Is Airport Etiquette and Flying Etiquette Dead? The more I travel the more I’m coming across some absolutely maddening behaviors of my fellow humans. Sometimes all I can do is just stare out of shock at how some people behave. Do we all hate each other that much, or are we that afraid someone is out to make our vacation experience that miserable that we end up being downright nasty to a perfect stranger?
I know this will likely open up a backlash of comments, and people posting their opinion on this, but I feel it is a conversation that should have been started a long time ago. I plan on doing several articles on travel etiquette in different situations so be sure to stay tuned and subscribe below.
Checking In Your Bag
When you go to check your bag in, you see the incredibly long lines leading up to the counter with the stone faced airline staff giving instruction on the bags you wish to bring with you. With all the changes made to airlines and baggage size requirements and amount of baggage you bring – it is important to remain calm when they give you instructions.
- Smile and say hello to your fellow human being.
- Politely say, ‘oh darn my bag is over the weight limit – here is my credit card – sorry about the inconvenience’.
- Have your identification card out ready to go, along with your passport and confirmation number if applicable.
- Put the ticket for your luggage they give you inside your passport so that you don’t lose it, just in case your luggage ends up on the wrong plane.
- Don’t yell, argue, or try to con your way out of paying the extra price for your overweight luggage. The fuel cost and having someone transport that for you is likely what is driving up the prices. Workman’s comp for the baggage boy’s bad back is your fault.
- The airline staff get paid to help you with your travels, they don’t get paid to take your abusive language or behavior. It isn’t so hard to just be nice.
- Don’t try to chance the weight being over, and then hold up the long line to try and rearrange your stuff into different bags. This is the type of crap that makes everyone upset.
Get a luggage scale, and if you have to skimp out on the souvenirs, or leave a few jeans or boots behind then do it.
Get travel insurance to protect your belongings, airlines don’t always reimburse you for damages.
Pay for your extra bag, or extra weight on your luggage online before you go to the airport.
The Dreadful Security Lines
Security lines are the worst part of anyone’s travel experience. You have to stand in a line with other strangers, smell dirty feet, get padded down by strangers who don’t even speak to you. Take off all your rings, hats, scarves, coats, and basically unpack your bag for the person behind you to see if it is worth mugging you before you go to get into your taxi.
- Be patient.
- Do what the security personnel ask you to do, unless you want to end up in a room with people yelling at you.
- Make sure your liquids are all gone.
- Take out all electronic devices and put them into separate bins.
- Take off your coat, shoes, belts, large wallets, massive metal bracelets or watches and put them in the bin.
- Don’t be on your phone arguing with a family member, or lover about a private issue. We don’t want to know or hear about your drama, we are going on vacation.
- Don’t cut the line or save a spot for the 25 other friends coming with you, it is rude – and not making eye contact with the person behind you doesn’t mean we can’t see it.
- Don’t be rude to the parents trying to keep it together while their kids try to pickpocket the phone out of the bin in front of them.
- Don’t get mad.
- Don’t argue with the TSA or security agents when they say you can’t take something on the plane. It isn’t their fault you skipped pass the prohibited items page when checking in online.
- Don’t be that person who is impatient and feels they are in a bigger hurry than everyone else, so they cut in front of you because there is a 1.5 foot opening on the conveyor belt. (True story) Then get mad at the TSA agent because they ask you not to cut the line, and you say that ‘They weren’t ready’ – FOOL! YOU DIDN’T EVEN ASK ME. Then you forget to take your belt off and have to hold up the line cause YOU ain’t ready. (Ok, sorry, rant over).
Get the TSA pre-check if you travel primarily in the United States. Get the Global Entry of you are frequent overseas traveler. These allow you to keep your shoes, belts, and computers in your suitcase. While this can vary at each airport, or if there is minimal security staff at night, it has been the best investment I have ever made. After flying for 47 hours, and having to wait in line to get through border security – I fell asleep on my feet and nearly fell over. It cuts down on so much downtime, and tedious waiting in so many different countries it is well worth the effort to do this.
