What’s gotten into airplane passengers lately? In 2019, the Federal Aviation Administration investigated 146 cases of bad behavior; in 2021 it initiated investigations into 1,081 incidents, out of a total of 5,981 reports of unruly passengers last year.
“Somehow when people get to the airport these days, they’ve forgotten everything their mother taught them,” says Lydia Ramsey, an etiquette expert based in Savannah, Georgia. She describes taking a recent flight where, during boarding, “a woman came charging up and literally pushed me out of the way so that she could get on. I don’t understand it. It just makes it difficult for everybody else.”
The first rule of respectful travel is to accept the rules: Observe mask mandates, boarding processes and carry-on restrictions. Beyond that, there are steps you can take to make travel a little more pleasant for everyone and avoid conflict. Ramsey and Jacqueline Whitmore, a former flight attendant and the founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida, offer their guidance.
1. Be prepared.
This is especially true at airport security. “You know you’re going to have to take your shoes and your jacket off,” says Ramsey. “So don’t wait till you put your bag on the belt before you start doing those things and hold everybody up.”
2. Greet the flight attendants.
When you’re getting on the flight, acknowledge the flight attendants. Speak to them, smile at them — even with a mask on, people can still see a smile in your eyes,” Ramsey suggests, noting how tough these jobs have been lately.
3. Don’t hog the overhead bins.
“I’ve noticed that some people as soon as they see a space, shove their bag in as quickly as they can and hope they’re not going to get caught, even if they’re at the back of the plane,” says Ramsey. “You need to put your bag over your own seat.” And don’t shove coats and extra bags up there, either, she adds.
4. Be sensitive to your seatmate.
“Acknowledge this person with a greeting as you’re starting off and then you can read the other person to see whether they want to talk or not,” Ramsey suggests. “But most people really want to find some peace and quiet. If the other person is chatty, politely excuse yourself. That’s the time to bring out your book or put your headphones on and just say, ‘Excuse me, I’m going to read my book now.’”