Travel Etiquette

My mother-daughter holiday vacation was not even off the ground when personal disaster reared its ugly head. In my own haste and excited anticipation, I forgot one of my several suitcases filled with essential toiletries, carefully chosen makeup and an indispensable assortment of tummy-control and thigh-minimizing underpinnings. (As most women will agree, a bright smile, curves and smooth lines do not come without a price.)

It all started at the ticket counter. In a struggle to remove my driver’s license from my shiny new “travel wallet,” I ripped the leather compartment apart into six different pieces. I’m sure the wallet was constructed for my protection against thieves, but this benefit is lost when I must use my keys and a hair comb to manually dislodge my ID from the “trap” that is holding my identification. With my new wallet ripped and pulled out of shape, I can’t help mentally calculating all the money I am going to spend replacing the items I have left behind or destroyed before boarding the plane.

Convincing myself I will feel better after boarding the plane and relaxing in my seat, I trudge on through security, where I absolutely loathe taking my shoes off to walk through the security checkpoint. I understand it is necessary and respect the precautions that are taken for our safety, but I still can’t stand the thought of taking my shoes off, and putting them into a bin where 14 gazillion others have placed their belongings before me is quite unsanitary. But off I trudge, barefoot and wallet-less.

Three seconds later, I am standing off to the side, barefoot, with my arms out and my legs spread while a security officer is passing a wand up and down my body, and my adult daughter is meanwhile pretending that she doesn’t know me. (Note to self: Cute blazer with many metal buttons is not the best choice for air travel.)

Finally boarded and preparing for takeoff, we settle in for our three-hour flight. My daughter prefers the window and I prefer aisle seat so we are well- suited travel companions. Until, directly across from me sat a man in his early 40s, dressed professionally, yet boldly reeking of strong cologne. Suddenly, the window seat looked more appealing to me, but my stubborn and now apparently not so well-suited travel companion wouldn’t switch.

Then, as if in slow motion, it happened. He kicked off his shoes, pushed back his chair, sprawled over the armrest and wiggled into a nap position. Seconds later, a loud and alarming rendition of an oldie but goodie roused him from his rest. “Yeah, hello,” Mr. Aisle Seat bellowed into his ultra-trim, state-of-the-art cell phone/ video camera/electric razor. Like so many others, he carried on a too lengthy conversation, yelling into his phone as if he were talking to someone through a tin can and string. “The bird is still on the ground. Soon. Not bad. Sounds great. How much? See what you can do. I’m sure! (Insert even louder and obnoxious laughter here.) Later, guy.” It became apparent that I wasn’t the only passenger that wasn’t impressed with Mr. Aisle Seat.

Now, one might draw the conclusion that I, as a travel mate, may be a pain in the neck, but I am not nearly as difficult as it may appear. I would just like to point out a few etiquette travel tips that make airline travel much more enjoyable for fellow passengers.

Tip #1
Please make your last-minute hair appointments and dental cleanings before you board the plane. Don’t annoy your fellow travelers by laughing as if they are in your own kitchen, discussing “nothingness.” If you must use your cell phone, don’t scream. Take a lesson from your child and use your “indoor voice.” No one else is interested in your conversation. The higher you are on the corporate and social ladder, the less you should rely on cell phones.

Tip #2
Cologne in close quarters is not advisable. What smelled enticingly manly to Mr. Aisle Seat was, to me, more like fish bait on a humid day. Women must also be sensitive to the nasal well-being of their fellow passengers. Take into consideration those who may be allergic. If others comment on your cologne, it’s probably too strong.

Tip #3
Do not use the seat in front of you to hoist yourself up in midflight. You run the risk of jarring someone from a restful snooze, grabbing a handful of hair or jolting the seat while the poor unsuspecting passenger is about to take a drink of dark and sugary liquid.

Tip #4
Stay in your own seat. The armrest is an indicator of where your personal space ends and your fellow passenger’s begins. Make sure not to lean into your neighbor’s personal space, whether it is to read his magazine or to inquire about his laptop. If you can count his (or her) eyelashes, you are a bit too cozy.

Tip #5
Don’t automatically make the assumption that your seatmate is as interested in conversation as you are. Normally, short yet polite responses are a subtle signal that you would prefer to sit quietly or read.

Tip #6
Share the luggage space, both overhead and under the seat. The overhead bins are for everyone’s use, not just yours. If you run out of room for your purse, laptop, baby bag and portable lunch cooler, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate your travel gear.

Tip #7
Speaking of baby bags, be nice to the mommy who is traveling with small children. If there is a daddy lagging behind, he is hoping he is not identified as “father” because he knows the response of most people when they see a small child in tow. Do you really think either parent is actually looking forward to this trip? More than likely they are dreading this flight as much as you are dreading their sitting next to you. Nothing is ruder than fellow passengers who roll their eyes, mumble “oh no!” and cross their fingers until the family has passed their row. It is not the child’s fault they have to board this “bird,” so don’t make those ridiculous faces as they pass.

Tip #8
If you are given a little white hand towel, use it only on your hands. This little warm towel is not to be used to clean your ears or wash your face. Save the grooming for either before you board or after you land.

Tip #9
Keep your shoes on. I’m hesitant to even broach this subject because on occasion there are those who say indignantly, “Who does that?” Men. And some women. So don’t.

Tip #10
Keep your sense of humor. If by chance the flight attendant spills something on you or steps on your toes (because you sprawled across the aisle, shoeless), remember that in everything we do, there is a chance for error. If you yell and scream and cause a scene, you will be seen as an unflattering and distracting annoyance. Others will rightfully feel sorry for the flight attendant whom you are shamefully berating. Equally distasteful is to treat another passenger with such disrespect. So she spilled a little tomato juice on your sleeve — get over it! It’s much more appropriate to say, ” Don’t worry; accidents happen. I understand.” It could put another person at ease, save her job and/or keep your own blood pressure in check. Not to mention your good name.

Traveling is always somewhat nerve-racking. Why make things worse by overlooking simple etiquette steps that could make everyone’s trip more tolerable, even enjoyable? Consider Mr. Aisle Seat as an example of what not to do.

Actually, he was quite the entertainer. I feigned sleep while secretly watching him sway to his iPod and tap his shoeless tootsies to the beat of the music. At the end of the flight, no less self-confident, he handed the very attractive flight attendant his business card and told her to “look him up.” Later on, and to my daughter’s complete surprise, I actually made pleasant conversation with him at baggage claim. He’s a recruiter for a major company. It was all I could do to keep from handing him my own business card and suggesting he should “look me up.”

Author: Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is director of the Protocol School of Texas and appears regularly on San Antonio Living on WOAI-TV.

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