The airports are now catching on to people using their own water bottles to fill up before they board the plane. They also have limited airline staff from filling up water bottles outright, or giving more than a glass of anything in their single use plastic cups.
Again, while this can be maddening at times, there will always be someone you can tip at a restaurant for filling up your bottle for $1-$2 instead of trudging down the terminal to the water fountain at the end in the obscure place behind the fake tree (true story). If you do find the water fountain, be sure you watch carefully how much you are putting in the bottle. I once saw an young woman fill up her bottle to overflowing, she glanced down at the big puddle that she left on the floor and walked away. It wasn’t thirty seconds later that an elderly gentleman nearly fell in the puddle of water and could have broken a hip.
If nothing else – make sure that you put a towel, napkin, or notify someone in a store about the water spill. We are all stressed about our own lives, and we all hate touching dirty floors – but don’t put someone’s life at risk because you spilled.
Please don’t rush to get your bottle filled and cut me off in your efforts to be the first one to the fountain. This is not a race, this is water there is plenty to go around.
- Pay attention to the water level in your bottle
- Clean up after yourself if you should spill
- Assume that the water on the floor is harmless to everyone, just because it is harmless to you
- Ignore how full your bottle is becoming
Pay attention to what your doing – it will save you a lot of time and headache. Clean up after yourself, janitors have enough of a thankless job – do’t make more work for them by being lazy. Yes you are going on vacation, but it doesn’t mean that you get to be rude.
The Business of Boarding
I remember this so vividly, I was eighteen years old – traveling to Rome Italy for my first International trip and had stopped in the JFK airport for a layover. I remember seeing frantic travelers lining up in front of the gate when they announced they would be boarding soon. The thing that immediately came to mind was ‘we are a heard of cattle’. You would think we were lining up to get food after starving for three years.
If I accidentally bumped into another passengers luggage, they would give me a dirty look, and scoot their bag closer to them. I hadn’t even realized I had done it and laughed at them because I had no idea I was that terrible of a person that I would take their bag and run out the doors of the airport cackling like the witch from Snow White when she bites the apple.
I stood their smiling, looking at the jostling, the silent vying for the front spot in the line to get on the plane so that they could get their precious cargo on first. Here we were, all within 10 inches of each other, acting like three year olds trying to kick the soccer ball but having it go nowhere.
The flight attendant called for the first class people to board, and it looked like the stores on Black Friday here in the States. People were shoving, pushing, arguing and even started yelling.
Being the big mouth that I tend to be at times, I very loudly and forcefully told everyone, “We are all going to the same damn place – just file in and be nice”. It seemed to settle people down and put it in perspective for the moment; of course I got some dirty looks from the woman with her blinged out dog and fancy bag – I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to let these people ruin my first trip overseas with some ridiculous notion that getting on the plane first means you are more important than anyone else there.
So when boarding your flight, here are some things I would humbly suggest:
- Wait your turn, and sit or stand to the side so that people aren’t cofused and can get on the plane quickly.
- Pay attention and put your phone away, so that if someone has a question you can appear approachable.
- Offer your bag to be checked if they are offering it, and you don’t have anything important you will need during your flight.
- Have your ticket in hand and passport if applicable to give to the hostess.
- Realize that you are all going to the same location, you are at the gate, and won’t miss the flight.
- Pack light so that you don’t have to worry about getting the coveted overhead bin space. The less time you have in your seat on the plane, the happier you will be- I promise.
- Don’t shove your way to the front, just because you paid $20 extra – there is no excuse to not be kind when they call your zone.
- Don’t try and sneak into a zone or line you aren’t supposed to be in. This causes delays, arguments etc…. No one likes people that do this, just wait your turn – the plane hasn’t left yet. Just ask yourself, ‘Is it really worth looking like a jackass to the 150-200 people surrounding you, just to save yourself the $75 fee for checking the luggage?’
