As more than 231 million passengers take to the skies aboard U.S. airlines this summer—a four-percent jump over last year’s record number of 222 million—lines are long, gates are jammed and flights are packed. (And let's not even get started on those notorious TSA lines.)
All of this means tensions are high for business travelers and leisure fliers alike. So what’s a mild-mannered passenger like you to do? Let's take a look at some of the most common etiquette dilemmas you’ll encounter when you get to the airport.
Dilemma: They’re boarding Group 2 and the "line" is a giant horde of passengers waiting to pounce when their group is called. You’re in Group 3.
Solution: You do no one (including yourself) any favors by trying to board with a group that is not your own. Be ready to step in to that "line" but in the interim, keep a safe distance, allowing each group to trudge forward as it is called. When the time comes, if you’re in doubt about the line assignment of the people staring into space in front of you, inquire of them politely: “Excuse me, are you also in Group 3?
Dilemma: The gate agent has just announced there is no more room in the overhead bins. You’ll now have to check your bag at the gate and pick it up at luggage claim once you reach your destination.
Solution: Grumbling to the gate agent will solve nothing. Neither will writing a furious letter to the president of the airline. Smile and get used to it. This is air travel in 2016. Unless you're in first or business class, any time you journey with a large carry-on, put yourself in the mindset that you will most likely have to check it. Then you can be pleasantly surprised if you don’t.
Dilemma: You’re in the jetway, which is backlogged and feeling like a sauna. As you stand in the queue, you feel your phone vibrating and see it’s your boss. You just know it’s not going to be a brief conversation.
Solution: This is what voicemail is for. No one on that jetway wants to be beholden to your work issues. Send the boss a brief email or text letting her know you are moments from takeoff and that you’ll be in contact while en-route (if your flight has WiFi) or once you land. Then immediately switch your phone to airplane mode, knowing you've done so with the business etiquette seal of approval.
Dilemma: You are assigned to a middle seat and the passengers on either side of you are using the armrests.
Solution: The one silver lining (and I mean the one silver lining) of having the middle seat is your right to both armrests. First try reason: “We have a long flight and I want to be sure we are all as comfortable as possible. Sitting here in the middle, I’d appreciate full access to this armrest if you don’t mind." You can follow that up with..."Although if you’d prefer to have the armrest, maybe you’d like to switch seats?”Once you have the armrests, forfeit them at your own risk—you may not have the chance to reclaim them later in the flight. Just be sure to keep your arms and elbows in your own space–don’t jab your seatmates.
Dilemma: The passenger on the aisle has fallen asleep and you’ve been in great need of a bathroom break for the past 30 minutes.
Solution: Unless you are in the exit row or in a row with ample clearance, do not attempt to hop over the aisle blocker next to you. This can only end badly—especially if the plane suddenly hits turbulence. Instead, tap the person gently on the shoulder and thank him or her as you exit and reenter the aisle. We’ve all been there.
Dilemma: The toddler behind you is alternating between wailing at the top of his lungs, kicking your seat and tapping on the LCD screen encased in your headrest.
Solution: Do not scold the child directly. Speak with the little one’s parent in a gentle way (“I’m so sorry to bother you with this…is there any way you could have your son/daughter be a bit gentler with the LCD screen? I’m hoping for a nap and it’s hard to do when my seat is getting rocked like this.” Do not mention the crying (this is what headphones are for—particularly the noise-cancelling variety). If the parent seems unwilling or unable to correct the problem, call the flight attendant. Explain the situation in an understanding manner (e.g.: “I realize the mother in the seat behind me certainly has her hands full, however….”)
Dilemma: You’ve finally made it to your destination and the plane had to wait on the tarmac for 90 minutes because the gate wasn’t available for your plane to park. Now that the cabin doors are open, all anyone can think about is getting off the aircraft. ASAP.
Solution: Rein in your instinct to dash out of your row before the people across the aisle from you. Let them go ahead of you and when you step into the aisle, help anyone in the immediate vicinity who is having difficulty pulling a bag down from the overhead compartment. So what if this delays your exit by thirty seconds? Practicing patience is a good thing, because you’re going to need it again very soon. Next up: the rental car counter!