A Few Notes on Flight Etiquette

I tend to fly alone regularly — most often between Chicago and New York City. And it really never fails to be… interesting. Between overwhelmed and unhappy-to-be-there flight attendants to rude and angry passengers, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have an exchange or experience with someone that can leave you with your feathers ruffled.

Here are three air travel related situations I’ve recently found myself in, and the ways I’ve dealt with them – shared in the hopes that somehow, my frustrating in-flight experiences can help you know what to do if you encounter an especially awful fellow passenger or crew member.

My first rule of thumb – get to the airport early and go into your flight situation as informed as possible. There is NO reason to roll up to a Southwest flight and then be MAD at their existing seating policy. They’ve BEEN doing it that way for a while. If you’d taken the time to read up and be prepared for your flight, you could have checked in 24 hours ahead of time and you wouldn’t be in the last boarding group. Taking out those kinds of frustrations on the crew or your fellow passengers is just not smart on your part.

Second rule of thumb? Serenity now, and a pedicure – or maybe a fabulous cocktail – to get over the frustration later. Because there really is no situation that warrants getting kicked off an airplane for.

Airplane issue #1 – the seats are teeny tiny, and the passenger in front of you absolutely insists on reclining his seat back as far as possible.

This just happened to me on my most recent flight, and here I was thinking I had all the answers. The gentleman…scratch that. The man in front of me looked kinda like Glenn Beck with a dash of Michael Douglas in Falling Down thrown in for good measure. In an illfitting sport coat. As we reached cruising altitude, this man started to use his chair as a La-Z-Boy, cranking that recliner so far back that if we’d been served food I would have no way to eat. Since I was working on my trusty netbook and I didn’t want to see my screen crushed by a stranger — I’ve heard quite a few of those horror stories! — I politely tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he could please be more cautious in reclining, and in fact would it be OK if he not recline any further. It took him all of 5 seconds to cast his eyes back at me and say “no, that’s NOT OK. I’m gonna recline.” And then he proceeded to lean all his weight back in the seat as if to say “so there” with his full body weight. UGH.

I will admit, in this situation I felt my face get hot and I felt my pressure start to rise. When you ask someone NICELY to be CIVIL, you expect an appropriate response. When you’re polite and someone is then rude to you…well that’s when you have to summon your last ounce of patience. This too shall pass, and here’s hoping their suitcase is the only one that gets lost. How did I deal with Glenn Beck/Michael Douglas? Angrily glaring at the back of his stupid neck and slamming my tray table shut only got me so far. Instead I pulled my netbook closer to me for protection, and channeled the energy into writing a blog post about how much people like him make the world a worse place to be…which hey, you’re reading right now!

I personally think reclining one’s seat should only be done with caution and concern for your fellow passengers. We’re all cramped. We’re all uncomfortable. What do you gain by making someone else even moreso? But just because someone else wants to be a jerk, doesn’t mean YOU also in turn have to be a jerk. When dealing with folks who are rude just because they can be, I find it best to let them be rude all by themselves. It’s also a great time to be nice to your fellow passengers or flight crew, because then the jerk in question looks (and hopefully feels) like an even bigger jerk. And – worst case scenario – you can then ask your friendly flight attendant for assistance in this matter.

Airplane issue #2 – the kids behind you sure are cute. But the feeling of their little legs on the back of the seat…not so much. And WHY are their parents not noticing this?

My heart always goes out to parents traveling with kids. Whether it’s just one little one or a whole posse of em, it never ever seems to be easy or fun. If you’ve got a baby, everyone’s side-eyeing you and hoping they won’t wind up sitting next to you. If you’ve got a toddler or small child, then you already know they have a mind of their own and the best you can do is cajole them into behaving well for the duration of the flight. And you can always spot a parent at the airport from a mile away. They’re the ones looking the most exhausted, ragged, and overwhelmed as they make their way to the gate.

Parents, you have my deepest sympathies. But please, I beg you…don’t let your kids kick other people’s seats. That isn’t cool. And if someone says to you, “hey, I think your kids are kicking my seat,” try not to get angry at your fellow passenger, or try to play it off like it isn’t happening. That’s a great time to say to your little one “please behave, you’re disturbing other people,” and to teach them what not to do during air travel. Hey, you can even make the stranger in the seat ahead the bad guy in this situation. The point is, don’t be offended by the request. Just deal with it as best as you can.