- Don’t crowd entrance into the gangway, it is confusing for those trying to board, and again – you look like a jackass for doing it.
Be patient, wait your turn, make room for those who are being called to board.
Find YOUR Seat, Double/Triple Check
Flying from Buenos Aires, and Santiago and to be honest, several other countries – there is a growing number of people who just sit down wherever they feel like sitting. This is not the metro, nor is it a bus where seats are a free for all. This is a structured system, so that heaven forbid – if the plane crashes – they will be able to take your body to your family based on the seat position you were in.
While several airlines are known for overbooking, or double booking seats on more than one occasion – it doesn’t hurt to double check the seat, number, and letter you are supposed to be sitting in.
We were delayed by twenty minutes on three different occasions where people were in the wrong seat. Despite hearing these individuals speak in English, they pretended they didn’t understand English – or the language of the place they were traveling to. This stopped people from boarding the plane, it agitated the airline staff (never a good idea), and delayed 150-200 other people from reaching their final destination.
There was another lady who argued with someone about the seat she was sitting in. She refused to move, because she was adamant that was her seat – and didn’t bother to double check. After the stewardess asked to see her ticket, she was shown where her real seat was and she quickly moved – completely embarrassed.
- Double check your seat assignment
- Be kind and politely ask the person sitting in your seat if the seat assignment on your ticket is the correct one.
- Put your bag in the overhead bin until you can figure out your seat assignment. You can always move it later.
- Politely ask the airline staff if they can help you figure out where to sit
- Realize that computers are not perfect, and you will get to your destination
- Assume that the person in your seat is doing something dishonest – it could be an honest mistake
- Don’t get in an arguing match over whose seat is whose, and assume you are correct
- Don’t just take any seat available, unless you ask the airline staff first.
Double, triple and quadruple check that you are in the right seat, on the correct side, correct letter and then nicely say, ‘I think we may have been booked in the same seat – do you have your ticket? Maybe I’m looking at this wrong’. This can really help the airline staff out when people are kind to one another, instead of having to be a babysitter for adults that should be able to get along.
Sitting Next To Me, or THAT Person
We have all thought it – if you haven’t….well then you are a liar. We have all thought about how uncomfortable it would be to sit next to THAT person on the plane. It is natural for human beings to want to the best for themselves when they are going on vacation – but don’t be rude.
I was about 8 sizes smaller than I am now – just three years ago. After having several health issues come up, I ballooned up and now am one of THOSE people. People don’t make eye contact or smile at me coming down the isle of the plane anymore. They heave big sighs when they have to get up out of their seat knowing that my big bum is sitting next to them.
There was one fellow, very ungentlemanly, who was squirming away from me the entire trip. I felt so bad by the end of the flight to my vacation destination that I was nearly in tears – then just got all ghetto white girl angry and started to just stare at him when he would squirm.
Even if my foot encroached next to his silver hard case briefcase, he would lean over and scoot it ever so slightly over. Sigh, squirm, sit back, fold his arms and turn his body away from me. I thought I was just being sensitive, but when it happens the entire flight, and at the end of the flight – he said, ‘Thank God, I can finally get out of this seat’ and continues to mutter under his breath about overweight people — it shocked me. It was all I could do to not say ‘F-U you self-righteous prick’.
Here are the facts: No one LOVES the basic economy seats, we choose to be there to save money – and with that comes the cramped, packed like sheep in a small box with screaming kids or the guy with a Prostate problem that needs to pee every 30 minutes on the red eye flight to Europe.
- Get out of your seat when someone wants to get in or out.
- Talk to your neighbor about things that make you uncomfortable or comfortable when you fly. They won’t be able to read your mind, so understand they are human too – and you just want to get through this process as quickly as possible.
- Stretch your legs every now and then, keep yourself busy with movies, games or music.
- Help your neighbor with drinks, share space if you have it, offer gum or even a sanitary wipe. Every kind gesture counts when traveling overseas.
