Who owns the middle-seat armrests on an aeroplane, really? How do you break away from the marathon talker in seat 12E? And what do you do, if anything, about the angelic-looking child kicking the back of your seat?
These might seem like minor hassles unique to an in-flight environment, but for the frequent flyer, the frequency of these problems can make them as challenging as a bad network connection at work. They cause repeated stress, and so are worth tackling head on. Of course, incivility and rudeness are often the product of stress, and there are few situations more primed for stress these days than travel—especially air travel, more so for those constrained to do it often on business.
Once glamorous, air travel is now a test of patience, and sometimes even endurance, especially for those who must face it almost as often as the daily commute. Today’s travellers face the reality of rigorous security procedures on top of flight delays and cancellations, anxiety about flying, cramped seating and reduced or no meal service.
How to cope? Patience, courtesy and flexibility, and a sense of humour will serve you well. While you may have little or no control over long security lines, weather delays, the cabin environment or your choice of seat-mate, you can control how you react to adversity—just as you do in the boardroom.
As with a business meeting, come as prepared as possible to circumvent predictable problems. Here are a few tips, both defensive and offensive, to get you through your flying miles with less stress and more civility.
Airport etiquette: Do your homework on airline luggage policies.
• Arrive early. As your stress level rises, your capacity for tolerance and civility often decreases.
• Stay calm if your agent gives you bad news. Losing your temper won’t get you there faster, and it may lose you the sympathy of the one person who could possibly pull some strings.
• Dress and pack with security in mind to avoid delaying other passengers. There are still clueless passengers who pack large bottles of liquids in their carry-on luggage—a nuisance to everyone behind them. Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, and keep items you may have to remove from your luggage for screening, such as laptops, readily accessible. This keeps the line moving, which keeps tempers in check.
• You can’t choose your in-flight environment beyond a point, so create your own. Bring an eyeshade for napping, and use headphones to listen to music or movies (whether in the terminal or on the plane), or earplugs to block out unwanted conversations. If your seat-mate won’t stop chatting with you, smile and say: “Well, it’s been nice speaking with you. I’m going to read for a bit now.”
• Do your fellow travellers a favour and step away from others in the terminal to take cellphone calls, and keep calls brief while in security lines or taxiing to the gate after landing.
• The middle-seat armrests are shared property. That said, it’s generous for the aisle and window seat holders to give the middle passenger a chance to claim them first.
• Remember, if travelling is trying for adults, it is even more so for children. Crying babies are part of the package, so it’s a good idea to stash some earplugs in your carry-on. However, if a child is kicking the back of your seat, ask their parent to have them stop. Smile and say: “I know it’s tough for kids, but would you mind asking him not to kick the seat? Thanks.” Keep it short and offer some understanding, and it’s likely the parent—and child—will comply.
• Reading over someone’s shoulder is nosy and intrusive, but come prepared for those who seem not to know this. Privacy filters for computers and smartphones will bar wandering eyes. If 6A is taking an unhealthy interest in your screen, meet his gaze briefly. This will jolt his awareness—the best medicine for rude behaviour.
With airlines cutting back on complimentary in-flight meals and snacks, the smart traveller packs his own. Avoid foods with strong odours that may bother your neighbours, such as fish, eggs or a garlicky dish—enjoy these in the terminal instead.
Anna Post is the spokeswoman for the Emily Post Institute, a US-based organization that addresses societal concerns, including business etiquette.
Write to us at email@example.com