Travel Etiquette: 5 Controversial Rules You Might Be Violating

November 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Societal rules are changing all the time, so we thought you might appreciate this brief “update” so you’re not unknowingly violating travel etiquette. If you decide to be a rogue traveler and commit these faux pas after you read this article, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

  1. Did you know that there are designated armrests for each passenger’s seat? According to travel etiquette expert (who knew there were such people?) Christin Fraga, Director of Operations, Elaine Swann Enterprises: “When it comes to armrests, it is one armrest per passenger. Typically the armrest that has your media and electrical outlets will be the one you use.” Fraga suggests politely engaging your seat mate to reach a compromise if there are any issues. We’ve also heard that the person in the middle seat is entitled to both armrests since they’re the ones sandwiched in the middle, and the aisle and window seats already have one.
  2. Air travel has a lot of travel etiquette rules.

  3. To recline or not recline? The seats were made to do so, so why is it so controversial? Many infrequent travelers do not understand what reclining the seat does to the person behind them, particularly during food and beverage service. While some wait until after that portion of the trip to push their seat’s button, others are utilizing its function before takeoff. Etiquette expert Courtney Fadler says: “Unless you are on a very long cross-country or international flight, the best etiquette rule of thumb is not to recline your seat . . . If you are on a very long flight and will be reclining your seat for sleep or otherwise, make sure the person behind you is not in the middle of eating their dinner on the tray table before you recline. You can even take that extra step of consideration, and ask them if it’s okay if you recline your seat for a while.”
  4. We learned it in elementary school to never, ever cut the line. That still holds true, even if you have to do it to make your flight. We’ve all had times when circumstances happened that were beyond our control, and in those situations you stand a better chance of avoiding the ire of fellow travelers if you explain your situation and ask politely if you could go ahead of them. Most will take pity on you and allow you to pass. If you want to “cut to the chase,” you should talk to a TSA agent and — again, politely — explain your situation to see if they can assist you. And remember to express your thanks to those who help you.
  5. Have you ever been approached by someone who wants you to consider switching seats with them so that they can sit by their traveling companion? This is not something anyone should assume a fellow passenger will be willing to accommodate. If the seat is one they paid extra for — Economy Plus, for example — you need to be aware that the odds are very good that they chose (and paid for) that seat deliberately, and they aren’t interested in switching with you to make you more comfortable about the fact that their child or elderly parent is sitting without them. You can ask politely, but don’t expect them to change, especially if the seat you’re offering them isn’t the same as the one they chose, for example, an aisle seat for an aisle seat. Think about how you would feel before making an issue of this with the flight attendant.
  6. Some people love talking with strangers. Others have enough trouble dealing with the infringement of their personal space due to an airplane’s close quarters. Before you strike up a conversation with a seat mate, take a few moments to assess their nonverbal communication. If they have a book or other reading material already on their lap, or an eye mask or headphones in the seat pocket, ready to go, take the cue: they don’t want to be engaged. If you’re sitting next to someone who has not read the cues, take a tip from the Emily Post Institute: Smile and say, “Well, it’s been nice speaking with you. I’m going to read for a bit now.”

What are some of your travel etiquette rules you always try to follow? Were any of these new to you, or are they tried and true rules of the road? Share your stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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