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The unwritten do’s and don’t of air travel

This airplane savant lays the ground rules for flying high in the sky — conveniently and comfortably. Photo by Meghan Holloran | photo editor

While others may remember their parents’ strictness primarily through their extreme vegetable, curfew or church-going requirements, I remember my parents’ strictness to a different extreme: air travel. My father has always worked in human resources, and thus has always been traveling to solve workplace problems across the world. Throughout my father’s professional career (and consequently my childhood), he rarely experienced even a two-week stretch without air travel. So, for better or worse, he’s a seasoned vet. 

Something I learned early on in my childhood while flying with him was that he has no patience for a lack of self-awareness or preparedness. After endless flights and endless trips through endless airports, he has seen it all. As a result, he made sure that I was never the one holding up airport lines. He made it seem as though even the slightest mistake would lead to us completely missing our flight. And, in retrospect, that was probably the most effective way to get a 10-year-old to care about airport etiquette and the unwritten rules of air travel. 

Thanks to those stern talking-to’s, the rules stuck with me. And even now, I find myself sticking to every one of those rules, requirements and tricks of the trade. So, without further ado, here are some of his best (albeit snooty) lessons.

Get picked up from departures, not arrivals (and vice versa)

Believe it or not, you aren’t required to be dropped off only at departures or picked up only from arrivals. If you haven’t noticed already, the two areas are directly on top of each other meaning that, for you, they’re an escalator ride apart. So, if arrivals are traffic-heavy and it’s late in the day, have your ride pick you up from departures. For them, it’s simply a matter of going left instead of right or right instead of left at the split in the road. Chances are, there’s no traffic up there. 

If you’re approaching the airport and there’s a long line of cars trying to drop people off at departures, move into the other lane and get dropped off at arrivals.  

Security is easy if you prepare for it

Security checkpoints, while initially daunting, are built for efficiency. All you’ve got to do is think things through ahead of time. First off, have your ID ready (already out of your wallet). Fumbling through your belongings for the ID you had 10 minutes to grab is the rookiest of rookie mistakes you can make. 

While you’re in line, observe the security screening area and take note of what’s being taken out and off (shoes, computers) so that you can move quickly once you’re at the scanner.

Don’t bury your computer in your backpack or suitcase. The two minutes of unpacking it’ll take you to get your computer out when they ask for it will drive the hundreds of people waiting behind you crazy. 

Those benches at the end of security are made for you to bring your miscellaneous stuff (shoes, computers, etc.) to BEFORE you put them back on or in. Use them. Pick up your stuff from the scanner, and walk them over to the benches for repacking or dressing. 

Keep moving. For God’s sake, keep moving.

Airports are a bustling place. Treat it that way. Don’t come to a standstill in the middle of a walkway, and use the people-mover (the big flat escalator) correctly. Don’t stand still on it and block the way. They’re made to get people around faster, not to offer a leisurely rest. 

It’s a small plane. Think twice. 

Don’t take your shoes off on the plane. Just don’t. 

Don’t buy anything smelly to eat on the plane. Just because you have a craving for a fish sandwich doesn’t mean that everyone in the surrounding rows should be subject to its lingering smell. If you buy food at the airport for the flight, buy dry, non-smelly food. In all cases, it’s best to just eat beforehand.

Don’t kick the seat ahead of you. Don’t flip your hair back over your own seat — the person behind you will appreciate it. Don’t use someone else’s seat as a brace when standing up — they’ll appreciate not being jerked around. 

Use the bathroom before the flight. It’ll just make life easier for everyone. 

If it’s dark, keep it that way. 

If you’re on a red-eye (night flight), the cabin should be dark. Turn your screen brightness down. The 10 rows behind you might be trying to sleep, and your impossibly bright screen probably isn’t helping them. The same rule applies to the personal light above you that — trust me on this one — isn’t only visible to you.

Trust me, you’re not getting off the plane any faster than I am.

No matter how quickly you get up when the plane reaches the gate or how frantically you grab your suitcase from the overhead bin, you’re not getting off the plane any faster than the person next to you. Planes have been deplaned from front to back and row by row since the dawn of man. 

You’re alive, appreciate it. 

Above all, you’re alive. You just flew hundreds of miles across the sky in a metal tube, and you’re alive. Whatever minor inconvenience you might have is likely miniscule in the grand scheme of things, and chances are that the inconvenience isn’t the flight crew’s fault in the first place. Don’t rant about your “poor” flying experience to them. 

Appreciate what they do, and recognize that their number one goal is getting you from point A to point B safely — and they accomplish that goal every single time.


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