Plane Protocol

By: Patrick Maguire

Book Chapter: Human-to-Human Service

Posted: 02/13/2011

You know when Mitch Albom, the king of feel-good fairy tales, is irked by fellow humans, that the epidemics of incivility and entitlement are not myths.

Sharing public space with fellow human beings should not be as hard as some people make it. Unfortunately, common courtesy is often uncommon.

This piece by Mitch Albom appeared in today’s Parade Magazine:

Hello, this is your captain speaking.

Okay, I lied. I don’t sit in the cockpit. I sit where you sit. And I fly a lot (over 100,000 miles a year). So I would like to suggest ways the airlines could treat us better this year.

But why bother?

Any business that will soon be charging you and me to open the bathroom door isn’t keen on hearing from either of us. The airlines stopped listening about the time they began selling pillows.

So perhaps we could speak to one another as fellow travelers. Because even if the airlines torture us until we’d rather ride on the back of a filthy hay wagon, we don’t have to follow suit, do we?

We can all be flying buddies!

Here are a few gentle suggestions:

First, when you get on the plane, walk down the aisle with your carry-on luggage in front of you, not behind you. Behind you, you knock over drinks, bags, and small elderly people.

And when you finally sit down, think before you slam your seat back into the person behind you. Breaking kneecaps is for gangster movies.

Feet. As in bare feet. Don’t do it. Maybe at home you like to rip off your socks and plant your naked toes wherever you like, but not on a plane, okay? This isn’t a nail salon. I recently sat next to a woman who stuck her bare, sweaty feet on the cabin wall! Please. Unless you’re Spider-Man and about to walk upside down, keep the shoes on, all right? It’s smelly enough in the cabin.

Which brings us to food. Yes, I know you’re lucky to get a cornflake on an airplane today, but if you must bring food on board, consider the odor. Fried onions will not stop smelling at 23D.

Kids. Let’s talk about kids. Kids love airplanes. Many can’t believe they have a seat in front of them they can kick all flight long, while Mom and Dad watch the movie. Please. Tell them to stop.

And if you’ve got a crying baby—and we all love babies—at least pretend you’re trying to keep him quiet. Don’t hide behind an US Weekly.

Also, once your kids stop crying, the plane should not hear from them again until they are old enough to be—and actually are—the pilots. I recently had a little boy behind me who all flight long kept singing, at the top of his lungs, “Go-Go-Go…the cat in the hat!” I don’t know this song, or if it even is a song, but I do know his mom did nothing except occasionally whisper, -“Jacob, keep it down,” which had the same effect as pressing the Volume-Up button.

Speaking of volume, if you need to use your cellphone on the tarmac, please remember there are people inches away from you. They really don’t want to hear about Uncle Seymour’s kidney problem.

And if you fall asleep, try not to do so on the person next to you.

So there you go. With a little cooperation, we can all have a better year as passengers, even if the airlines think we’re cattle. Thank you for your attention. And now, as the captain says, sit back, relax, and strip to your underwear.

Security check.


I’d love to hear from passengers and airline/airport personnel.  What’s your story or your biggest pet peeve about sharing airports and airplanes with fellow humans?

After a few of your stories, I’ll share mine about the woman who tried to exit the plane early (one of my biggest pet peeves).

12 Responses to “Plane Protocol”

  1. I wrote a blog post about travel pet peeves awhile back. This covers a lot of them. I never ever put my seat back. I would also like to remind people that certain security precautions such as taking off belts, shoes, coats, sunglasses, etc. and placing laptops in trays, out of the bag, have been in place for YEARS. Unless it is your first time flying, get yourself ready before you get right up to the x-ray belt. No surprises here.
    Having a drink or two on board is fine, being wasted is not. Doing your nails and spraying perfume, also unwelcome.
    Thanks for sharing this. I always feel like such a cranky curmudgeon, but a little consideration goes a very long way.

  2. Frederick says:

    +1 on this article and also on the comment that was just made by Meghan. I fly at least six or seven times a month, often internationally, and simply cannot believe how many people show up at the security checkpoint bedecked with jewelry and belts, carrying every piece of clothing they’ve ever owned from (apparently) their entire wardrobe and expect to just sail through TSA screening to catch their flight in ten minutes. Sigh.

    Even if it WERE my first flight, I’d do a little basic research on the process. Read an online article or blog or talk to a well-traveled friend. Something. I fly into unfamiliar cities all the time, but by the time I land I speak the basics of the language, have memorized the subway maps and routes from the airport to my hotel, and have a general understanding of the culture. It ain’t hard, folks. If you can afford an airline ticket you can afford the rest of the cost associated with living in an interconnected global community.

  3. Let’s all agree to retweet this.
    The general public lets me down so often , in their casual inconsideration, and always in planes. I agree Meghan – I NEVER recline my seat. It’s not a bit more comfortable, and it’s ridiculously inconvenient for the person behind me.
    Really folks, just try to put yourself in the other person’s place.

  4. Margaret Rushton says:

    These are all really great tips. Mine would be:
    1) Please shower. No one wants to smell your body odor for hours.
    2) Please do not wear so much cologne or perfume that there is a cloud above your head.

  5. nina says:

    I was on a flight from CA to Boston it was a red eye and everyone was told to get ready for take-off, turn off all electronic devices, etc. There was one passenger who was asked repeatedly to turn off his cell phone or he would have to give it up, then he got beligerent, even passengers were telling him to do so because we all wanted to take off. He wouldn’t do it so they had to bring on 2 or 3 airmarshalls to wrestle him down and off the plane. I mean really just turn the stupid thing off!!

