Travel Articles




Plain Etiquette -- Lessons from a Wise Sky

Plane etiquette should actually be called plain etiquette. The way we treat people on planes is the way we treat people. Period. Plain and simple.

Recently I've seen several posts and videos about passengers behaving badly on planes: people clipping their toenails, people sleeping with their bare feet stuck into the air above the person in front of them, people poking their feet through the gap in the seats. Come to think of it, most of the posts and videos focus on feet.

Not Everyone Loves Your Feet

Do you take your shoes off in the plane? On long-haul flights I do. It's the first thing I do actually after I sit down. I'm also a teensie-weensie bit fanatical about keeping my shoes smelling fresh. Some people consider taking your shoes off on a plane bad manners, but you take your shoes off when you visit someone's home in Europe or Asia--or at least you ask if you should or shouldn't. And just like when you visit someone's home, you might want to bring along some sturdy "plane socks" for the ride especially if your feet are ugly. Taking your shoes off on a plane is only gross if you're gross. Some honest reflection is required here.

From the website "Rage Against the Minivan" Lean Back and Relax

The drama of when and how to lean back in your seat is a matter of much discussion--not enough, though, since most people don't quite get it. I've had countless encounters. Here's the plain plane etiquette:

The seat is designed to lean back, therefore you have the right to lean back (I'm sure Descarte would have agreed). If the person behind you is angry about this, she or he needs to write a letter to some agency or something. But just because you have this right, it doesn't mean you can use it whenever you want. There are a few unwritten rules:

1. Lean back only once the plane has reached cruising altitude.
2. Lean back slowly. The person behind you might have his/her head against the seat. This person is probably suffering from depression, so for God's sake have mercy.
3. Return your seat to the upright position during meals. Flight attendants used to insist on this, but they've given up on reminding people. They have enough to do.
4. Check to make sure the person behind you doesn't have his smelly feet in the gap between your seat and the one next to you. You might injure him as you lean back. Just because someone else is a pig, doesn't mean you have to be one too.

On many planes, the video/music screens are touch activated, like an iPad. If you're not used to using an iPad, you might think you need to punch the Hell out of that screen to get it to work. You don't. Or you shouldn't. The screens don't work very well to tell the truth. Sometimes you have to touch the screen in just the right way to get it to work (think rocky relationship); most require a simple yet subtly firm touch--not a jab. Thing is, every time you jab that screen, you're jabbing the guy in front of you. I've seen these altercations dozens of times. "Do you mind????!!!!" says the guy you've been poking for 30 minutes as you browse-jab through the R&B selections. You can't find Beyoncé to save your life. The guy you've pissed off is usually 20 feet taller than you and stinky. "I can't find Beyoncé," you whimper. "That's not my problem!" A piece of chicken, beef or tortellini flies out of his mouth and sticks to your face. "I'll just read," you say. "Reading's for sissies," he says. And you wonder why he doesn't put his seat in the upright position during meals.

There's a Time to Talk and a Time to Shut Your Cakehole

Have you been in this situation? The one where the human next to you introduces himself when he sits down and then never--never once, not even for two seconds--stops talking to you?

Time on airplanes is cherished writing time for me. Transatlantic flights are 8 hours when I'm strapped to a seat with pen and paper in my hand--something I'd introduce at home if I had (more) straps.

How to know whether the person sitting next to you is an introverted writer who needs his writing time:

1. He doesn't smile or introduce himself when you do it. He might even wince or try to shield himself from your onslaught of blah blah blah.
2. He keeps touching his journal in a tender, longing way.
3. His contribution to your conversation ambush in the last two hours has been a couple of "Um"s and one "I'll be right back. Nature's calling." He leaves with pen and paper and doesn't come back for an hour (only because a flight attendant made him leave the lavatory).
4. When you ask what his star sign is, he says he doesn't have one. Freaky, yes, but true he says.
5. You have asked him 4587 questions to his 0.
6. He does not react with sympathy when you tell him the story of when you lost your first, second and third dogs--though you are weeping uncontrollably and he is--at heart--at dog person.