- Offer to help the Mom with the teething child behind your, or play peekaboo or make a paper airplane for the child throwing a tantrum – because they never got their ears to pop and don’t know why they are uncomfortable.
- Give the mom with the screaming child dirty looks – she is already mortified herself, and is trying to not scream back at the child.
- Make snide remarks about someone to you, or squirm away every time someone nudges, brushes, or accidentally touches you. Even the smallest passengers feel cramped in those God Forsaken Basic Economy Seats.
- Demand that you be catered to because you are big, tall, on a business trip. We all poop on the same pot, this is not survival of the richest – rich people always end up divorced or dead – don’t become a statistic. The only people who are truly vital to the in-flight experience are the pilots, an the airline staff – so get over yourself sweetheart.
Get as comfortable as you can, take a big breath, don’t worry about the person next to you touching you – IT WILL HAPPEN AT SOME POINT. Do for others what would make you happy, so that maybe we can treat each other a little bit nicer in the ever increasingly uncomfortable airline nightmare that they make it for those who don’t live our life on credit cards.
Special Treatment and Making it Known
Just in case you haven’t gotten the message enough in this article remember the line from Ever After when the evil stepsister is put to work in the material room and her mother tells her to do the work because she is noble, and her daughter responds- “YOUR JUST THE SAME AS ME- A BIG NOBODY!”
This is what I want to scream at these hoity toity people who think they are the cream of the crop and don’t make eye contact or even smile to the ‘lesser folks’ around them. I understand what it feels like to work hard, and want to feel like my efforts are paying off – but it DOES NOT mean that I have to trample over all the other humans around me to make myself feel important.
While I know this is a generalization of people who are considered to be wealthy – there is a certain level of kindness and decency ANY HUMAN can exhibit to one another – no matter what level of income they fall into.
- Be aware of the people that are around you
- Be mindful of the fact that we are all human beings
- Be kind to the airline staff
- Refrain from making comments that you wouldn’t say to your Mom or loved one.
- Don’t think you are a God and deserve to be treated with preference, even if you were privileged enough to sit in first class for four hours.
- Think you can but in front of an economy seat when asking a question once your off the plane, because you paid $60 extra for a more comfortable seat.
- Make comments like ‘I can’t believe this, what terrible customer service’, ‘these other people’, ‘Let’s get in front of these other people’. You look like a complete jerk when you do this.
Don’t think that your actions will never haunt you….you might be sitting next to that person you were rude to on the flight there – on the flight home, or they may even be in your tour group. You never know…so be careful who you treat as inferior, they may just be your tour guide — so just be kind.
Interacting With Airline Staff
The airline staff do not get thanked that often, it is kind of like going to the dentist when you fly basic economy. No one likes to go and do it, but it is a necessary evil to make us functional human beings.
- Help them by being prepared with your garbage when they walk by.
- Try and organize your area, and don’t argue with them when they ask you to do things. They don’t make the rules, but they get paid to make sure people are safe.
- Don’t get mad if they block you from going to the bathroom – no matter what they do there will always be someone mad. If you are frustrated, just politely ask, ‘I don’t want to interuppt your process here, but is there another way I could _________’.
- Put your bags in the overhead bin, and your smaller bags at your feet so that the entire plane isn’t delayed trying to check the bag that you took the spot of.
- Don’t get agitated with the airline staff when they tell you to sit your seat up.
- Don’t get up to bet the first in line off the plane when it is taxing into the terminal. (true story).
- Don’t demand a meal, and then shout at the airline staff because they ran out – (true story) – you should have ordered special meal status before boarding.
- Don’t be a jerk, and pretend like your bags that take up the entire overhead bin space are not yours; when the stewardess is announcing to put your smaller items in the seat in front of you. Your royal ass is the only one in this section because your THAT important – follow the rules.
- Don’t pretend like you don’t understand, when you really do. We all have access to google translate – if you don’t understand – use google translate so we can all be on our way promptly.
