Boarding area no-nos: Bad behavior before takeoff

It’s the complainers that make travelers such as Randall Kessler complain — specifically, the folks who shuffle around the airport waiting area, griping about something over which neither they nor their airline has any control.

On a recent flight, he witnessed something remarkable: As a passenger whined loudly about a weather delay, a pilot stepped forward to calmly explain why flying in a storm was a bad idea.

“He said, ‘It’s always better to be down here wishing you were up there instead of up there wishing you were down here,’ ” remembers Kessler, an attorney from Atlanta.

Words to live by.

The scenario is also instructive. Almost every bus ride, flight and plane trip starts with a brief stop in a waiting area. Now more than ever, what happens in that boarding area sets the tone for the entire trip.

Which brings up the question: How exactly do you behave? No bellyaching about that blizzard, obviously. What else?

Q: Do you have a right to a seat in the waiting area?

A: Generally, no. It’s first-come, first-served. The color of your loyalty card doesn’t matter here. “If there is an elderly person (standing), give up your seat,” says Toronto manners expert Adeodata Czink. Also, surrender your seat to pregnant women, families with kids under 2 and anyone traveling with these groups.

Q: To whom does the power outlet next to my seat belong?

A: “It belongs to the first person to use it,” says Rohan Gupta, a vice president for a software company in Sterling, Va., and a frequent air traveler. But don’t forget to share. The savviest frequent travelers carry extension cords, and they offer their plugs to others who need a charge. It’s the polite thing to do.

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Q: Can I ever put my feet up?

A: No, not unless you have a medical condition that requires that your feet be elevated.

Q: May I bring food to my seat and eat it?

A: Sure. But keep it light and avoid overly spicy fare, which can be distracting to your fellow passengers. If you want a full meal, sit down at one of the restaurants in the terminal, and eat in a civilized way. I speak from experience. I’ve arrived at my destination with more stained pants than I care to admit from eating takeout at my seat.

Q: May I save seats for my party?

A: Yes, but there’s a limit. “If the waiting area is not yet crowded, reserving one or two seats by placing your bag in one of them and sitting two seats away is acceptable,” says Sharon Schweitzer, the founder of Austin-based Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide and a frequent traveler. “However, if the waiting area fills up and your party hasn’t shown, let those who have already arrived take the seats, and reunite with your party at your destination.”

Q: When can I stand near the gate to board?

A: When they call your group. Don’t crowd the boarding area, it’s rude.

Q: Is it OK to make a phone call?

A: Yes, but it’s not an absolute right. If you fire up your phone, be mindful of those around you. “The best choice is to go somewhere more private to talk,” advises frequent flier Tim Pylant, an engineer from Austin. “But if not, then be considerate, and keep your volume down.” Also, always use headphones when listening to music or watching a movie.

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You don’t have to be a frequent traveler or an etiquette expert to know any of this. Your parents should have taught these good manners to you. But in a day and age when we can’t take good manners for granted, what’s the harm of a reminder?

Alternate waiting areas

Don’t want to wait with everyone else? Try these alternatives.

• Buy your way into the lounge. You don’t have to be a first-class passenger to get access to a quieter, well-appointed airport lounge. You can buy a day pass or flash a credit card with lounge benefits or check an app such as Loungebuddy (, which allows you to purchase lounge access online.

• Take the kids to their own waiting area. Several airports have kids’ play areas. At Los Angeles International Airport, it’s a section called “LAX Beach,” and it features sculpted foam artwork resembling waves, surfboards and beach toys.

• Visit the military-only lounge. Many major airports offer USO Welcome Centers, which cater to troops and military family members transiting through the airport. Among the amenities: business stations with Internet access, gaming stations, a sleeping room and complimentary food and drinks.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at

  • sirwired

    Q: Is it within the bounds of acceptable behavior to locate a long, pointy, object, and use it to eviscerate the speakers on the airport TVs? You know, the ones tuned to the most inane, content-free version of the news that is possible to exist, while being cranked up so loud even an elderly ex-rocker with blown eardrums can hear it?

  • ctporter

    Your luggage/purse etc does NOT need to be seated in a seat at the gate area, put it on the floor in front of you but not so that it blocks passages and allow other travelers to be seated prior to a flight.

  • Dutchess

    Portable electronics should always be used with headphones or on mute!

  • sirwired

    And not the “leaky” kind of headphones where we can still hear whatever it is you are playing.

  • Bill___A

    I would also add that it is rude to use your phone in speaker phone mode, holding the phone out in front. Something I have seen more and more.

  • Bill___A

    The same people who think they should ask for ID when you order a drink, no matter how old you are.

  • MarkKelling

    I disagree with the food issue. While I would fully agree if it was food on the plane, food in the waiting area sometimes cannot be avoided. Like when you are facing a multi hour boarding delay and they keep telling you they will be boarding “any minute now”. It would be really bad if you went to that overpriced airport restaurant to eat something and the plane did board and leave without you.

  • ChelseaGirl

    Of course I’d give my seat to an elderly person, pregnant woman or child, but I don’t think “anyone traveling with these groups” has more of a claim to a seat than anyone else.

  • polexia_rogue

    Q: May I bring food to my seat and eat it?

    A: Sure. But keep it light and avoid overly spicy fare, which can be distracting to your fellow passengers. If you want a full meal, sit down at one of the restaurants in the terminal, and eat in a civilized way. I speak from experience. I’ve arrived at my destination with more stained pants than I care to admit from eating takeout at my seat.

