There’s a direct correlation between how happy passengers are and how pleasant air travel is. For that reason alone, it’s in everybody’s best interest to behave kindly and thoughtfully, and in turn prevent negative energy from spreading about. But no matter how far or how frequently you fly, you’re still bound to bear witness to some pretty horrendous stuff in both airports and in the skies. After more than 100,000 butt-in-seat miles in 2018, I experienced my fair share of moments that were uncomfortable at best, downright atrocious at worst. With every unfortunate event, the same thought lingered in the back of my mind: “This sure would be more pleasant if people weren’t like this.” Inspired by those “encounters” from 2018, here are my 10 resolutions for the new year, shared for your consideration going in to 2019…
1. Be kind to everyone.
Traveling by air can be remarkably frustrating for even the most seasoned road warriors, but unfortunately passengers still forget the Golden Rule far too often. There are few things worse than when things don’t go your way — especially at airports — but rarely is it okay to scream at employees. There’s honestly no place for stuff like that.
Practically speaking too, the ease and timeliness by which your airplane issues (delays, missed and cancelled flights, lost luggage, etc.) are resolved are contingent on the employees working on your behalf. Shouting “DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH THIS INCONVENIENCES ME?!” isn’t gonna help your cause. After all, it’s not the gate agent’s fault that the aircraft is having mechanical failures or whatever. A light quip like “They say good things come to those who wait, but I’d be most appreciative of your help in changing my ticket if you can” is far, far more effective.
By that same principle, try to cut screaming babies some slack if you can. Just like it wouldn’t be fair to yell at a flight attendant because your arrival is held up by a nasty holding pattern (blame air traffic controllers if you must, or better yet, the lack of sufficient airport infrastructure to support the demand for runway space), it’s not right to get hissy and pissy towards parents who are actively trying to calm their crying young. Nobody wants to be disturbed by wails and sobs. It’s a different story though if Mom and Dad are apathetic to bratty behavior…
2. Set reasonable expectations.
Not all flying experiences are created equal, and that’s painfully true in all classes of service. This includes in economy class, which has earned a well-deserved bad rap for being too cramped. There’s usually just not enough space for the average person to stretch out in, let alone sit comfortably… especially compared to premium products on more luxurious airlines.
But if you think those seats look bad, consider that United markets these as “Economy Plus.” They’re given a “premium” label solely because there’s merely an extra three inches. If that’s not horrifying enough, be prepared for an experience far more dreadful if you’re traveling on an ultra low cost carrier like Spirit. On its planes, you have to fold yourself up and squeeze in to 28 inches unless you splurge for an exit row or bulkhead. That’s damn-near inhumane!
Budget airlines like Spirit can offer you major bang for your buck of course — don’t discount them for that advantage — but you still might find yourself paying up in the end. With its remarkably cheap fares (think sub-$150 one way, sub-$300 round trip) in the crowded transatlantic market for example, Norwegian Air has grown exponentially over the past five years. That seems great on paper, but the 30 inches of seat pitch for an 8 hour flight? Eh…
…that’s decidedly not great. Also, paying $3 for a bottle of water is really lame, but c’est la vie on Norwegian. How else would it turn a profit?
The point of these vignettes is to illustrate the how much quality can vary in the travel industry. While there are some incredible products available to customers, they seldom come cheap with cash. The more affordable ones sacrifice “luxuries” like extra space and complimentary food and beverages to save money instead. That’s a perfectly fair trade-off, but you set yourself up for disappointment, if not bitterness and/or anger, if you expect the former and get the latter. Do your homework before actually buying a ticket if you want to prevent that. Keep this old adage in mind: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
AND, for the sake of your fellow passengers, please don’t whine about how unhappy you are with what you have. There’s enough negative energy as it is!
3. Never forget that you’re in public.
A popular Chinese singer and I happened to be on the same flight from Beijing to Hong Kong earlier in 2018. If you’re like me and not particularly in tune with Mandarin pop culture, you’d probably have a hard time recognizing him. That’s in addition to the fact that this particular passenger went through extensive measures to conceal his identity, covering most of his face with a mask and wearing a hat while he navigated the terminal. Despite his best efforts, a swarm of adoring fans still followed him around everywhere. They never stopped taking his photo, except for when he stopped in the bathroom and boarded the plane.