And if you – like I recently did – wind up sitting in front of some truly hands-off and unobservant grandparents who just couldn’t control their rambunctious grandkids…that’s a great time to stroll to the bathroom and while headed back there, do a scan for any potential empty seats to switch to. Then quietly explain the situation to your flight attendant and do what you gotta do.

Airplane issue #3 – the mean flight attendant.

Let’s be honest here – air travel ain’t what it used to be. And that’s a very carefully phrased understatement. Back in the day there was a certain glamour to flying and to working in the airline industry. All of that has gone now – for the passengers and most definitely for the employees. Nowadays, air travel can make you feel like you’re on a Greyhound bus in the sky. And instead of a constantly smiling flight crew, you can sense the frustration of the people who work there.

Air travel now requires a little more give and take – be kind and smile at your flight attendant and they hopefully will be nice to you in return. If you’re a whiny and complaining passenger, or if you don’t listen to instructions, don’t be surprised if your attendant responds with annoyance, or speaks to you in a sharp tone. Give them a measure of attention while doing the in-flight demonstration. Turn off your electrical devices when you’re told to – even if you think those rules are stupid and unnecessary. And if you need to go to the bathroom while the drink cart is in the aisle….well you’re just going to have to be patient, because there ain’t no getting around it.

What do you do if your flight attendant is just mean and cranky for no reason? That’s when I turn on the charm. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of their job, it can seem like attendants forget that passengers are people just like them. Female flight attendants generally respond really well to compliments on their makeup – I’ve gotten free drinks before for just commenting on my flight attendant’s awesome eyeshadow. I’ve gotten free magazines from flight attendants, just for being nice to them during stressful times. True story. So take a moment to make meaningful eye contact and smile. Or make a little joke if the time is right. You just might make that flight attendant’s day a little brighter or easier. Remember – when the flight’s over, you get to deplane and go out into the city you landed in. They’re stuck there, still at work.

And on that note….bellas, I’m in NYC and I’ve got a plane back to Chicago to catch!

Have you had any similar in-flight experiences? What advice can you offer on flight etiquette? I would LOVE to hear from you, especially if you’re a working flight attendant. How do you DEAL?

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Comments

  1. I fly almost weekly some months and I can echo each of your statements above from previous firsthand experience. I have learned that by flying DELTA, almost exclusively, I earned “status” quickly and now enjoy First Class on most trips. Although, every now and then I am seated in Coach and am reminded of the lack of space to truly relax when others around you are “not in sync” with airplane etiquette. The seat recline is one of the most annoying – especially while eating or working. Some will comply, others will roll their eyes in annoyance that you have the nerve to ask them to be a little less comfortable in support of your comfort level. The kid thing… I must say that is the END ALL when I’m flying. People… really? Control your kids feet. I have been known to turn around and say something to the parent (and yes, the kid too). Once, I even grabbed the ankle of the kid to make my point (although I’ll never do that again because I wouldn’t want someone touching my kid). Guess, it’s just another day on the plane…

  2. I also feel for parents who are flying with their kids, which is why I was pleased when a woman recently took the time to talk to her son about kicking my seat in the back, repeatedly. Unfortunately, when she fell asleep and he did not, the kicking started again – which was annoying but her effort significantly lowered my angst.

  3. I fly frequently between Chicago and Minneapolis which is just over an hour gate to gate, so there is not much time at cruising altitude. Well one day on a very full plane when I was already squashed in my seat this large…well we will go gentleman. Decided to recline his seat, I leaned forward and asked him if he could sit up. I got the dirty look and the No. So I must admit I resorted to #2 and I spent the flight bumping the back of his seat with my knee :)

  4. I wish I knew why people who fly are so entitled. I feel like every time I fly I see the worst in people.

  5. I only have minimal patience with unobservant parents. I flew DC to LA with a 4 year old and a two year old(my nephews). They never kicked a seat so far as I remember, they didn’t yell and they didn’t cry. Luckily my big heads were sweet enough to fall asleep and when they were awake they watched Animaniacs on Youtube :).