    I says ALWAYS eat at the gate, because you never want to be one of those people who finish a meal only to look back and see that the plane left early and the music was too loud to hear and announcements

  • greg watson

    I find that poor quality speakers that are in some airports, are frustrating because they are not easy to hear , notices or boarding info etc. Also, when the speaker giving out the info, speaks so fast that you can’t understand what they are saying. This could create a negative vibe that may interfere with a normally pleasant / polite attitude. Also, do they ever measure those suitcase size carry-ons & backpacks

  • GG

    “to get access to a quieter, well-appointed airport lounge”.

    That’s what I thought. Usually worked except in one case: It was in India, BOM. Arrived on a Delta/AF flight from JFK with connection in Paris/CDG. Got there around midnight. Had a connecting domestic at 6:00 AM. Was eligible for the domestic lounge and went there planning to rest and see if I can catch some sleep.

    Things were rolling along until one idiot showed up. First argued with the lounge crew in a loud voice. Then started playing a movie on his laptop in speaker mode. And then decided to laugh along with it. Apparently there were no rules to prevent this behavior and the lounge crew could not do anything.

  • James

    There are devices that can be used to turn off those televisions. TV-B-Gone is one:

    Those televisions do a lot to add to the general background noise and stress of being at an airport.

  • sirwired

    Airports are wise to this, and most of them now cover the IR windows on the TV’s.

  • Alan Gore

    Instead of the yammering Headline News monitors, give us good airport WiFi. Let us get the news and entertainment we are already used to accessing.

  • sirwired

    At least Nancy Grace is off the air. That shrill yelling is the LAST thing I wanted to hear when travelling.

  • CycleAZLindyB

    I’m almost 53 and have a bad back. I would not give up my seat to a child. Elderly or very pregnant person, yes. A child can stand.

  • Rebecca

    I can explain this. In many places, the local pd (usually county) will send in decoys, usually with out of state ids, in an attempt to drum up revenue. The fine can net around $1500 (the store and in most cases the cashier both get fines). So stores that have been hit with these institute super strict policies. To be fair, they normally have signs plastered everywhere. It’s their business and their right to do that.

    I personally saw a girl that was several years over legal age present a fake out of state id in one of these stings. She was actually like 28 or 29 (I knew this because I was friends with her sister). And she presented a fake out of state id and the cashier got fined $800, the store $1000. So they have to have super strict rules. It’s a private business, they can do that.

  • Rebecca

    Yes this. I think I’d rather watch Paw Patrol than Nancy Grace. And I’ve seen every episode of that stupid show more times than I want to think about. That’s what I get for letting my daughter pick 1 show to watch before bed.

  • Alan Gore

    Apparently Illinois must be one of those states. A friend of ours has a college age daughter studying at Northwestern in Chicago. The first time she presented her Arizona driver license for admission at a nightclub, the management confiscated it just in case it turned out to be fake. She found out that in IL it’s legal for an establishment to do that, and there is no way to get it back. She had to fly back home and get a new license before being able to drive in IL again.

    If you’re from out of state, don’t go clubbing in Chicago.

  • Kerr

    Damn. Does IL want anybody from out of state to visit for any reason?

  • Rebecca

    I am originally from Chicago, and yes, this actually happened with Cook County Sheriff’s officers.

    Hindsight is 20/20, but if your actual ID is ever confiscated (because this happened to me too strangely enough – although it was my IL drivers license), call the local police department. They’ll dispatch an officer and you’ll get it back. I can imagine CPD is busy, and you might have to wait a while. But in the suburbs, I had it back in 10 minutes.

  • jae1

    But then, you are one of those people to whom a seat should be given up. That bad back counts as a disability. (speaking as someone who’s gone through both hip replacement and lumbar surgery in the past couple of years–I know about looking able-bodied but being unable to stand)

  • Shirley G

    But if you aren’t elderly and don’t look like you need the seat (I sympathize, I have the same issues) then you get the dirty looks. People are so judgmental.

  • Shirley G

    Why couldn’t they? If you stood up and starting singing at the top of your lungs and didn’t stop, I have a feeling that staff would say something to you. I would have complained to staff and they should have said something to this buffoon.

  • Hanope

    So every stores’ cashiers (who really, usually have no more than a high school education) have to be familiar with 50 other states’ legal IDs in order to spot an illegal one?

  • Hanope

    No kidding. Almost everyone has a smart phone/tablet these days and can watch whatever they want. Those that don’t, aren’t probably watching the airport news anyway.

  • Carol Molloy

    I am a recent USO volunteer. Due to tight budgets and resource constraints, family members are usually limited to spouses and children who are accompanied by the active duty or retired service member. Prior service, regrettably, does not count. The USO does a wonderful job at O’Hare, where I volunteer.

  • Bill___A

    Can’t or won’t? It is usually won’t. Make sure you file a complaint. Check to see if the lounge advertises “peace and quiet”

  • EvilEmpryss

    The only problem I’ve found with the USO stations is that they tend to be outside the secured area, so if you go, be prepared to time it to come back thru security before boarding. Other than that, they’re a relief for travelers who qualify for them!

  • Rebecca

    No. Most stores won’t accept an out of state id.

  • rwm

    American travelers do this often because they do not like to sit next to strangers. Then it requires twice as many seats in the gate area to accommodate the same number of passengers.

  • Alan Gore

    She did call the police at the time, but they told her she would have to sue the club to get it back. This was already over a year ago, so the law may have changed since then.

  • Hanope

    Really? So if you want to buy alcohol while on vacation in some states, they refuse? I’ve never heard of that before.

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