Today I board a flight to LA toting both my carry-on luggage and hopefully, my best behavior. I always brace for the impact of encountering airline passengers; when people are treated like cattle, they can hardly be blamed for reacting like baboons. Here, rules of engagement for the most ruthless form of travel.
Awkward Situation: Despite the airline calling for people to board by seat rows, 150 people are clustered around the gate, jockeying to get to the front. You seem only to have two options: shove your body through the masses like a teenager at a Jonas Brothers concert, or literally be the last person to board (forfeiting your access to overhead bin real estate).
Solution: Follow traditional traffic rules. My brother-in-law, Phil, (who will be traveling with us tonight) works at Swerve, a driving instruction company. He says most people on the road should already know the common-courtesy rule of “Each one lets one.” The same applies here. As you move like so much human sand through the hour glass, let one person go in front of you and then someone else lets you in. We hope.
Awkward Situation: You are finally seated and prepared for takeoff, when the person next to you reveals the undeniable fact that they are a Chatty Cathy. Your eyes glaze over at the prospect of speaking for two hours with a total stranger whom you will never see again in your life.
Solution: Engage in minimal small talk until takeoff, wherein you pull a book from your bag and show it to the Cathy, saying kindly, “Have you heard of this author? She’s supposed to be fantastic. I’ll let you know how it is!” And then promptly open it.
Awkward Situation: It’s your first official day of “Christmas break” and you and your friends are eager for a little yule-tide cheer — in the form of a beer. Or wine. Or cocktail.
Solution: Plane rides are not the time to party-hardy. When you’re stuck in a stationary position and can’t even converse with more than the two people next to you, you’re not in a place to have too good of a time. Just have one drink and pay with cash. Order quietly so you’re not obnoxious. Don’t ask twenty questions to see what brands they carry — check ahead of time by looking in the airline guide in the pocket in front of you. Then raise a glass and cheers to a safe flight.
Awkward Situation: The person next to you asks if you would please switch seats with their spouse so they can sit together — but said spouse is 15 rows behind you and in a middle seat.
Solution: If you can swing it for a short flight, consider it your good deed of the week and say you’d be happy to help. If you are already sitting with your own spouse, kindly explain that you understand their situation but you would like to stay with your traveling companion. Also, even if you aren’t traveling with someone, you’re under no obligation to move seats.
Awkward Situation: You’re practically bursting at the seams after four diet Sprites and two hours of resisting the urge to visit the dreaded airline bath-closet (how could we call that a room with a straight face?). But there are three people already clustered around the stewardess area waiting their turn.
Solution: It depends on your seat. If you’re middle or window, get up as soon as possible to expand the amount of time between disruptions of your seat mates. If you’re aisle, wait until there is only one person or no line at all before hopping up. Also, keep in mind that the people in the unfortunate seating of the last few rows of the airplane shouldn’t have to stare at your backside that hovers directly in their faces as you wait for the bath-closet.
Warm thanks to those of you who sent in great etiquette conundrums. For those of you who have yet to inquire, feel free to ask about your awkward situation at firstname.lastname@example.org.