  6. I so agree with you on these. Although I’ve never been in the “Recliner Decliner” (LOL!), I have been the victim on the “Kiddy Kickers”. The parents did not once acknowledge it, and I did not yet have the confidence to turn around and mention it to the parents, due only to the fact that you mentioned that some do get easily offended. I just took it in stride and tried to catch some ZZzz’s…

  7. As a former flight attendant, I can attest to the fact that a little flattery goes a long way. I don’t want to make it seem like you must compliment your flight attendant in order for them to be nice and pleasant to you…that is wrong. BUT, when you have had to tell the same grown person to turn off there electronic device 5 times and you have “that guy” on every flight or you have to politely tell the women with 3 less than delightful children that you are, in fact, NOT their children’s babysitter only to wind up disciplining them because their parents won’t…well a little flattery helps. You have no idea how much a smile from a stranger can turn your day around…it is appreciated. A little kindness goes a long way. Love your blog Bella!

  8. Brilliance at its best! Now, how can we get this word out.

    My mother worked for an airline and because of that, I make it a point to be courteous. Why people can’t understand that some issues are out of the airline’s control is beyond me. A good example: weather. Airline personnel aren’t happy about snowstorms or rainstorms either.

    What I find most disturbing is how “please” and “thank you” no longer seem to be a part of everyday vocabulary.

    I don’t fly very often but I have one coming soon. This bad behavior is what I dread traveling now.

    • OOOOOOO The “please/thank you”!!! My coworker never says that when we go out to eat. It’s so irritating. You saw him fill your cup up. Say “thanks”.

      • I am amazed daily by people in restaurants and public spaces who refuse to say “please and thank you.” Rarely I will even I say it for them in their presence. I know this is obnoxious but I sometimes can’t help myself. Entitlment attitudes drive me crazy!

  9. Good post as always – just one point i wish to make – seat number assignments are important to stick to.

    In case (heaven forbid) of a crash the airport personnel review by seat assignments so if you move to another seat while in the air and reamin at new seat fro duration of the flight it can be a problem in such an event.

  10. How I deal with Recliner Decliner:

    I am almost 6 feet tall, short-waisted and long-legged, with surgically repaired knees. When the person in front of me reclines, it is physically painful and I literally haven’t enough leg room to stay seated.

    So, (if the seat belt sign is off) I stand. And lean over the reclining seat in front of me. With my elbows on his/her headrest. Sometimes I continue to hold my magazine, which might be in his/her line of sight. When s/he looks at me all crazy, I smile my most dazzling smile and explain my predicament, and how I’m sure they won’t mind my leaning over them while they enjoy their recline. I have been called a crazy witch, but I do get to sit for my flight.

    If the seat belt is on,I yell OW! MY KNEE! really loud until other people glare the offender; then, while everyone is looking I ask him (usually a him) to pull his seat up. Then, I thank him profusely.

    Cuz mama taught me well how to kill ‘em with kindness.

  11. I used to fly frequently for my job and I’ve seen both the worst and best in people. My #1 item for Airplane Etiquette has to be if the flight is delayed due to mechanical or weather related issues. My last flight where this happened was going from Seattle to Atlanta and due to weather in Atlanta, the flights were delayed. I witness one man, literally curse out the gate attendant, demand to speak with her manager and then, ohhhh get this, tell the gate attendant that he will never fly this airline again and won’t Delta be upset when he takes his 100,000 miles per year somewhere else.

    My outlook on mechanical or weather delays is simple: point me to the nearest airport bar or restaurant and I’ll gladly and patiently wait it out. I will get to my destination when I get there.

  12. As a parent let me tell you short haul flights are not that bad. children get so restless as they have al that energy being stored up that they just have to vent. Now try flying long haul with kids. With my eldest a business man told me how lucky I was as my son was so content even a granny offered him snacks. I always find the passengers who try to help alleviate the situation get the best responses from children and their parents. A parent will always be on the offensive when it comes to their children. its a given.

    Now my youngest he can get wild on a plan – he will gladly go up to passengers say hi and run along until he tires out. but when you are travelling 8+ hours in the air not to mention the time to travel to the airport and go through the check in process it is indeed hard work. I always pray my kids do not run across security check.

    one more thing. Babies crying. I learned that should I ever travel with nursing babies that are no longer on breastmilk to bring a flask and get the flight attendant to fill it up. saves the plane of a screaming baby that is simply hungry cos the flight attendant do not always tend to the passengers. they have countlesss other things to do.

    oh an kicking seats. often you will find that a child has already been told not to kick a seat. but a child is a free spirit and will try to get away with it. however if you were to tell the child please stop, some kids will be mortified and indeed stop.

    great post tho

  13. I almost forgot – MEN are by biggest bug bear when it comes to planes. They insist on stretching their legs outwards. There is just no need. Unless you are my husband try keep them legs within your seat space.