It was an utterly ridiculous sight to behold. While neither you nor I are likely to receive such treatment while transiting an airport (thank goodness!), it’s an important, if hyperbolic, reminder to travel with your best manners. If you do something terrible, like chewing out an innocent employee, not only are you likely to have an audience…
…but you’ll detract from everyone else’s experiences too. No one likes an obnoxious seatmate, and if you behave in the air like you do in your own home, others might take offense (to say the least). Tray tables are not appropriate places to clip your nails or change your baby’s diaper. Please also refrain becoming “intimate” with your companion either at your seat or in the lavatory. That’s gross!
If you have no shame, then feel free to ignore this advice. If, alternatively, you’re good at fitting in without making a fuss, then it should be no problem for you to…
4. Be considerate of your neighbors.
Airplane cabins are woefully small, even when you’re sitting in the premium sections. The cramped seats (both relatively and literally), the limited areas to move around, and the recycled air don’t do a lot to relieve claustrophobia. When sharing space with upwards of 615 of your best friends (like on this Emirates A380), behaving decently becomes imperative. Being considerate, after all, is one thing that other individual passengers can do to make the trip better for everyone else. For example, if you’re one of the fortunate souls who isn’t condemned to a middle seat, take pity on those who are and let them have both armrests. Don’t be the person (like the one shown above) who hogs it all for themselves. That’s just not cool!
Smoking onboard airplanes has long been considered one of the deadly sins of flying. Not only has it been banned on almost every airline, but it’s been outlawed in a number of countries too. As a matter of fact you can rightfully be fined AND arrested in the United States for that infraction. The advent of e-cigarettes hasn’t changed the status quo — vaping at 38,000 feet is also illegal — but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Shame on you if you have. Everyone has to breathe the same air, and polluting it with smoke and vapor and whatnot so that you can get your fix is the height of selfish rudeness. Try a nicotine patch instead.
Almost nearly as bad as the smokers are the “unqualified” emotional support animals that you might see sitting next to/near you.
This debate is rather contentious. Everyone should have the opportunity to travel by air, and it’s wrong to discriminate against those who genuinely need service dogs and emotional support animals to do so. (Note that the former is formally and rigorously trained and certified as such, the latter is not.) On the other hand, taking advantage of carrier policies in order to skirt animal transport fees is equally despicable. It’s like parking in a handicapped spot, but that practice is unfortunately more widespread than you might think. The ability to buy doctors’ letters online for under $200 — yes, really — doesn’t exactly prevent malpractice. Increasingly fed up airlines have started cracking down on system abuses though; just ask the woman who tried to bring her emotional support peacock on board a United flight with her.
So, if you don’t need the assistance of a working animal, either pay to check your pooch/kitty/exotic bird in the cargo hold or leave it at home. Nobody will ever love it as much as you do, and it’s not right when it disturbs the peace by barking or whining or chirping, or worse, making allergic passengers react.
5. Practice good hygiene when you fly.
…Or at the minimum, use some common sense.
I love airplanes like any good avgeek does, but let’s be real, they sure are filthy! There’s a reason why American has to put signs in its lavatories imploring its users to not flush the toilet whilst sitting atop it: a whole lot of filth can come spewing back at you. Even if (for whatever reason) you want that to happen, all those airborne germs are sucked in by the aircraft’s internal air system, and then recycled throughout the cabin for everyone else to breathe. Since it’s impossible to prevent passengers from using the restroom inflight, closing the lid before flushing is probably the next-best thing you can do.
Speaking of bathrooms, it’s good to be wary of the fluids you might find onboard. Those that come from bottles are noteworthy exceptions, but beyond those beverages, trust nothing and act accordingly. It’s baffling to me when people walk around without shoes or socks or slippers, let alone to go use the loo. That’s not water you’re stepping in!
Also, unless you love violent bouts of E. coli and/or not dying, don’t drink the water from the “tap.” Don’t change your baby’s diaper on the tray tables either; people eat and work (and some sleep) on those, so it especially shouldn’t be a breeding ground for disease.
