Travel Etiquette: Difficult Issues Need to be Handled Delicately

Some people view travel as a solitary experience. They don’t make eye contact while going through security or on the way to their terminal. They’re sure to try to find a seat in the gate area with an empty one beside it, and they queue up without comment when it’s time to board.
Apple In-ear headphones + Virgin eyemask = a good sleep.
Seeing ourselves as solitary sojourners whose actions don’t impact anyone else ends when we are seated two or three to a row in coach with hours of forced “togetherness” ahead. This situation can create some unique etiquette issues you may not have thought of before.
“There’s a blurred line between what’s acceptable and what’s irritating,” says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and owner of the Protocol School of Texas. A Chicago Tribune article on travel etiquette gives us a few things to think about the next time we fly. Here are a few issues often caused by close proximity while flying.
Example #1: The in-flight reading light. Is it inconsiderate to use said light on an overnight flight if you’re a reader or someone who likes to use the time to work instead of sleep? Solution: Ask before you turn it on, or use a small book light to read. Conversely, use a sleep mask to block out unwanted light.
Example #2: The use of electronics. Even if the person sitting next to you uses a headset to keep their entertainment to themselves, there’s still a chance of bleed through that will let you experience the game or movie too. How do you ask someone to consider the volume when they’re already wearing headphones? Similarly, the in-flight entertainment system allows passengers to select R-rated movies. Should you do so if you’re seated next to a child? Solution: Noise-canceling headphones will block out nearly all surrounding noise, including crying children and nearby video games.
Example #3: Reclining the seat. This one has received so much press, it’s no surprise it made the list. Is it acceptable to recline the seat if there’s a long flight ahead, and a more comfortable position is possible with the push of a button? Generally, we don’t like people reclining in our space, so we won’t do it to someone else. Solution: If you must recline, ask the person behind you. Don’t go very far either. And be prepared to raise up again. After all, you don’t want the person in front of you to slam their seat back into your knees with their head inches from your face. If reclining is important, consider upgrading to business or first class.
Here’s the bottom line: Civility must reign. Anything you do that could affect those around you should be considered first, then approached courteously. Listen to the wisdom of Diane Gottsman: “It’s your responsibility to behave in a manner that takes into consideration other people’s comfort when you are squeezed into a space that is overcrowded and cooperation is at a premium.”
How do you deal with your own comfort on the plane, especially when it’s a long flight? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.
Photo credit: Stanley Wood (Flickr, Creative Commons)