the situation and just
causes wrinkles. Ha!

9. Chill out on de-planing. I haven’t been able to figure out why people turn into gophers as soon as the plane comes to a complete stop. Do they think that by popping up out of their seats, they may be able to de-plane faster? It’s especially funny to watch those in the window seat try to stand up and “be ready” to exit the aircraft. If you’re not sitting in the first few rows, relax. And unless you have a connection to make, wait your turn. Trying to cut people off saves what, 15 seconds? And standing with your suitcase wearing an impatient expression doesn’t help those ahead of you move any faster. Chill out. You will indeed get off of the plane, I promise.

10. Be kind. I’ve noticed that flight attendants tend to say “Go out and be kind” at the end of their “Thank you for flying with us” spiels and they have a point. Imagine how much nicer a trip to the airport would be if the typical experience involved kindness. Or compassion. Or humor. Or fun. Trying offering a helping hand, a kind word, a smile. You may be surprised to know how much of a difference these simple courtesies make, especially for employees who work with (largely) grumpy passengers all day long.

Anything I missed?


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