Don’t do this before you take off


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 you these good manners. 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 (loungebuddy.com), 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.

We just had to run this story again, given the high number of infrequent travelers who are out there at this time of year. Hope it makes a difference.


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 chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Joe Reimers

    One thing I would add: if you’re on a flight of any length and you’re in reasonably good health, consider walking the concourse instead of sitting and waiting at the gate (unless you’re within 10-15 minutes of your scheduled boarding time.) You spend a lot of time sitting on the plane, so getting those steps in and stretching your legs will make things more bearable in the long run. Believe me, it all adds up.

  • FQTVLR

    “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.” I agree with giving up seats in the waiting are to someone who needs it as well as a traveling companion. But trying to accommodate everyone in a group, such as a multi-generational family with a number of people not actually needing the seating, is simply ridiculous.

  • Noah Kimmel

    Mind your bags – don’t put your bags on the seat next to you! There aren’t enough seats for everyone, don’t be that family that takes an extra 3 seats just for luggage. And parents who give their kids small suitcases – please put them under the seat in front of your child on the flight. It isn’t nice to fill an overhead bin space while legroom that a child doesn’t use goes empty.

    Delays – crew gets paid generally brake on / brake off or door open / door closed. So when you are delayed, so are they, and they aren’t getting paid for it. More broadly – it is a tough time to travel for everyone – full flights, weather, inexperienced travelers, etc. The staff working through the holidays while everyone else vacations doesn’t have it easy. So

    Security – please be prepared. Nothing is worse than waiting to get to the podium to then watch people do the ID Shuffle trying to find it or log back into the app to get their boarding pass.

    Happy travels!

  • David___1

    And don’t watch porn. Some people don’t get that. If it’s something you don’t want your kids to watch then it shouldn’t be on your phone, tablet, or laptop when your in a public area…

  • DChamp56

    You forgot a few:
    Can I put my bags on the seats next to me? No. Seats are for people, not bags.
    If your toddler has their own seat and the concourse is packed, put them on your lap or in front of you to give up a seat to someone that may need it more then your child. Kindness should be the rule.
    Tip: When they begin boarding, stand and walk around a bit. You’ll be sitting on the plane for a while, it’s best to get the blood moving.
    JMHO

  • Chriscfrn

    And if you must use the phone in a crowded area, avoid a high-volume, knock-down drag-out, profanity-laced call to the significant other with whom you have an issue. And if asked to lower your voice, do not lash out at the person who is asking.

  • Altosk

    Adding to this:
    Don’t act like entitled fools. I often see this behavior on my favorite route (landing in MCO) where families who are going on “magical” vacations behave any way but magical. Some of the most memorable bad behavior from Di$ney travelers I’ve witnessed:

    1. Screaming at other PAX to “get out of that seat” on the aircraft because a family was broken up by someone’s poor planning. And we’re not talking small children…

    2. Yelling at gate agents about weather delays because “our vacation is RUIIIINED!”

    3. Letting out of control kids run up and down the aisle, slapping other PAX. When approached by a FA, the mother’s answer was “Oh, he’s autistic. You’re not going fight with me because of that, right?”

    4. A woman moved herself and her baby up to first class. She said she needed more room to breastfeed. When told she couldn’t just move seats, much less to a higher fare class, she told the FA “I just did. You gonna drag me off?” She was eventually moved back, but she got her way for about 30 minutes.

    5. Anything involving “Economy Basic” and carry-on restrictions. Fight after fight with gate agents on these.

    6. The woman who flipped her gourd when she was told that UA doesn’t guarantee peanut-free flights. (No one does…because other PAX could bring on peanut items) She actually told the gate agent she’d “sue her and everyone on the plane” for putting her child at risk. Her family was not boarded. I’m surprised that one didn’t make the news because the news loves “omg airline destroyed poor Timmy’s dream trip” stories.

    …I hate flying to/from MCO.

  • joycexyz

    It’s so sad that we need to be instructed in what used to be common courtesy–obviously quite uncommon now.

  • joycexyz

    That whole cell phone bit is unbelievable. People seem to think they’re in their own private phone booth!

  • Bill

    2. Most people *ruin* their own vacation by expecting perfection and then choosing to have an emotional meltdown when perfection doesn’t happen. If someone wants everything to go “as planned”, best to stay in bed.
    3. Don’t blame “undisciplined” on “autism” (not you, the parent). I have a friend with an autistic child. She does everything she can to control him, but it is a losing battle. I have much empathy for those situations. But I have no tolerance for lazy parents who have mentally normal but behavior deprived children! I watched this woman scream at her child four times in a waiting area, but never once get off her *** to stop the child. Bad Parent. Unfortunate child.
    4. “You gonna drag me off?” I wish they would have!!

  • Blamona

    When boarding, if sitting in seat 30B, don’t use the overhead bin of 6A!

  • ctporter

    NOT wearing large backpacks while boarding should be stressed, Ive gotten hit by people’s back packs as they turn to talk to a person behind them – they are completely oblivious as to where or what that back pack is hitting as they turn. Also -Proper Prior Planning. Taking along a roll a board? Remove those items you want with you on the plane before you board. Put them in a tiny – small personal item such as a messenger bag or purse that can easily fit under the seat in front of you and allow room for your legs and feet. Don’t wait until you are on the plane to unpack your reading glasses, then the books, then the music player, then your ear buds, and what ever else it is you need to use prior to reaching the safe altitude as indicated by the seat belt sign being turned off. In other words THINK about what you want while waiting to take off and until you reach the altitude that allows you to get up and remove items from your roll a boards. That allows the people behind you to move on to their seats.

  • pauletteb

    I text my boss’s boarding pass to his phone but also print one out, just in case.

  • pauletteb

    I’ve heard people providing so much personal information, I wonder if their home will be robbed while they were away.

  • James

    The problem is, what is porn and what is not? There are many ‘R’ movies that will have nudity…

    Personally, I have no problem with kids seeing nudity… I hope they have the opportunity to enjoy it over a long life. However, the extreme violence of a lot of movies bothers me more — and I hope those kids never have to experience that.

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