  6. David Buonfiglio says:

    I fly 125k miles a year, so this subject is near and dear to my heart. Here are my pet peeves about other passengers:

    When exiting the plane, please do so by row. If you’re in row 7 and I’m in row 8, then you go first. Period. It goes a lot faster than if we all just go randomly.

    If I’m reading a book, or have a headset on, or if my eyes are straight ahead, then please don’t try to start a conversation with me. I don’t like talking to strangers in close quarters in such a way that my neck starts to hurt almost immediately.

    I too never recline my seat. And when the person in front of me does (particularly when I’m trying to work on my laptop), it makes me angry. Is it really that much more comfortable?

    Don’t put your bag beneath the seat in front of ME. That’s my space.

    Please do everything in your power NOT to pass gas.

    Always put down the arm rest between seats, even if you’re a bit portly and it creates some discomfort for you. It’s only fair.

    If you end up having to stow your bag more than a row or two behind your seat, then don’t try to weave through the crowd to get it when everyone is standing and waiting to exit the plane. Please wait until you can move backwards without creating a big problem for others.

    When collecting your carry ons plane side (for when you fly in the smaller planes that don’t have enough overhead space for carry ons), please don’t crowd the area where the bags are distributed. It’s enough of a rugby scrum as it is. We don’t need a a dozen or two passengers trying to huddle in 3 square feet of space.

    That’s it for now. More later.

  7. Scott Powell says:

    There are so many but the worst was the woman who changed her caterwauling child on the tray table and dropped the loaded Huggie in the aisle.

  8. Ouch. Nothing like a loaded Huggie gone awry.

  9. Scott Hoskins says:

    I agree with Margeret, bathe before boarding, thank you, and please use deodorant. For everybody’s sake. One other thing, I sat behind a woman who put her seat back before takeoff and did not put it back even when asked. She was very rude about it, as if other people’s comfort was no concern of hers. (Not to mention airline rules)

  10. Danielle says:

    Some of my biggest pet peeve about planes:

    1. After I’ve already checked in online and at the gate,why does the airline think it’s okay to move me to a middle seat so a family of four can sit across the aisle from each other? This has happened to me THREE different times. I would be understanding if it was a parent and three small children, but each time it’s been two parents and two children that looked between the ages of 12-16. Really – you couldn’t split up? Give me a break! All three times, I checked in online the night before, and at the counter when I got to the airport. All the changes occurred when I got to the gate. The second time this happened to me, the gate attendant actually took my ticket as I was boarding, then chased me down the jetway to tell me there was “a problem” with my ticket. They moved me to first class, but the other two times, I was moved to a middle seat. I may be short, but I have very wide shoulders – I ask for an aisle seat because that’s where I want to sit!

    2. If you are watching an iPod or a DVD, please wear headphones. I am usually trying to listen to my own iPod with my headphones on, but it’s very hard to hear over yours blaring. DO NOT watch over my shoulder, that’s just creepy.

    3. People who stand in the aisle looking at the flight attendants while they’re handing out refreshments; these people are generally trying to get to the bathroom, which is behind the cart. Sit down – they are going to have to go by you before you can go to the bathroom anyway! If you have a medical condition that makes it so you must be nearer to the bathroom, don’t pick a seat in the middle of the plane. Make your condition know to the gate attendants, I’m sure they’ll change my seat so you can be closer!

  11. Lou says:

    Complaints are numerous…but first are kicking children behind me…and when asking the parent to please have the kid stop be told “he’s always been an active child”, so have him be active somewhere else….please!!
    Second…the price of a beer is high enough…but expected…but to not take exact amounts of bills…I thought cash was king. If the airlines are having problems with theft amoung attendants, it has nothing to do with me. Announcing an “exact change only” policy would solve the problem…no exact change…no drink.

  12. susan says:

    danielle, that is obnoxious that you had that happen 3 times. i am a gate agent and ask people to move daily, but NEVER to anything but a comparable or upgraded seat. what airline was it? i hate that! my pet peeve…agents that make the rest of us look bad. i go out of my way to make sure people are sitting where they want and with whom they want. however, i am the first to admit that there are agents who don’t put any bit of effort into that. i cringe when i hear some of the things the employees say to people. at least wait until they’ve walked away and say it behind their back!! working at a job helping people is a choice. if you get angry when a customer asks you to do them a favor, you’re in the wrong profession.

    that being said, there is a flip side…and here it is.

    i absolutely hate it when a customer gets mad at me because i am following the rules. example: the front part of our planes are reconfigured with more legroom, as are most of the airlines these days. customers will ask me, “if no one sits there, can i just move up?” so i tell them no. 90% of the people will get angry or hostile with me. “so you’re just gonna let them go open? thanks for nothing.” i apologize, smile and send them on their way. what i am thinking is this….if you walk into macy’s and see a pair of jeans on a shelf that no one else wants to buy, should you be able to take them home? are they yours for free because no one else wants to buy them? it’s the same thing with the seats. some people up there did pay the money. so how do they feel when the door of the airplane closes and you grab all your carryon bags, sneak up the aisle and plop down next to them and you haven’t paid a cent? they get angry. rightfully so. so please don’t get mad at me for telling you that you can’t have the free upgrade. in an airline agent’s perfect world, every seat would be an aisle or window, every row would have 5 extra inches of legroom, there would be enough overhead bin space to accommodate as many bags as you want to carry on, and the food was good and free. but that’s not the way it is, so please don’t get mad at ME for enforcing the rules that i have been given. seems easy enough to me! thank you.

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