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Lack of Airplane Etiquette

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Although nothing recent can quite top the instance of seat back wars I wrote about last summer, it seems that every time I fly these days there is a small tale of woe, mostly of the social studies kind, worth sharing. So can everyone buckle their seat belts? Please?

Airplane Etiquette Gone Awry

Without meaning to sound like a crotchety old lady, I continue to be horrified at how graceless people seem to be on airplanes. We wave at each other on boats and we don’t even have to see each other when in cars. But here on the airplane, the rules of human interaction, are all their own. Take picking teeth in public, for instance: Somewhere in these rules it says things like it is okay for seat mate who would never pick his or her teeth with a toothpick in a restaurant, to do so with reckless abandon with his or her finger on a 7 hour flight.

A couple of weeks ago while flying to Louisville I was boarding the airplane — the usual “zone one,” “zone two,” thing – wait your turn or suffer the wrath. I noticed an elderly woman (who was not crotchety at all, by the way, just over 80) with a roll aboard carry on, a cane and a hearing aid standing to the side waiting patiently for her zone to be called.  When our zone was finally called she was a little late on the response, meaning she didn’t respond in a millisecond. Thus she was almost mowed down by a small crush of humanity. Right in front of me in line her ticket scanned perfectly – it was my boarding pass which I had printed out at home that did not. This gave her a bit of a head start at walking down the jetway and make her way on the plane.

When we got to the place where you are supposedly able to gate check your bag, the baggage handler ignored her when she asked him straight out and clear as day to check her bag. Instead he motioned very rudely for us all to just keep it moving to get on the plane which was running late. She struggled with her bag over the lip of the doorway. No one said hello to us, even though we were there waiting in line because of the logjam in the aisle of everyone settling in for their flight. As we passed by she asked a flight attendant if she could please get some help putting her bag in the overhead, to which she was told that flight attendants weren’t allowed to do this, and that perhaps she could ask a gentlemen when she got to her seat.

Pre-Boarding.. or pre-school?

Well that might have worked, if there were a gentlemen back where we were sitting in rows 22 (her) and 23 (me.) When we got back to our section, it was already mysteriously dotted with settled-in looking people who had just been called for their zone.

The concept of pre-boarding is fine, but of all people this woman should have been pre-boarded. I know we might say, she could have been if she’d asked, but I think someone, even if it’s the ticket agent who checked her in, should have encouraged her to do so (and maybe they did for all I know.) All 5’4″ of me helped her put her not small  (remember she tried to gate check it) carry-on in the overheard bin.

I know we all get treated like pre-schoolers on planes because for the most part we seem to act like them. But when a flight attendant walked by and commented to us in a scolding tone that she should have gate checked her bag. All the people seated around us looked away, I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with this whole scenario.

So what do you think about the current state of airplane etiquette? Be sure to check out the other responses to our question, and share your own answer.

This post is for the monthly Across the Cafe Table Chats we have on The Travel Belles. You can see Briana’s entry here and Eleonora’s entry here.


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About the author

Margo Millure lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is a portrait photographer, writer and founder of Travel Belles. Learn more about her at

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