As if air travel isn't stressful enough, shrinking amounts of space on board are turning planes into pressure cookers. Passenger scuffles over legroom and reclining seats have led to three recent flights making unscheduled landings in the U.S. within an eight-day period.
It's a fact that airlines are making rows and seats narrower to pack more passengers on board. According to a recent AP news story, several major airlines have taken an inch away from each row to add seats or create more space in more expensive cabins. The result is that if you choose to fly, you need to bring your sense of courtesy and compassion for your fellow travelers. As airplanes become increasingly cramped and uncomfortable, good etiquette is more important than ever. Here are the new rules for air travel:
- Look before you lean. Just because you can lean back doesn't mean you should. The reality is that you can no longer just carelessly kick back when the plane hits its cruising altitude. Yes, you paid handsomely for the seat you occupy, and you are entitled to your personal space. However, the person behind you also paid for his seat and had the same expectations. We can no longer assume the people who designed the planes carefully calculated the angle of your seatback in relation to the knees or face of the person seated behind you. They haven't. If you'd like to recline, look behind you first. If you are seated in front of someone who is tall or traveling with a child on their lap, consider not reclining at all to give them the maximum amount of room. If the person behind you is working on a laptop or reading a newspaper, ask them if they would mind if you lean back slightly, then do so carefully. Take only the space you need.
- Recline wisely. During meal or beverage services, do the right thing. Keep your seat upright so others can use their trays comfortably. If you're on a night flight, it's expected that seats will recline. On the red-eye, it's unreasonable to assume your fellow passengers will keep their seatbacks upright for several hours. In this case, you may want to bite the bullet and pay for an upgrade to sit in first class. Or, you can choose to go with the flow -- in a polite manner.
- There is no mannerly way to use a seat blocker. On one of the recently diverted flights, a fight erupted over a passenger's use of a device that attaches to the seat of the passenger in front and prevents their seat from reclining. Although the device reportedly comes with preprinted cards that explain to the blocked party why they are unable to recline, there is nothing polite about these devices. No passenger has the right to interfere with anyone else's seat, let alone violating the rules that most airlines have against these devices. It's rude in every way. It's also rude for a passenger to retaliate by tossing a cup of liquid at their fellow passenger or causing an entire flight to be diverted.
- Book early. If it's impossible for you to tolerate a regular airline seat, make your travel plans as early as possible to ensure that you get a seat with more legroom, such as those in the bulkhead, exit rows, or aisles.
- Use your "nice voice." If someone in front of you leans back to the point you are virtually immobilized, assume they are not aware of what they are doing and politely ask if they would mind leaning forward slightly. Don't skip the respectful, kind approach by going straight into angry mode. When you act courteously, others are more likely to respond in kind. And if they don't, enlist the help of a flight attendant, remembering to speak courteously to her as well.