Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Unwritten Rules Of Air Travel

A lot of people have jobs that require them to fly a lot. I realize the last thing anyone wants to hear is someone complain about work, but after a particularly atrocious travel experience, I feel that it's my duty to write about this subject. There are unwritten rules of air travel.  Some would consider these rules to be common sense, but when you put New Yorkers in a confined space for 5+ hours, common sense goes out the window.  If we can't sit in seats for an extended period of time and be civil to each other, how are going to survive the big EMP or the zombie apocalypse? The answer to that question is: We wouldn't. We would eat each other first.

Here are the unwritten (now written) rules of air travel.

1. Middle seat wins.  No matter what.

Nobody likes sitting in the middle seat. If you're unlucky enough to draw the short straw of seating assignments and get stuck in the middle, then the good news is: You get both arm rests.  No matter what.  Window guy has the wall to rest on and Aisle guy can hang over his seat into the aisle as well as come and go as he pleases.  The only small bit of comfort the Middle guy gets is the arm rests.  Don't fight the middle seat person for the arm rests.  That's a total jerk move.

The next set of rules go under the heading: This is a plane seat, not your living room couch.

2.  Your elbows belong at your side, not mine.  (That goes for other body parts as well)

This is a self-explanatory rule.  If you're going to sit in coach, then figure out a way to not jam any of your limbs into your neighbor. I understand that there are also larger people who have to fly, but I'm not talking about that.  In fact all of the larger people I've shared rows with have been very courteous and conscious about the personal space issue.  This rule is addressed to the rude people who just don't care.  Fold your hands on the tray table, cross your arms, sleep like a vampire...do what you have to do keep your body in your space.

3.  Bring a small pillow and blanket, not your entire bed set.

This is something I've been seeing more frequently.  People bring giant pillows, comforters and even stuffed animals on planes.  I'm not talking about children either.  These are teens and adults doing this.  The problem with this is that there's no way for you to keep all that stuff contained to your seat.  Yes, we would all love to be able to snuggle up all cozy on a plane, but there's simply not enough room for that in coach.  If you must bring all that stuff on with you, then you need to spend the extra money and sit in first class.

3a.  Take your winter coat off.

Just like the previous rule, there's not enough room in coach for a giant bubble jacket or similarly large winter coat.  You need to stow that coat overhead, or even better, leave it in your checked bag.  Jackets are OK, as long as it can stay in your seat and not spill over to your neighbor.

4. Shoes + Socks.  Keep them on.  At all times....please!

If someone is sitting close enough to you to be able to smell your feet, then you need to keep them covered. This is going to be controversial, but I'm going to say it.  Sandals and flip flops should be outlawed at the airport. If you just can't stand the thought of having your feet confined for hours, then bring a pair of slippers and put them on before you get on the plane.  DON'T TAKE YOUR SHOES AND SOCKS OFF ON THE PLANE.  That's gross.  I don't care how nice you think your feet are. 

4a. Feet go on the floor.

I'm glad there are some very flexible people in the world, but this doesn't mean you get to cross your legs on the flight or keep your feet up on the seat.  Keep them on the floor. If you're neighbor is in danger of being poked by your little piggies, then you need to adjust your position.  Keep them on the floor and out of sight if possible.

5.  If you can't keep an activity confined to your space, then that is not something you should do on a plane.

a) Newspaper guys are a big culprit here.  This is not the breakfast table.  There's no room to spread out and have both sides of the paper open.  If you're sleeping, these are the guys who wake you up with every single page turn.  It's completely obnoxious.  I saw one guy who had it down.  He had the paper folded so just the article he was reading was visible.  That is a travel pro right there.  

b) If you have a gigantic laptop that requires your elbows to move back and forth, then leave that in the overhead.

c) Certain video games require large motions.  I'm a gamer. I love video games, but I know not to play motion-based games on a plane.  I'm not talking about Wii or Kinect, but certain iOS games where you have to shake stuff over and over again, should not be played on the plane.

Basically anything that forces you to go out of your space should be saved for after the flight.

6. Food: Do's and Dont's

Ask yourself these questions before purchasing food to bring on board:

a) Does it have a strong smell?

b) Is it messy?

c) Does it require more space than the tray table?

d) Will it be disastrous if I spill or drop this? 

