Are you a rude passenger? Here’s what to do before you board — and what not to do

Photo of author

By Christopher Elliott

There’s no question about it: The passenger Randall Kessler saw before boarding a recent flight was rude.

He was arguing with a gate agent about a weather delay, claiming the incoming storm wasn’t that bad and suggesting that the airline just didn’t feel like flying.

An off-duty pilot stepped forward to calmly explain why flying in a blizzard 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. (Related: Here’s the secret to boarding a plane.)

How do you behave before you board?

It’s not hard to be a decent traveler. No bellyaching about that blizzard, obviously.

What else?

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

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

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. (Related: Rudeness runs rampant for travelers. Is it your fault?)

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

“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.

Can I ever put my feet up?

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

May I bring food to my seat and eat it?

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.

May I save seats for my party?

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.”

When can I stand near the gate to board?

When they call your group. Never before then. Don’t crowd the boarding area, it’s rude.

Is it OK to make a phone call?

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.

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? (Here is my guide with the best travel advice).

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

There are ways to avoid a long wait in an airport terminal with the crowds. Here are a few ideas.

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 before boarding. 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.

Don’t forget, if you encounter any problems at the airport, you can always contact my consumer advocacy organization for help. We can’t make travelers polite, but we can solve most other problems.

Photo of author

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

Related Posts