Travel Etiquette

As I write this, I am sitting on the floor of the Cleveland airport, hanging out by the only free outlet in Concourse C, trying to get this done during my layover so that I can get it uploaded in a timely manner. So far my flying experience has been average at best, but since I saw some egregious missteps already, I thought this would be an excellent time to discuss how to behave during air travel.

Now, as you all know, air travel used to be much more glamorous. There was food and the flight attendants were all conventionally attractive women who wore gloves and tiny skirts. You used to get in your best traveling clothes and walk straight to the plane, while your relatives waved from the gate. (That’s what I saw on Pan Am anyway.)

Ad for Pan Am TV show. Four women dressed in vintage flight attendant costumes stand in front of a Pan Am logo.
Flight Status: Cancelled

Now, unless we are on business trips that mandate business clothes, the order of the day is comfort. I myself am in a pair of torn up jeans, a t-shirt, and a white fleece zip-up jacket with my hair in a bun that I threw together before I left. I am somewhere between 90s grunge and college student with a 9 am class right now. I am, however, clean. For the love of all things holy, people, shower before you get on an airplane! Recycled air, sitting too close together, motion sickness: all these things add up to me puking on you before we ever land. Unless you are Jack Bauer and are attempting to save the world, just get the stink off you.

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer from 24, holding gun.
This man is saving the world. You are not. Please take a bath.

Remember when you could show up to the airport fifteen minutes early, walk through an X-Ray machine with your family and jump on the plane without ever showing ID? Those days are gone. Quit whining about them. Show up to the airport an hour early, at least. Consider going two hours early for major airports during midday flights. If security gets backed up, you will miss your flight. If the TSA is just learning how to use new equipment, and goes really slowly, you will be cutting it terribly close. (This was my problem this morning.) I know you’re not a terrorist. I’m not either, I swear. But this is the way things are. Take off your damn shoes and jacket, raise your hands over your head, and get scanned. Also, pack so that you can take apart your carry on luggage and throw it back together in under 3 minutes. Your fellow travelers will thank you.

On the airplane, follow the instructions of the flight attendant. There are rules for a reason! The reason being so that we stay up in the air in the comically tiny, 9-row plane we are currently flying on, so stop browsing for a book on your kindle during takeoff! This is why you get to the airport early, so that you can get on Amazon before you get on the plane! (This may or may not be directed to the lady next to me on my flight from South Bend to Cleveland this morning. Okay, it is totally directed at her.)

Toddler looking mighty pissed off.
Seriously lady. If this plane goes down, I will murder your face if we don’t all die first. Turn off the Kindle for five FREAKING MINUTES.

Say please and thank you to your flight attendant while you’re at it. While the acidity of the orange juice I was served on the flight may have turned my stomach during landing, it was awfully nice of the flight attendant to bring it to me. And seriously, just because it’s her job to bring me the orange juice doesn’t mean I can’t use my manners. If a four-year-old can do it, so can I.

Speaking of four-year-olds, kids get restless on planes. They can get upset. The air pressure hurts their ears. Planes are uncomfortable for all of us. Now imagine you have an attention span of three-and-a-half minutes and no impulse control. You would be screaming, too. Put your headphones in and try to ignore it. Your flight will be over soon or they’ll scream themselves hoarse. Imagine being the kid’s parent and having to be right next to the noise and embarrassed by your kid’s behavior besides. Just deal with it. Try offering a little kid your window seat before takeoff so that they stay somewhat amused. It might save your ears later.

Screaming little girl on an airplane
Everyone’s worst nightmare. Deep breaths, my friend.

Finally, don’t be in such a hurry to get off the plane, especially if you’re at your final stop. There are people who have to get to their next flight that happens to leave in fifteen minutes. Let them off the plane so they can run through the airport. If you are one of these people with a short layover, let the attendant at the gate know before you get on your flight. They can probably move your seat or alert the gate at your next airport that you’ll be making a run for it. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

Happy (and polite) Travels!

 Got an etiquette question? I’ve got an etiquette answer. Leave it in the comments or
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By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

17 replies on “Travel Etiquette”

If you are the parent to said little kid, it’s your responsibility to keep them entertained and as quiet as possible. Bring (quiet) toys or coloring books or whatever, and have them run around in the airport before getting on so they’re tired and maybe they’ll fall asleep so we can all have some peace. Oh, and now’s a good time to teach them about personal space and seat-kicking.

If you are carrying on, don’t use a suitcase with wheels that barely fits in the overhead. And if you can’t get a spot right above you, then wait until everyone else is off the plane before you go hunting for it. Don’t try to climb over a row of people and whack them all on the head with the steamer trunk you managed to squeeze up there by displacing five people’s normal sized carry-on. Better yet, if you have that much stuff, check the bag. It really doesn’t take that much longer, trust me. Plus you get to bring your bigger bottle of shampoo.

Oh, and I’ve been on flights where you weren’t allowed to switch seats, so your suggestion to give your window seat to some kid may not work. Also, I choose my seats deliberately, with a lot of thought to my needs, especially as someone who dares to fly while fat (window seats have a little extra space between the seat and the wall, so there’s a place for thigh to go without some self-righteous douche glaring at me the whole flight), so I’m not inclined to move.

If you have something that’s technically allowed but can be questioned (like a knitting project) in your carry-on, take it out and put it in the scanning bucket. Seriously. If the TSA agent can see what those pointy things are and that they’re attached to something pretty, most won’t fuss about it. Still, run a lifeline through (and have a spare set of needles) just in case it weirds someone out. Or just bring a book.