You should practice good hygiene on airplanes and elsewhere for the sake of your own health, but perhaps you wouldn’t have to be so diligent if we all made conscious efforts to tidy up after ourselves/not make messes. You can do your part in ensuring that the toilet, for example, looks as it did before you soiled it. Trying your hardest not to leave crumbs and dust and stray fingernail clippings and, uh, cocaine everywhere…
…will go along way in making the plane feel that much nicer. Nobody wants to spend hours upon hours in a cramped seat in a cramped cabin that make a pig pen feel clean by comparison.
Lastly, and this should go without saying, but using the lav to join the mile high club is so utterly disgusting. It’s both inconsiderate of the other passengers — who would want to use it after it’s been “utilized” in that way — and inappropriate for a tightly-enclosed public space. Also, would you really want to get freaky in an abominably small room that has a sign that reads “DO NOT FLUSH WHILE SEATED ON TOILET”?
If you answered yes, I’ll pray to God that we’re not together on the same flight.
6. Board orderly.
Obviously it’s important to be considerate of your fellow travelers on the plane, but that also rings true inside the terminal as well. Unless you’re specifically granted permission to do so by the gate agent, it’s especially poor form to rush to the front of the line after — or before for that matter — the first boarding call is made. Likewise for when you try to board in advance of your turn. There’s an unsavory term for people who do this: gate lice.
Swarms of gate lice, like the one pictured above, are exceptional at souring the moods of everyone else. This one was particularly egregious, with members of the hoard shoving their ways through to the front. Flying is already stressful for some, and I can think of a few things that are more welcoming than taking someone’s elbow to your ribs and being shoved out of the way. Please, for the love of God, don’t be that kind of bully. Patience is a virtue and the plane’s not gonna leave without you!
I understand why people are so eager to be the first to squeeze in to a narrow, cramped metal tube. Overhead bin space, especially in economy class, is a commodity. It’s genuinely sucky to be the last one on and have nowhere other than under the seat in front of you to keep your carry-on. There’s already not nearly enough legroom, and adding a big roll aboard to the mix won’t make you feel any better. Thankfully, there are few things you can do in lieu of pushing and shoving your way to the front of a line. If you don’t have elite status (or a credit card) that gives you priority boarding privileges, fear not because the vast majority of airlines will sell you early access rights for a small fee. Is the peace of mind worth somewhere between $5 and $15? Only you can answer that question, but it’s definitely better to pay up rather than be rude and inconsiderate to the rest of us.
Alternatively you can…
7. Carry a reasonable amount of baggage with you.
Question: what’s more irritating than having to demonstrate to a random airline employee that your carry-on will indeed fit inside the aircraft’s cabin? Or having to weigh your bag on a scale in order to prove that it’s underweight?
(Easy) answer: paying a fee for violating the seemingly-arbitrary terms that dictate how much luggage you can bring on board with you.
But as infuriating as those can be — Spirit penalizes its offenders with a $50 fine at check-in and a $100 one at the gate — they do serve somewhat useful purposes. They make the passenger experience safer, as the overhead bins can only support so much without crashing down. While situations like those may happen only rarely, people swinging their heavy suitcases up and around to stow them away also pose some degree of danger… in the same way that tethered wrecking balls do.
Such restrictions are also important to prevent abuse and encourage parity, especially in economy class. It’d be unfair if only a minority of travelers got the majority of space for their abundances of luggage, and there are already more than enough problems in the back of the plane. We don’t need any more, and those who stuff their overflowing duty free shopping bags overhead aren’t doing the rest any favors. If you’re thinking about buying out all of the liquor/chocolate/perfume/cigarettes on display in the terminal, remember that it’ll all have to fit somewhere AND the options for storage are relatively limited. If we’re being candid, this whole resolution is just a more specific way of saying “be considerate of your neighbors.”
Also, abiding by this of course means that you won’t be as likely to become a gate louse, desperately trying to beat the masses onboard. There should be plenty of room for your reasonable baggage allowance…
8. Never, ever self-upgrade (or do something like that).
Inexplicably entitled passengers, in both economy and premium cabins, are the banes of many customers’ existences. You obviously get what you pay for when you purchase an airfare or book a flight on award points, so if you buy a basic fare on Spirit, don’t expect anything more than a seat on that plane. Conversely, if there’s something specific you want, like extra legroom, an exit row, or even business class, you can more-often-than-not pay extra for it. That’s what you should do if you want to be satisfied; when it comes to airlines, hoping for the best sets you up for failure. That should all be common sense, right?
