Common Sense Passenger Guidelines for Air Travel

(Originally published in Main Line Life in 2008)

Okay, class, in my last column we reviewed common sense homeland security guidelines for air travel. Things to do and not do when interacting with airport and airline personnel. (To review, basically they are always right.)

However, due to space constraints we were not able to discuss the “sister” topic to this – how we passengers treat one another. For those of us who remember with some fondness the days when an airplane trip required one to dress in something other than one’s worst saggy sweat pants and gardening clogs, there has been, like in so many other areas of our shared lives as citizens of this planet, a dreadful lessening of civility. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, might I even say that some people have no clue as to how their actions affect others around them. There are some who seem to travel along in their own little bubble of entitlement without a thought as to their fellow travelers in life and in the air. (Oh my God, I’m turning into Andy Rooney.)

Exhibit A: I bring to your attention Mr. Stinky Feet. Mr. Stinky Feet has been around the world wearing the same pair of socks. And as soon as he sits down next to you, he removes his shoes with a satisfied sigh, and suddenly the air around you, which wasn’t so great to begin with, is now diffused with the odor of damp blue cheese. If you are lucky enough to be in the bulkhead seat, he will plant his malodorous feet on the flimsy dividing wall which separates you from those more fortunate than you (those in first class). Or if you are even luckier, he stretches and crosses one leg across the other, in which case his smelly foot ends up in your lap.

Another entry in the category of smells you’d rather not be subjected to in an area two feet by three feet, is the clueless person who brings a cheese steak with extra onions and hot peppers on the plane. Naturally when they open the sandwich up, after it has been stuffed in their carry-on bag for half an hour, the scent is a trifle overpowering. They don’t notice though, as they happily nosh their way through the thing, spewing bits of sandwich across the entire aisle.

Let’s turn our attention now to the person who can’t find room in the overhead bin for his or her luggage, and so either moves your bag to a bin farther away, or squishes it to half its size in order to make room for his or her bag. Basically this person is saying, “My needs are so much more important than anyone else’s.” And even though you had the wherewithal and sheer cunning to get on the airplane early (this act alone requires superhuman feats of ingenuity and stamina) you are reduced to seeming like the obnoxious one, because you don’t want to “share.”

I hesitate to bring up the next issue, because I do have some measure of sympathy for extra-large people who are forced to cram into airline seats that cannot possibly accommodate them. I know that they could theoretically buy two seats, but we all know how expensive that would be. I try to think charitable thoughts when I am on a six-hour flight next to a guy whose entire left side of his body has oozed onto my seat.

Having no excuse, however, is the space invader who is unaware or doesn’t care that someone might be next to them. This clueless person uses your arm rest, elbows you repeatedly as they spread out their laptops and many other important business accoutrements, and snaps open their newspaper right in your face.

Ah, the Monday morning drinker. If the person next to you orders two Bombay Sapphires at nine in the morning, you are going to be in for a long flight. The best strategy here is to never, I repeat never, make eye contact. Unless you want to hear their entire life story, complete with graphic descriptions of their kidney stone surgery, with a melancholic sidebar into their father’s stint in a maximum security prison, segueing right into showing you his last vacation photos which are conveniently right there on his laptop. Wow, I’ve always wanted to see four hundred pictures of complete strangers and their wild and crazy antics at Disney World!

Lastly, I’d like to mention the babies. It’s not their fault they cry. Most of them (with a few exceptions) are adorable in real life. None of us want to be stuck next to them. But this is the one time you have to suck it up. After all, some day you are going to be a grandparent, and you are going to want your precious grandchild to visit you in Florida. And they will have to get on a plane. As a passenger near one of them, I say smile and be glad you’re at least not the parent. But whatever you do, don’t start a game of peek-a-boo. Or you will have a really long flight.

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