by Emyr Thomas
Flying was once a glamorous and stylish affair: passengers wore their best outfits, families would come to the airport to wave them goodbye, and pilots and air hostesses were revered for having the best jobs in the world. To be able to fly also meant that you had arrived; you were one of the chosen few who could afford the privilege.
Today, flying is considered a fundamental right to be enjoyed by the masses, and, somewhere along the turbulent line, what was demure and gracious has become raging and ragged.
The fundamental rule for air travel, much like life in general, is that politeness and consideration will go a long way in ensuring a smooth, relaxed journey.
At the Airport
From the long line at check-in to the long wait at security, the experience can be rather fraught, but getting annoyed and raising an angry voice will only make the situation worse. In most cases, airport staff are friendly and helpful: security staff are there for that very function, our security, and it’s not the check-in desk’s fault that an airplane has been delayed or cancelled, however upsetting or disruptive it is to our plans.
Going through security can be extremely tiresome, but the process could be far less traumatic if we prepare ourselves whilst in the queue – remove all keys, coins, watches, belts and laptops in advance, ready to place in to the tray, and please abide by the rules for liquids and sharp objects as they’re there for our safety.
On arrival at the gate, please stay seated until your boarding group has been called, especially if you have an allocated seat. You won’t be allowed on the plane any quicker and you’ll merely be making the whole process more tedious and time consuming for all. If you’re fortunate enough to turn left into first class when embarking, please refrain from any smug glances at those in cattle class and the ‘do you know who I am?’ line is also best avoided!
Once onboard, the scrimmage begins to find enough space for carry-on luggage. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have the right to the space above our allocated seat, therefore if it is full, the flight attendant will have to find a space elsewhere in the plane. This is, of course, a slight annoyance, but as long as you remove anything essential, you shouldn’t need to have access to your luggage during the flight.
A common issue before take-off is with other passengers asking to switch seats. If you are traveling alone and don’t mind moving, then it’s a very kind gesture, but do not feel that you must acquiesce through guilt or embarrassment, unless, of course, a child is involved, as you are entitled to the seat that you have pre selected or have been allocated. Window and aisle seats are highly coveted prizes on a flight, but please choose your seat wisely – if you are someone who tends to get up from your seat frequently, try not to select a window seat as, not only will it cause disruption for those seated next to you, but it’s also a pain for you.
Take a Seat
You should, by now, be comfortable in your seat and about to press the recline button. It’s advisable to keep your chair upright unless you really have to lower it, as space is already limited. However, it’s safe to assume that most people will want to recline, especially on long haul journeys, but remember to inform the person behind you that you’re about to recline – there are few things worse than an extortionately expensive gin and tonic ending up on your lap.
It should also be noted that there’s no law or magic formula for your armrest – your neighbour is just as entitled to it as you are, so my only advice is to be respectful and share it equally – keep your elbows tucked in and any bags or magazine on your side of the seat. In a recent TripAdvisor survey of 3,200 US travelers, 25% reported that leg room was their biggest issue with air travel, with 30% wanting more leg room and 38% wanting bigger seats.
If you need to get up from your seat, try to find the most appropriate and least disruptive time to do it, which is usually not when the cabin crew are serving food. When leaving your seat, try not to hold on to the headrest of the passenger in front of you, as they may be one of the lucky ones who manage to sleep for the whole journey.
Emyr Thomas is the founder of Bon Vivant, a concierge and lifestyle management company in London.
Emyr’s airplane etiquette series continues next week with eating on board, small talk and funny business…