If you answered YES to any of these questions, then you should not bring that food on the plane. I had a couple sitting next to me bring a giant plate of buffalo wings on the plane once.  They spent most of the flight with their hands covered in sauce as they sucked the wings down to the bones.  Oh yeah, the bones....  They went in a pile on the tray table next to me.  It was disgusting.  So no buffalo wings.  Tuna is probably not the best choice.  Neither is a pizza pie.  Basically, a sandwich or a wrap is ideal.  Something self contained and easy to clean.  Salads can work too, as long as they don't stink.

7.  Meal time = seat up.

If through some miracle, you get a meal on the plane, bring your seat back all the way up.  If you're reclined all the way, the person behind you will not be able to eat.

8. Your kids....not as cute as you think.

Travelling with children is incredibly difficult.  Most seasoned travelers cut parents a lot of slack. Especially when travelling with infants. If a baby is going to cry, then there's nothing you can do about it.  Most seasoned travelers have noise cancelling headphones to combat this, so it's not a big deal.  However, this doesn't refer to babies.  This is about your little 3 to 10 year old brats who you can't control. If you see the kid kicking the seat in front of him/her or constantly messing with the tray table, then please make an attempt to stop the kid.  I understand that kids get restless, but what irritates me is that most parents to don't even try to control their kids on planes anymore.  I was on a flight recently where there were 3 kids running up and down the aisles for the entire flight. How is this ok?  Have parents given up?  Actually, there was one parent who had an inventive way of settling her child.  They sang songs the whole time!  Everyone on the plane was thrilled with that bright idea.  (this is sarcasm, just in case you weren't sure.)  Everyone understands that kids will be kids, but that doesn't mean the parents shouldn't attempt to keep their kids from kicking, screaming and running around for the entire flight.

8a.  Infant in arms = infant in YOUR arms.

Self-explanatory.  This happened to me only once on a flight.  Usually people are pretty good about this.  There was only one couple who wasn't.  Would you believe that it was the same couple who brought the buffalo wings on board?

9.  Let people sleep.

If your neighbor is sleeping, don't wake them. If a person is sleeping then they're less likely to aggravate you.  Unless their sleeping on your shoulder or you have to use the restroom, I would advise you to let people sleep.  I had a woman sitting next to me, wake me out of a deep sleep to inform me the drink cart was coming.  I know she meant well, but I really wished she hadn't.

10.  Use your inside voice.

Although the plane noise can be pretty loud, the person sitting next to you can still hear you whisper. There's no need to shout your conversation.  If a person is too far from you to hear you whisper, then you can't converse with them.  I've seen couples who both like aisle seats sit across from each other, and then carry on loud conversations across the aisle.  This is pretty rude.  This also applies to pre-takeoff phone conversations.  Everybody has text messaging nowadays.  Use that instead of screaming details about your business into a phone surrounded by strangers who want to put a foot in your mouth.

11.  Standing in the aisles.

Yes, some people start getting cramps and back problems if they sit in one uncomfortable spot for too long.  So they get up for a stretch.  No harm in that.  If you are prone to these kinds of back and joint problems I would suggest that you walk to the back of the plane and hang out in the galley by the restrooms for a bit.  Don't just stand up by your seat.  Aside from blocking traffic, you are doing something far worse.  You are basically sticking your backside in someone's face for an extended period of time.  If you need to stretch, that's fine.  Just be conscious of your surroundings.

12.  Baggage.

They say "one small carry on and one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you."  Since storage space is so precious on a plane, I've become overly conscious of what other people are bring on board.  In this rare case, I actually agree with the flight attendants.  One of your items should be able to fit under the seat.  I see people bringing on 2 big rolling suitcases, or deciding that they don't want to put their small bag under the seats in front of them.  I understand the benefits of legroom, but if you must have that space under the seat in front of you for your legs, then you need to figure out how to bring one less bag onto the plane.

I'm sure there are more rules if I sit here all day and try to recall every miserable plane experience, but these are the big ones.  Basically, it comes down to personal space, common sense and courtesy.  A plane (especially coach class) is shared space.  Try to stay in your assigned space and avoid doing things that disturb others.  Try to cut parents and middle seat passengers some slack...as long as their not being completely inconsiderate of everyone else.  If you find that you can't follow the basic rules of air travel, then you need to spend the extra bucks and either sit in first class, or buy an extra empty seat next to you.

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