- Don’t keep pushing the call light if you don’t get the answer you like (true story).
Smile at a staff member, ask if something is ok to do before doing it if you aren’t sure. Give a compliment, give a tip (IF YOU WANT). Remember that with public service, honey will always work better than vinegar when trying to get what you want.
Exiting the Plane
I never thought that this would be an issue, as the airline staff tell you repeatedly to remain seated with seatbelt fastened until the light is turned off. I don’t know why people think this doesn’t apply to them, but some people think of these safety instructions as suggestions, not law.
I once saw a older gentleman and his wife, grab their bags as we were about half way to landing and begin rushing up to the front of the plane. No one on the plane could believe that this was happening. Not only did they put several other people along the way in danger with hitting them in the heads with their bags, but the airline stewardess had to get out of her own safety harness to escort them back to their seat. Despite the stewardess and several other people asking them what they were doing, they didn’t think that the rules applied to them apparently.
Another incident was when a younger man, got up before the plane was fully docked and grabbed his bag and rushed to the front of the line. While it isn’t as bad as my first example, just know you look like a complete jerk when you do this.
- Be patient
- Wait your turn
- Realize everyone hates the process, and wants to get out of the cramped space just as much as you do
- Get out of your seat until the seat belt light has turned off
- Don’t think that you have more of an urgent need to get off the plane than the person next to you
- Don’t shove past other passengers, just to get closer to the door
Getting Your Bags from the Carousel
Once your off the plane, it is a mad rush to the baggage claim. There is some slight confusion for which carousel will produce your belongings – but you find it and then what?
There is nothing that agitates me more, than those people who when your standing a 18 inches from the carousel and someone feels the need to stand right in front of you without actually grabbing their bag. It is almost as if they feel that their bag is going to disappear if they don’t pick it up on the first pass.
For those who don’t know, no matter where you are in the world- the conveyor belts on which your bags are rotating are in a circle or loop. If you miss your bag on the first pass, you can typically ask someone down the line to grab it for you OR just walk a few more feet and get it at the next opening.
It is not necessary to crowd around the carousel and cut people off who are waiting for their bags as well. The airport and airlines don’t want your clothes or underwear crowding up their limited storage space; you will get your bag one way or another.
So here are a few pointers for etiquette at the carousel:
- Wait your turn
- Be patient
- Stand about 2 feet away from the carousel so those whose bags are produced before yours have room to heave it off the conveyor belt.
- Be aware of those who are standing around or near you, give them right of way if they were there before you.
- Help other people out who are trying to grab their luggage (if you are physically able)
- Cut people off while waiting
- Don’t ignore the person who is standing there waiting for their bag and stand directly in front of them
- Don’t ignore people when they ask you for help grabbing their luggage (we all want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible)
- Stack your luggage (if you have more than 3) right next to the conveyor belt, as this takes up precious real estate for other passengers to claim their luggage
I don’t think I can say this enough….BE PATIENT, WAIT YOUR TURN! Going on a vacation is exciting, but traveling there is not so exciting. Sometimes the airport, train, taxi’s etc…. can bring out the worst in people; so be aware that your emotions and general empathy towards others will be significantly diminished when you walk through those airport doors. When claiming your bags, give space for others to claim their and be aware of your fellow passengers.
Don’t Let Bad Etiquette Ruin Your Vacation
No matter where you are in the world, there will always be that ONE person who does not behave with proper etiquette. Keep in mind that each culture is likely taught different etiquette, and what we feel may be proper or normal may not always be the case. The only thing we can truly do to control other people’s behavior is by controlling our own and setting a good example.
I know it can be frustrating when someone is blatantly rude, discourteous, or down right mean – but engaging in hostile or retaliatory behavior is only going to make your vacation worse. Don’t let their bad behavior, or poor etiquette ruin the vacation you have worked so hard to plan and save up for ruin your trip. Create memories, murmur under your breath if you have to, but let it go and just do your best.