What Friendly Skies?

After my recent trip to Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas (more on that to come in a future post, complete with pics), I’ve come to realize that people are just getting exponentially ruder. Even in our own country, we are ugly Americans, out-graced by those brave enough to visit our ill-mannered shores.

This truth is never more evident than when you fly, one of my least favorite activities (I’ll take a train over a plane any day). Not only do airplanes epitomize discomfort, but they also seem to attract those who believe that buying a one-time ticket somehow entitles them to behave as if they were sitting at home in their Barcalounger watching Monday night football.

People should need a license to fly — not to fly the plane, just to ride. You get a license at birth, but commit too many fouls, and phht! License revoked! (This should also be true of attending concerts or even going to movies. Too many people can’t even handle the etiquette required for these simple pastimes.)

I’m sure I’ve overlooked one or two biggies, but these are the ten most important etiquette rules (based on my most recent trip) to follow when traveling by plane — both for your own comfort and the comfort of those you’re flying with. Remember: You bought a ticket not a pink-slip to the plane.

10. Don’t Offend the Olfactory. You’re in close quarters on a plane. You can look disheveled and it’s not going to bother the passenger next to you. But if the waves of stench coming out of your pits are visible, you’ve got an issue. If you plan to fall asleep, pop a mint first. (This last flight, my considerate neighbor chose to down two Heinekens before passing out and exhaling beer breath on me for the next three hours.) Bringing your meal with you? Leave the tuna or peanut butter for another time. This goes for nice aromas, too: Don’t overdo it on the perfume/cologne. The sweet, clean scent of Dial will do just nicely.

9. Mind the Personal Space. Coach is small enough without you jutting an extra elbow or leg into your neighbor’s precious 31″ of allotted space. Before you turn on your side to lean against the window, make sure your ass isn’t jutting under the armrest of the poor guy in the crappy center seat. When you take off your coat, make sure you don’t elbow the woman next to you in the chest (happened to me). When you’re getting out of the seat, don’t lean on the seatback, which can either rock the tray of the person behind you or pull the hair of the person in front of you (both have also happened to me).

8. My Space? Quick question: Who owns the space directly in front of your face and just behind the seatback ahead? Yes, that would be you. So, what that means is that the space behind you isn’t yours. Be polite and check behind you before reclining the seat, just in case your rear neighbor has really long legs or, worse, a cast. (Yup, had someone slam a seat into my knee while I was in a full-on leg brace after knee surgery.) Ask yourself if you really need that extra three degrees of reclining to feel comfortable or, if like with the free peanuts of yesteryear, you’re just taking advantage of what little the airline has given you. Then, if you still feel the need to recline, do so slowly so the person behind you has time to get away, if need be. (Note: On redeyes, it’s pretty much a given you’re going to recline. Just do so slowly.)

7. Don’t Be a Cork. Keep the line moving. Have your boarding pass and ID available at all necessary stops: check-in, all security points, at the gate. As soon as you get to your seat, get out of the aisle as quickly as possible; you don’t need to stand in the aisle to put your purse in the overhead. Stow your luggage in the closest available overhead in relation to your seat — not as far forward as is convenient for you (that will only make debarkation slower for everyone). Make sure you don’t exceed the number of carry-ons and that those you do take qualify as carry-ons (hint: skis are not carry-ons). Don’t wear 18-hole Doc Martens and more jewelry than Mr. T through security. And no matter where you are, stay out of the way of traffic: Don’t stand in doorways, or at the bottom of escalators. If you’re going slowly on the moving walkway, stay to the right — and remember that advice next time you’re on the freeway, too.

6. Toilet Taboo. The restrooms in the airport are much cleaner than those on the plane. Use them before you board. If you have a hamster bladder, ask for an aisle seat ahead of time. If you know you’re going to be getting up several times and you don’t have an aisle seat, try to switch; explain your situation to your neighbor and they just might let you have the aisle so that they don’t have to be inconvenienced. If you can’t get an aisle and it’s a redeye, wear Depends.

5. Turn Down, Tune Out. I love music as much as the rest of you, but I can almost guarantee I don’t love your music. I don’t want to hear it, or the crappy in-flight movie soundtrack. Turn down the volume on your headphones. Especially if it’s a redeye. And you listen to metal. Or Celine Dion.

4. Turn Off Your Portable Electronic Device. The flight crew doesn’t ask this because they’re jealous of your U2 limited-edition iPod or your Razr. It’s because these devices can actually interfere with the control panels. Know how your cell makes your car radio or computer monitor go all fuzzy-wonky? Same effect at work here. And when they say you can turn it on, pop your ears before talking. We don’t all need to hear you yell, “Grandma, I just landed in Los Angeles!” We all know. We just did, too.

3. Buy Leashes for Your Kids. A flight is not the time to put parenting on hiatus. I shouldn’t have to ask your kid five times to stop kicking my seat while you pretend he’s not yours and stare up at the crappy in-flight flick. You were able to afford the kid and the airfare, now invest in a Game Boy to keep the rest of us happy. Crying babies — whatcha gonna do? But there’s no reason your 11-year-old can’t sit down and shut up.

2. Leave. Me. Alone. If I’m reading a book, don’t try to start up a full-on conversation. If I have headphones on, there’s a reason. If I’m sleeping, I may talk in my sleep, but I also have been known to flail and hit. If I’m watching the movie, I just might be bored enough to want to chat, but if I slap my headphones back on after I tersely answer where I’m from, I’d rather watch Outbreak 6 than chat with you. (This isn’t to say I don’t like meeting people. I’m just usually way too tired on a plane to converse civilly with a total stranger.)

1. Give Up the ‘Rest. This isn’t a given, but I’d like to see this enacted. Four armrests + three seats = someone gets two armrests. Who should that be? In the interest of fairness, I say the center seat gets it. There’s a reason why no one asks for the center seat: It sucks. So let’s make it a tad more comfortable by giving the poor guy in the center the two armrests. If you don’t like it, give up your cush aisle or window seat.

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