It’s interesting how good manners can oftentimes completely disappear when patience wears thin and fuses become short in a less than ideal situation. I’ve observed this at the departure gate when, frustrated by a slight delay, passengers jostle to get on board and claim space in the overhead cabin before anyone else can take up the choice spots.
I recently received an email from a traveler regarding a less than fragrant aroma in the cabin – the result of outside food being smuggled on board. AirAsia practises a ‘no outside food’ policy, and part of the reason for this is to ensure that no one carries stinky food into the cabin. Unfortunately, neither the guest nor the cabin crew could track down the source of the offending aroma. And so, the guest (and all those around her) had to endure the strange odour as best they could.
I no longer fly as a captain on duty, but as a retired pilot who takes welfare and comfort seriously, I really felt for this particular guest. As a passenger, I too have been in her place and experienced these frustrations and annoyances. Therefore, sympathising with this fellow traveller – a person who could very well be a passenger under my care – I decided to tackle the topic of airplane etiquette. Interestingly, travel expert Expedia recently compiled a list of the most annoying airplane passengers’ habits in its annual airplane etiquette study.
MOST ANNOYING HABITS
Lack of thoughtfulness and consideration towards one’s fellow passengers are but some of the key factors that fuel annoying behaviour. But, what do you think tops the list of annoying habits?
According to the Expedia 2015 Airplane Etiquette study, top spot goes to rear seat-kickers! Whether prodding from behind (usually young children who seem oblivious to the fact that repeatedly kicking the seat in front of them causes intense aggravation) or intermittently tapping the front seat with feet or knees, causing the entire row in front to reverberate with this unwanted rhythm, seat kickers have earned the dubious distinction of being the most irksome of passengers!
If you’re unfortunate enough to encounter a seat-kicker, simply turn around and politely ask if the offender would mind stopping what he or she is doing. Smile as you talk to the youngster or habitual kicker. This usually works, for a while at least. If a reminder is required, be sure to deliver this with a tight smile and a stern look that shows you mean business.
Image - Travel 3Sixty
Second on the list are inattentive parents who appear to allow their offspring to run wild within the confines of the cabin. As a parent, I know how trying it is to keep active children quiet when they’re bursting with energy and itching to run about. And then, of course, there are the screaming babies. I sympathise with tired parents travelling with young children. I’m sure they need the rest just as much as the rest of the cabin.
One low cost airline from the US, JetBlue, came up with a rather innovative idea, turning crying babies, often viewed as an annoyance, into something positive. Ingeniously, JetBlue offered a 25 per cent discount every time a baby started crying. In order to enjoy a completely free flight, a passenger would have to be inconvenienced by four fussy crying babies! According to this policy, if one was ‘lucky’ enough to have four little babies who disliked flying enough to let out a few awful wails during the flight, all on board would be entitled to free round-trip tickets for their next JetBlue flight! This idea turned an annoyance into a desirable thing as passengers were cheering and clapping every time a baby cried! Of course, this policy does have its downside. Understandably, parents may feel embarrassed when all eyes turn their way. At present, it is not clear if this promotion will become a popular feature but it appears that JetBlue may not make this a regular thing within the airline.
For parents, I’d suggest carrying card games, books or toys that can entertain young ones to prevent them from running around the cabin. Babies are often bothered by the change in pressure; always carry a soother for them to suck to relieve pressure in the inner ear – a common cause of discomfort.
For passengers who cannot abide the noise, ask a member of the cabin crew if you could relocate to a quieter surrounding. If not, your ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones are a life saver!
PROTECTING PERSONAL SPACE
If you are unlucky enough to be placed in the middle seat between two passengers who are larger than yourself, it may be that you will not be able to enjoy any elbow space on the shared arm rest. This also ranks quit highly on the list of passenger grievances and may be a tough one to handle if your seatmate is oversized. However, if both of you are of similar physique, you have equal claim to part of the hand rest. My advice is to wait till your inconsiderate neighbour moves, and then immediately place your elbow on your share of the arm rest, leaving the other half to your seatmate. Be sure to tell your seatmate that you’ve left space for him or her so that the point – equal space – is clear!
Reclining seats especially in airlines where seats are much narrower, with less space between them, can also cause discontent. Many passengers actually recline their seat in response to the passenger in front of them doing so, causing a domino effect. According to the study, some passengers prefer to have reclining seats banned entirely, or at least have reclining restricted to set times during short-haul flights. My take? Well, chairs are meant to be reclined for comfort, after food is served. To overcome the inconvenience of having less space available due to your front neighbour enjoying reclining, simply join in! Alternatively, tilt your seat back just slightly as a compromise.
CHATTY CATHY & OTHER VICES
While some passengers prefer peace and quiet, there are those who take the opportunity to meet new friends while travelling. Putting these two types next to each other is a recipe for much frustration. If you have a chatterbox as your seatmate, try yawning. If this subtle hint fails, have the courage to say, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be anti-social, but I’m going to try to get some shuteye for a while.”
Then, of course, there are passengers who have a tendency to talk very loudly and continuously, and often over their seatmates, without a care as to whom they may be disturbing. You need to be direct with these. Smile, look into their eyes and say, “Excuse me, would you mind keeping your voice down!”
To me, the worst offenders of all are the boozy ones. In the event that you are seated beside a tipsy passenger, avoid eye contact at all cost, as this may be interpreted as a sign of aggression. It’s best to alert the cabin crew discreetly. Alternatively, request to be relocated before your tipsy seatmate passes out with his or her head on your shoulder!
If you are unfortunate enough to be seated with someone who removes his shoes, allowing his personal aroma to waft through the cabin, be brave and politely ask him to put his shoes back on as the smell is bothering you. Or, if you dare, take off your own shoes and wiggle your toes at him! I’m just kidding, of course. Basic courtesy dictates that your fellow passenger behave in a more considerate and hygienic manner, and you are well within your rights to provide a reminder. Just remember to be kind.
THE PERFECT PASSENGER
You can’t control who you are seated next to… unless, of course, you and your friends or family book Hot Seats together when flying with AirAsia. However, you can control how you react to those who offend. How you manage the situation could very well be the difference between an enjoyable flight and a hellish one. I’d like to think that most people are good natured and would be willing to alter their actions when informed of an offending habit. Oftentimes, I believe, people are just completely oblivious to their annoying habits. Apparently, Japanese passengers are considered the world’s best travellers due to their good manners and respect for others. Perhaps, this graciousness is embedded in their culture. With a bit of practice and thoughtfulness, anyone can be a polite passenger, ensuring an enjoyable flight for everyone on board.
If you like what you read, more stories are found in my book LIFE IN THE SKIES (Preview here) and you can purchase a copy here. To check for any latest updates or postings, you can follow my Twitter at @CaptKHLim or Facebook here