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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