If you’re a snack person, try to get pre-packaged dry snacks before getting to the airport (nix things with nuts, though — someone might have peanut allergies!). I get grouchy and short-tempered when I’m hungry, so having snacks is a necessary thing for me. And a refillable water bottle (I imagine if it’s obviously empty going through TSA they’ll let you take it? Maybe?) or cash/change for a drink from one of the machines or snack shops.

If you have a big enough purse/backpack, try to put your Baggie O’ Liquids in there rather than a duffel bag or mini-suitcase — it’s easier to get to and easier to put back, meaning you get through the line faster (and there’s less risk of escaping panties at TSA).

And, for the love of all things sparkly, don’t just STOP after getting through TSA or at a door or the end of an escalator. Make sure you’re not blocking traffic, and try to get to a bench or chair or at least against a wall if you need to tie your shoe or check a map or something. If you’re travelling with people, make sure they know where everyone is going, and have a regular “stopping point” if you get split up, like “outside the first set of bathrooms”.

Overall, my travel etiquette focuses on being nice to others — whether they’re cleaning the airport bathroom or the flight attendant or another passenger. I figure that being nice helps to maintain the balance.

Yes to the baggie-of-liquids! I keep both that and my laptop in the same back, since they both have to come out, and make sure that they’re easily accessible. My first time through security (small airport, leisurely pace), the TSA agent was shocked that I didn’t have to take anything out of my rolling suitcase. I was like “Yeah, I try to just put everything together that has to come out of the bag.” Apparently this is not common at all.

Although… last time my whole family flew together, it was (I think) 2008, and my sister had NO IDEA about the liquids rules. I was baffled that anyone could be completely unaware of them.

I flew (in a group) last spring, and the “leader” of the trip apparently got her ziplock baggie rule backwards — several of the girls had a gallon-sized bag with EVERYTHING in it, not just liquids. Fortunately this was in a tiny airport where the TSA staff was a bit more mellow (and less overwhelmed), and they just had to take tampons and bar soap and makeup and other non-liquids out to check the “fit” of things. And I think only one of them had to leave something (I think the toothpaste didn’t quite fit, and we were traveling carry-on-only, so she just used her roommate’s toothpaste for the week). I’d double-checked against the TSA’s list and they didn’t even have to look at it twice.

I usually stick the needles deep into the ball of yarn and have never had anyone question it. Also, “or just bring a book” doesn’t help. Reading while in motion makes me sick sometimes (especially if it’s bumpy), knitting does not. So in my case it’s actually better to knit so I don’t land with a migraine. I know I’m not alone with that reason for my choice of in-flight entertainment.

Ohh, that’s a different approach — I tend to use circular needles whenever I’m in “public” (less chance of dropping and losing a needle that way). And, well, I’m a bit on the curvy side — I tend to read or nap or stare out the window on the plane itself, because otherwise I feel like my elbows are taking over my neighbor’s space. Knitting happens in the airport or the destination itself. (And I usually have some form of mp3 player so I can just zone out.)

But yay for in-flight knitting! I’m an in-the-car and on-the-bus (if there’s room) knitter.

I usually use circulars, too, for the same reason. Also I have interchangeables, so if (flying spaghetti monster forbid) they took the tips, I wouldn’t have to lose the project. So far, it hasn’t been a problem though.

I’m a big girl, too, so whether or not I can knit depends on my neighbor and how much space I have. Once I rode home next to a bodybuilder guy with massively broad arms and shoulders. It was like Tetris. My thighs encroached on him under the armrests and his arms encroached on me over it. Or there was the guy who kept elbowing the side of my belly, I am assuming deliberately because I could feel the shade he was throwing. Why did both of these things happen on nice long Vegas-New York flights? Sigh.

Yep, I bring a refillable water bottle and just empty it before security and re-fill again afterwards (it has a filter so I’m not drinking water that tastes of toilet taps).

I have to say the noise of kids doesn’t bother me too much (headphones+earplugs + being thankful they’re not my kid help!) but seat-kicking is one thing I will turn around for and ask them/their parent to stop.

Also, my favourite thing: solid shampoo. Takes up so much less space and doesn’t have to go in the tiny liquid bag.

My refillable water bottle is always in my purse/backpack. All the time. Because I get thirsty and like having water, but I don’t like spending a dollar or three on a single-use bottle of water (even if I recycle the bottle). And I have the filtery kind, too — sure, I have to buy replacement filters, but it’s worth not having gross water.

I can usually tune out kids, until they hit ultrasonic shrieking (which is where headphones and earplugs are even better than the best, and I usually go for preemptive aleve before flying — the pressure changes can give me headaches). I don’t tend to get too annoyed by kids who are acting like kids — and are bored or tired in an enclosed space. Though I absolutely appreciate parental efforts to keep them busy (or asleep, when appropriate). Kids who have something to do are slightly less likely to lose their shit just because they’re on a plane.

If you have to go through the scanners, take everything out of your bloody pockets! Even if it isn’t metal! If they see a suspicious bulge, they will pat you down and go through all of your money and kleenex and shit. (Nooo, I’m not still irritated at my husband about doing this last month. Not at all.)

And on the moving walkways, the general rule is stand right, walk left. However, if it’s 6 in the bloody morning and people are half asleep, there’s really no reason to yell at people for standing side by side. You aren’t going to miss your flight if you have to wait an extra 5 seconds to get to the end.

THIS! My last air travel, I had a transfer in Dulles. It was late at night so the airport was not actually crowded at all. In many sections, there are two escalators. AND YET. There would be two people in front of me, and they would get on different escalators and just STAND THERE. Seriously, person on the left, you can stand on the escalator on the right. I have to find an airport bar before my next flight because this is the last meal on this trip that I can expense.

Also, leaving the train and standing right outside the doors to get your bearings, so that other people can’t leave the train? Makes me want to punch people.

I might get really irritated when I travel.

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