Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“Headphones, Peanuts, Restraining Order?” - Today’s Air Travel Etiquette Rules

Last Monday's showdown between JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, and a fellow passenger, was just one more reminder that the friendly skies aren't so friendly anymore. No matter how many Richard Branson Virgin Airways beauties you stick on the plane, the travelling experience is a far cry from what it was back in the day.

I remember so looking forward to getting on a plane going anywhere. It was always an adventure. I still get chills when I hear the United Airlines theme song, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," play at the beginning of a flight. It sends me right back to my childhood. Back to the day when planes were not oversold so if you booked a domestic flight in coach, you had a row all to yourself to stretch out and get comfortable. I also remember ample leg room and rows so wide my sister and I were able to play cards on the floor in front of our seats 'till our hearts were content. The coup de grace was the ice cream sundae bar, complete with hot fudge, that they used to serve for dessert. Granted that may have been in first class, but I seem to remember a finer selection of cuisine back then. If it wasn’t a hot fudge sundae in first, then it was certainly a twice baked potato with your steak in coach.

Ah, yes, those memories stuck with me a long time until I grew older and became fearful of flying during college. I think it was because I was travelling back and forth from the States to Italy where I was studying abroad for a year. I remember one flight back to New York in which we must have landed a little short on the runway because everything went slamming forward towards the cockpit. That was basically it for me and then I became insanely nervous to the point that I had to enroll myself in an American Airlines "fear of flying" program. I took the 2-day course in Los Angeles and the graduation ceremony was a flight to Lake Tahoe. They must have chosen that route deliberately because it was one of the most turbulent rides I've ever taken! I have to say I did pretty well, finding myself consoling fellow comrades who were way more fearful than I. I don't even remember the particulars, but I am pretty sure that once the program was finished, I was fairly fine with flying again.

Once I became a mother, my relationship to flying completely changed. Traveling became a welcome escape from the humdrum of everyday life. Forget about a stiff cocktail, I was perfectly at peace on a plane with my stack of magazines in tow. (Although, I must admit, I do have a ritual that I swear keeps the plane in the air and flying safely to its destination.)

So how to enjoy the flying experience when we are bombarded with so many negative elements that make it virtually impossible? Here are a few helpful reminders to restore safety and civility and set us soaring in the friendly skies once more.

. Dress for yourself and your fellow passengers. I don't care if you're flying to the Caribbean or Hawaii, forget the flip flops and short shorts and put on something decent for the plane! Years ago, passengers and flight attendants would "dress" for flying. It was all very civilized. Over time, comfort became the norm and all of the sudden everyone started looking disheveled. Nowadays, it is entirely possible to appear quite chic while still being comfortable. When it comes to shoes, select something closed toe and easy to slip off at the security gate. Don't forget to wear socks. Nothing is worse than stepping barefoot on the airport flooring. Wear deodorant, but go easy on the cologne and perfume. It's a good idea to pack some lip ointment and hand creme to combat dry skin. Ladies, put a little lipstick on for goodness sake! You never know who you're going to meet on a plane.

2. Take a chill pill. If you have a severe aversion to standing or waiting in line, do not fly! Unless you hire a special airport greeter or are flying business or first, you must be patient and grin and bear the cattle calls. Getting agitated only makes matters worse. Bring a magazine or book so you can read passively while waiting to check your bags or go through security. To pass the time, you can always fill out your luggage tag. Keep your identification card handy as well as your boarding ticket. You will be asked to show proof of both repeatedly.

3. Be prepared for small annoyances. There is no way to avoid the safety ritual of walking through security. Everyone must remove their shoes and jackets and risk a pat down by a security officer. To make things easier, wear shoes and outer garments that are easily removed and quickly organize your belongings and place them in the open containers for the x-ray machine. Make sure to separate your laptop in its own container for easy viewing. Remove all jewelry and accessories that may set off the alarm.

4. Avoid confrontation. Make it easier on yourself as well as the flight attendant by not attempting to stuff your entire closet into your carry-on luggage. If you cannot lift your bag and place it in the overhead bin on your own, the flight attendant will be forced to help you and may question its size or weight, especially if they see you struggling to jam it into a small compartment. Avoid going down this road and either pack lighter, check your bag or call a delivery service like FedEx to deliver your bag door to door in advance. It's not worth getting in to an argument on this one, the airlines will always win.

5. Respect personal space. In this tube 30,000 ft. in the air, everything is exaggerated. Some people do not wish to engage and prefer keeping quietly to themselves. Be respectful towards those around you and read their signals. (a) If you are bringing your own food on to the plane, keep it simple. Do not stink up the plane with smelly cheeses or a really pungent dish. (b) If someone is reading a magazine or book, do not engage them in conversation as they may not wish to be disturbed. (c) If you are tired, rest your weary head on your own chair with your blanket and use only one armrest for your arms. (d) Make sure to use the restroom before being seated to avoid musical chairs throughout the flight. (e) Before reclining your seat abruptly, check behind you to give your fellow passenger a heads up. They will appreciate it.

Curb the cell phone conversation. There is nothing that equally worries and annoys fellow passengers and flight attendants alike than someone who chooses to completely ignore the FAA's rule to turn off all cell phones and other electronic equipment while in-flight. The jury is still out as to whether the radio signals from these devices can interfere with flying equipment so for the safety of everyone, cut it out and follow the rules!!!

7. Check yourself, not just your bags. If you are in a bad mood, take a few breaths and calm down. The airport and flying experience is hard enough without the attitude. Present a cheerful face, always be courteous saying "please" and "thank you" and be helpful and accommodating. This will smooth over any extenuating circumstance or accidental wrong-doing.

Let's face it, flying in today's world is a challenge. It gets us at our very core, constantly testing our patience and questioning our abilities. How do you weigh in on the flying scale? Are you nice or nasty? Share with us and let us know...

1 comment:

Natasha said...

Great post. Agreed on all your points, especially dressing up for flying, keeping your calm under duress, and looking behind you before reclining. But I would also love more information on this 'fear of flying' course. Even though I get on a plane about once a week, it still makes me nervous!

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