Airplane Passenger Etiquette: Where Did It Go?

Put on headphones if necessary, alternate when exiting an aircraft, be kind to the flight crew, leave your ego at the gate, keep your voice down and limit the size of your carry on bag ... and most importantly, leave the tuna at home.

Last week, while returning home to Connecticut from a Florida wedding, I waited in the terminal before my flight. People-watching in any airport is entertaining. Business travelers routinely hopscotch pass families with strollers and children dragging cartoon-character baggage while electronic carts loudly beep transporting passengers requiring extra assistance.  

While I sat, I couldn’t help but notice a grown man playing solitaire on an electronic device with maximum volume. This type of behavior is expected from a child with preoccupied and hearing-impaired parents, but watching an adult who was completely ignorant of those sitting in direct view was alarming.  What’s the matter with people?

If you’ve never heard the sound effects of solitaire, it resembles a loud shuffling whisper, borderline creepy, most definitely annoying to the most tolerable of ears. You can’t couldn’t ignore it if you tried.  

The reaction of other waiting travelers was identical; all nonverbal with body language that spoke volumes. There were repetitive glares while burying faces in newspapers, balancing laptops while searching for headphones in computer bags or the retreat method of walking away entirely. After 10 to 15 amplified (and consecutive) games of solitaire, the latter was the best option and least painful. 

Most people I know play games on their smart phones, check Facebook status, Tweet, etc.  It’s an easy distraction while passing time waiting for a plane or standing in line. This is perfectly acceptable ... with no volume. Asking an adult to turn the volume down on their portable video game is like asking a 4-year old about their first tattoo. It’s a conversation that shouldn’t happen. 

As I boarded the plane, the sounds of solitaire continued. I heard it in the aisle.  I heard it from my seat. Eventually, a good Samaritan reminded him of his age and surroundings, maybe offering him a lollipop.  

It makes you wonder where common courtesy has gone when it comes to flight travel. I began to think of all the things I’ve seen (and smelled) while traveling.  What’s funny is watching the reaction to standard procedure or basic rules of protocol we learned in kindergarten.  

There always seems to be the traveler trying to exit the plane before everyone else. Instead of exiting by alternating rows (similar to a four way stop sign) they cut two to three passengers ahead. Is there a secret exit strategy? Don’t they see passengers are clogged like cattle in the aisle?

How about the loud passenger in 5A while you’re seated in 32B? His voice dominates over the humming jet engine. With in minutes, you know where he works, his fabricated golf score, his preference for blonds and his fascination with mixed Redbull & vodka cocktails. Although torturous for me, sympathies should really be directed to the tired traveler forced to sit next to him.   

A few more particulars, such as the bewilderment and anger when the metal detector actually detects a passenger's metal. I’ve seen people cut their fingernails, treat the flight crew like dirt, and bring “carry-on bags” the size of smart cars.  

Yet the kicker, and one my mother is famous for, are passengers who bring potent homemade food onto a plane. Pungent odors of tuna fish and wilted salad with some unidentifiable dressing is enough to make the stomach turn.  The internal air vents only circulate the aroma, not extinguish it. If there’s a need to bring food from home, please refrain from tuna.  

I don’t know what has happened to the common courtesy of flight travel. If you can please find it in your heart, put headphones on if volume is necessary, alternate when exiting an aircraft, be kind to the flight crew, leave your ego at the gate, keep your voice down and limit the size of your carry on bag ... and most importantly, leave the tuna at home.  

Jim Merchant October 22, 2012 at 11:48 AM
Another great article on the observation of egocentric people around us. Thanks Cami.
Nancy Small October 22, 2012 at 11:51 AM
I work in customer service at the airport and it's amazing to see how many people think the world revolves around them. It's really discouraging.
Cami Beiter October 22, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Thank you Jim! Always nice seeing your comments on Monday mornings.
Patricia Gaglioti October 22, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Okay, Cami. Mom got the tuna message. How about PB& J? Love, Mom
Romy October 22, 2012 at 06:05 PM
OH SO TRUE! The things I have seen, heard, and smelled. My strategy is to wear my "Be Good to People" shirt (www.begoodtopeople.com). It reminds me - and others who read the message - to take pause, to be patient, and to be kind. During my last trip, I took 7 flights in 4 days (the 8th one was cancelled which resulted in taking a shuttle). On one of those flights it was "snowing" IN the plane due to heavy condensation. I was offered some paper towels.
Lori Robin Wilson October 22, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Just about to fly from California to Boston and I will be cognizant of my behaviors as I do like to play games on my phone (always with the sound off of course).
kris October 22, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Agreed Romy! And we LOVE that you wear your Be Good to People shirt! Me too, and it helps! It helps people be kinder when they see it, and it helps ME be kinder while traveling. Let's face it...as Cami and others' comments have pointed out, traveling is stressful. Common courtesy, setting a good example for others, is what we each can do. And sometimes yes...you may have to give the "kid" a lollipop to get them to become aware of their disruptive behavior. My fave line in the story: "Asking an adult to turn the volume down on their portable video game is like asking a 4-year old about their first tattoo. It’s a conversation that shouldn’t happen." That is awesome Cami. Nicely done. Just posted a link on http://www.facebook.com/BeGoodToPeople. :-)
Cami Beiter October 22, 2012 at 09:39 PM
What wonderful, positive comments. Thank you! Agreed...traveling is stressful enough. When others refuse to "play by the rules" it makes a long trip even longer. I too wear my Be Good To People shirt with pride...I even wrote about it. It is, and still remains, my most popular read column:)) So, when traveling, working, living...Be Good To People! http://suffield.patch.com/articles/be-good-to-people
Susi October 23, 2012 at 08:02 PM
That's so funny and so true. I have actually brought food from home, can't remember what it was, took the lid off, realized how much it stunk and threw it away. Well done again. You make me giggle and rethink my next plane meal.
mab October 24, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Rather tuna than human gas....Patti, seniors have privliege...I wouldn't mind you next to me as long as you shared! mabfla


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