  14. What about the woman with waist length hair who flip her hair over the back of the chair and onto you? This has happened to me at least 3 times. I once told a woman that I’m flying back first class because I’m selling her hair. Problem solved.

  15. THAAAAANK you for this post. I am a tall gal, 5 ft 9 and the RECLINER ISSUE has been a thorn in my side. I do NOT understand why people think it is okay to lean in my lap. You are not on a transatlantic flight nor are you in first class. I have made a few plan enemies concerning this very issue.

    The kid issue DRIVES ME CRAZY… Granted you love your babies dearly but DON’T expect the next person too. I am not a fan of children ESPECIALLY unruly ones ( I don’t blame them, this is the sole responsibility of the parent). Parents need to check their little crumbsnatchers it’s called discipline. I have had the pleasure of sitting next to some very well mannered children and I will offer them gum or candy in a second. Those other bastards just get the evil eye…

  16. Great and very helpful article as usual! Very smart and practical tips here.

  17. goldenstar says:

    I have a friend who flies only when there is no other way.His usual transpo mode is Amtrak. So, he boards a train w/ a sleeper in PA in the evening and is in Chicago @ 9am ready to roll. It’s about the same for the return trip.

    When he’s asked why he travels by train, his response is “I don’t have to be next to angry people.” Can’t argue with that!

  18. Jellytea says:

    I don’t think the recliners are totally to blame. It used to be that if the person reclined, the person in the rear was only slightly affected. Space limitations and capacity issues have taken the luxury out of flying. The supposed benefit of sleeping on the plane is muddied by one jacking up someone else’s comfort. I stick to large planes and fly business when I can.

  19. Usually, I’m smokin hot before I ever reach the gate.Once I was at the self-serve checkin and a woman and her boyfriend at the next machine were having trouble using it. They were yelling at the ticket agent and when I bent down to pick up my bag that fell the woman stepped in front of me and cleared my screen and started using it. I was so shocked I couldn’t believe it. I said to her, “Did you not see me using this?” She replied nasty, “Oh really.” I explained to her that just because she wasn’t smart enough to use the machine it was no excuse for me to get arrested for mauling her in the airport. Then there was the one who flat out walked in front of me in the screening line and then held up the line because of all her hair pins and jewelry. But my favorite is the woman who was sitting in my seat on the plane and when I politely said to her she had the wrong seat she snapped back, “Can’t you go sit somewhere else?!” Before I go through the airport doors I remind myself 1) I’m a “practicing” Christian and 2) Catching a federal charge would be bad for my business. Breath, relax, cocktail.

    • Okay, so I see I ain’t the only one that goes to the airports ready to whip out the windmill…. WHYYYYYYY????? I remember when I could show up for my flight 20 minutes before it was time to leave. I had no issue with the above folks and I had a darn full lunch/dinner in flight. Now I get rude TSA agents, obnoxious passengers, bratty kids, and tired flight attendants. Is riding a horse an option?

  20. I used to travel a lot and here are the 3 things that ate me up EVERY time!

    Bathrooms: 2 things here…the bathrooms are small as is…please clean up behind yourselves people. I hardly use them as is. But its nice when its clean. (travel tip:carry baby wipes) and the other thing if you must blow up the bathroom, there is a little something called courtesy flushing. Stop knocking out the flight attendants and people in the back rows with your foolishness.

    Just because I smile and say hello doesn’t mean I am trying to have a conversation with you the entire flight. No. I’m southern. I’m being polite. When you see the ear buds in do not tap me to ask me a question especially when the headphones are IN the ear!

    The other thing is when deplaning…I wish people would just please sit in your seat. Why must it be a cattle call when the captain turns off the fasten seat belt sign. We still have to wait. I can understand you needing to stretch…I’m 6’0. I understand, but to everyone else who feels the need to stand I the aisle when you are in 22f and the cabin door hasn’t been opened yet with bags in hand, have a seat.

  21. faisal al zahrani says:

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    if any gintelman help me

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