Unfortunately, some people see themselves to be above those basic principles. It’s one thing to be disappointed (that can conveniently be avoided, see point 2), but there’s a special level in hell for those who respond obnoxiously and arrogantly and sneakily when things don’t go their ways. Doing that’s wrong because it takes away from the people who actually paid the extra price(s) to be there rightfully. No one ever deserves to have a seat more than the one who actually paid for it (with cash or otherwise)!
These offending characters all share something in common: a supreme lack of consideration for their fellow travelers. Please don’t be that person who tries to sneak an upgrade, ESPECIALLY at the expense of someone else. Likewise, just because a seat is free doesn’t mean that it’s yours for the taking. It doesn’t work like that! Affronts like these are awfully frustrating when they happen to you, but the horror stories on Reddit are admittedly pretty amusing. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and…
9. Be confident in yourself.
…be sure that you get everything that you’re entitled to. Naturally this applies to when a passenger is trying to swipe your business class/exit row/economy plus — don’t worry about making a scene when you ask someone to vacate what’s yours — but it also works when you’re interacting with airline representatives.
What’s worse than having someone steal your seat (or try to at least) is when the airline denies you privileges that you paid for. This happens far too frequently than you might think it does. Perhaps the most common, at least for higher flyers, involves lounge access. With such complicated rules, I guess it’s easy to understand why that is; it’s hard to keep track of what’s what. A general rule of thumb: if you’re flying in business class or above AND/OR you have status and are flying internationally, you are entitled to access an airline and its partners’ lounges. Presumably if you do your homework and know what to expect, nothing should ever come as a surprise. The attendants opposite of you may not always be so sure though, as Matthew Klint at Live and Let’s Fly once learned the hard way. His story ended happily though, as he eventually got what he was due and Delta compensated him for his troubles.
There’s also a misconception that revenue fares are inherently more valuable than award tickets, and airlines prioritize treatment of those who purchase the former over the latter. That couldn’t be further from the truth in practice. Your in-air experience won’t be affected depending on the medium by which you pay. Unless otherwise stated, you should be allowed to choose your own seats, eat whatever it is you want (provided the desired dish is on the menu, of course), and be treated as an equal to everyone else irregardless of the currency you choose to pay with. If you aren’t, then you’re within your limits to complain…and you should! You’ll be happier if you get your money’s worth instead of settling for less!
Just make sure that in any disputable situation, you’re in the right before calling someone/something out; it’d be VERY embarrassing if you’re mistaken.
10. Accrue (and redeem!) as many miles as you can.
This should be obvious given the nature of this website, but never ever pass over earning frequent flyer miles! It’s not a stretch to say that airlines are giving you free money with each trip you take. It’d be foolish to let all of that go to waste, especially when you consider that they can be used to fund more adventures, elevate the quality of your accommodations (hello, business class!), and generally lower the amount of dollars you spend on travel. Such opportunities are available to anyone who’s diligent enough to collect every point entitled to them.
While it’s good to be thrifty and thoughtful with your earnings — it’s imperative that you know what you’re getting in to and that you set reasonable expectations if you want to be satisfied — you’ll still want to spend your points sooner rather than later. The longer you sit on your miles, just like cash, they become increasingly less valuable. Add in the fact that because airlines regulate their own rewards, you could have a wealth of miles one day, and the next they could all be utterly worthless because of a tweak to corporate policy.
There’s even a corresponding strategy with its own name: mileage earn and burn. It’s pretty self-explanatory in the sense that once you have the required number of points for your goal, you should redeem them ASAP. It does you no good to sit on your nest egg, unless of course you’re saving for something more. In any case, always make sure that you’re accruing what you’re entitled to and then putting all that to good use for you. It’ll all but guarantee better travel for you this coming year and beyond!
If everyone in the skies made these same resolutions for the new year, then air travel would be more accessible, more comfortable, and more fun for all. Isn’t that the point of higher flying? Together we can make the whole commercial airliner experience better for all. That’s a nice thought, so cheers to that and cheers to a great 2019; happy new year and fly higher!
What do you think? Do you have any more resolutions that you think travelers should make in 2019?
March 3, 2019 at 3:22 pm
This advice is so spot-on — I wish everyone followed your wise pointers!