You’re boarding a massive, 747 at three in the AM, trying to jostle your way down an aisle crammed with people trying to stow their luggage in the overhead bins. Suddenly, unexpectedly, some kind soul, rather than stand in your way blocking your seat two rows past theirs, steps out of the way and lets you pass. Frankly, if you’re looking for manners or acts of mercy on an airplane you’re looking in the wrong place. Here it’s every man, woman and child for themselves in a full out battle royale for seat domination, luggage stowing, and drink cart hording.
Once while travelling from Cleveland to Los Angeles I saw an elderly woman bulldoze a pack of teenage girls in a mad rush for the bathroom. With all honesty, I can say that wasn’t the strangest thing I’ve ever seen on a plane either. So let’s make that our number one “Airplane Etiquette” rule. Relinquish the bathroom to the person standing outside waiting. I can’t begin to count the amount of times I’ve seen people turn their backs for one single second only to have someone else rush past into a just-vacated bathroom. If you have any kindness in your heart, always let others go first, especially elderly ladies… otherwise you run the risk of being flattened like a pancake in the middle of the aisle.
Letting people out of their seats as the plane is being exited is another near-mythological act of kindness. It is now to the point where, once your plane has touched down, if you are sitting anywhere toward the rear of a smaller class plane, you might as well pitch a tent, and start trying to find food because you’re in for the long haul. I’ve seen people enter planes clean cut and shaven and exit looking like Robinson Crusoe because they got stuck in a seat toward the back of the plane. So please, if you’re standing in that aisle and you see people looking sad, panic stricken or even just terribly bored standing, hunched over holding their luggage and trying not to bonk their heads on the overhead luggage racks, please let them out. They need to get home or to their hotels just as badly as you do.
Assigned seating is another bad joke airlines like to play on their customers. You see, often people don’t care where they’re supposed to be sitting but instead, decide on where they want to be sitting. Thus, even though you were assigned that window seat you find yourself poking some oblivious fool on the shoulder and quietly, politely muttering “umm, you’re in my seat”. This is usually met by a moment of blank staring followed by a head turning back toward your window to watch the plane taxi down the runway as you angrily seat yourself in the aisle where you will be bumped into by every bumpkin, flight attendant, and drink cart that comes past. Go, to your assigned seats people! This is an important one. If, however, someone takes your seat, do not hesitate to find a flight attendant and let her in on your predicament. Usually they will accompany to where you are supposed to be sitting and tell the slob sitting in your seat to take a hike.
Try not to kick, push, or viciously slam into the back of the seat in front of you. Often, during a long flight I’ll find myself dozing off only to be rudely awakened by the crushing force of what feels like a linebacker using my chair as a blocking shield. As a simple act of kindness, nothing surpasses simply keeping your feet, knees, and arms off the back of the seat in front of you. To me, nothing is more annoying than someone careening into your chair like a frantic bull every time you are on the verge of falling asleep. I realize it gets a little confined on those long flights and you feel the need to stretch but please, for the good of mankind, stay away from the back of the seat in front of you.
Finally, and most importantly, don’t spill your food, drink or both onto the person(s) sitting next to you and then stare mindlessly at them as they explode in anger. It’s a long flight, people get irritable, and spilling your tray of ridiculously over priced food and drink onto your neighbors lap is only going to cause trouble. If it feels like the plane is flying through the eye of a hurricane, don’t leave your drink sitting on the edge of the tray and expect it not to spill on the person next to you. Hold it; grip it with all you have left in you. Twice, I have had drinks spilled in my lap due to clumsiness, stupidity or maybe just brainlessness and believe me when I say, nothing irks me more than spending three hours on a cramped plane wearing a pair of pants soaked with diet pop or beer. Hold that drink ladies and gentlemen!
There are a multitude of things that can make a plane trip uncomfortable, awkward or annoying. I’ve listed what I consider five of the worst. I stayed away from your typical “help people remove luggage”, and “stop your whiney child from screaming” rules because, by now, people should naturally be doing those things. It should be part of our routine when on a plane. If you see someone needing help with luggage, help them. If you see someone waiting in line for the restroom, let them have it. Treat people the way you want to be treated and eventually, some kind soul will treat you the same way. Or maybe you’ll get bulldozed by an elderly lady making a mad dash for the bathroom. It could go either way.