There are several types of chatterboxes. There's the guy who needs to brag (about where he's off to and what he does and all the places he's ever been to), the woman who needs to figure you out and help you (because you're just a stupid man with a wilted capacity for understanding human emotion), the person who's into you and thinks rattling on for six hours non-stop is attractive, and the person who is insane and needs to tell you all about it. None of these people is the friendly guy who just enjoys a friendly conversation. Friendly people don't monopolize your time for hours and hours. To avoid this situation, all you have to do is one or a combination of the following:

1. Put in your earbuds and pretend to listen to music even if you can't find Beyoncé. Really, she should be easier to find on planes.
2. Pretend to be asleep until chatterbox falls asleep. Sleeping people snore a little. Practice this.
3. Fart.
4. Be rude. Come clean. Tell the person you need to write . . . a letter. Whatever you do, don't tell the person you're a writer. This will start an entirely new conversation, not about your writing--oh no, he doesn't give a flying rat's behind about you--but about the chatterbox's ideas for his own book about his own life. He's always wanted to be a writer. His life is so fascinating and tragic--the dogs dying and all--and inspiring and so emotional.
5. If you haven't spoken yet or indicated that you can hear, pretend to be deaf. Can you sign? Learn a few elementary words. If you have no time for this, pretend to be Albanian. No one speaks Albanian. Hell, I'm not even sure it's a language.


Bags, Bags and More Bags

How many carry-on bags do you try to smuggle onto a plane where only one is allowed? Are you the person who basically looks like a pack mule coming down the aisle? Purses, pillows, teddy bears, six bottles of gin from duty-free, a tricyle. Where do you think you're going to put all this shit? And why do you look so surprised and helpless when you can't find a place to put it all? Especially if you're the last person to board the plane?

It might come as a surprise to you, but the engineer who designed the airplane actually had in mind what kind of luggage would fit up there in that bin. There was actually a method to all this overhead bin madness.

Are you the person who brings the largest case allowed onto the plane and then puts it in the overhead bin sideways? It will fit--it's designed to fit--with the bottom of the case in the back and the handle in front of the bin. Three large cases will fit this way. If you put yours in sideways, only one will fit in there until the flight attendant comes and rearranges everything for the other passengers while you're texting on your iPhone, totally oblivious to the work you've caused.

If you're seated in the emergency exit row, put your bags in the overhead bin for take-off and landing. You have to, so why not do it before the flight attendant has to ask you three times? The emergency exit rows have to be completely clear--nothing at all under the seat in front of you--for take-off and landing. I can't tell you how many times I've watched this happen. I rarely say anything. It's not my job. But I watch it happen: the woman stuffing her purse, her coat, her tricycle under the seat in front of her, getting everything all nice and snug. Then the flight attendant comes and explains the rules to her. The passenger then pretends to start moving stuff to the overhead bin (where there is no room actually because she's waited so long to do this), but then rubber-necks to see if the flight attendant has stopped watching her and starts stuffing the stuff back under the seat. The flight attendant comes back and says something like "I mean business, honey. You have to put that stuff in the overhead bin." "OK, OK," the passenger says and laughs like all of this is so unnecessary and the flight attendant is making her do something compeletly stupid. The same procedure: passenger pretends to put stuff up top but then doesn't; flight attendant comes back and does the crap transfer for the passenger. Passenger does not stop talking about how stupid and unreasonable the flight attendant is until plane reaches cruising altitude. I've seen it a dozen times.

Oh how I love writing these Lessons from a Wise Sky posts. I feel as if I've done two hours of yoga. You certainly have some peeves of your own to add to my list.

Namaste and I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Indiana Review, Night Train, Quiddity, SmokeLong Quarterly: the Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, [PANK], Necessary Fiction, Word Riot, Bootsnall Travel, Chicken Soup for the Soul and lots of other good places. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice.

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