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Dear Pam,

In three weeks, I’ll be boarding a plane to visit family whom I haven’t seen in person since the pandemic started. I can’t wait. However, after reading about the rise of unruly passenger behavior including a flight attendant who had two of her teeth knocked out, I’m more than a bit apprehensive about boarding that plane. Because it’s been a while since I’ve flown, can you offer any tips or suggestions to help me avoid a fight on my flight?

Signed,

Fight or Flight

Dear Fight,

Great question! I, too, have been appalled by some of the atrocious behavior of passengers. While rude behavior seems to be on the rise, I’m not sure why people have become more aggressive. Perhaps the pandemic brought out pent-up feelings which result in anger, or perhaps people have just forgotten how to be around crowds.

Whatever the reason, airlines have been forced to threaten jail time, give fines of more than $50,000, and even institute life time bans to the most egregious passengers. A recent Federal Aviation Administration report indicated there were more than 1,300 incidents of scuffles on airplanes since February. That number is more than was reported in the last ten years.

Two articles that provide excellent advice on ways to avoid a fight on a flight are “The 25 Unwritten Rules of Flying You’re Probably Breaking,” by Daniel Fishel, published in February, 2020 in Thrillest Travel; and another in Insider magazine back in 2013 by Alex Davis titled “13 Essential Rules of Airplane Etiquette.”

Both provide great recommendations including the following:

First, be ready for security. Think ahead about what you need to do to get through the security screening process as quickly as possible. For example, before you get to the x-ray machine, remove any metal from your body and take everything out of your pockets and place them into a bag that you’ll put through the machine.

Don’t wait until you get up to the point of entry to think of what needs to be done. This will only slow the process for those in line behind you. When your belongings come out of the scanner, quickly retrieve them and move to a spot where you’re not blocking others to put on your shoes, belts, etc.

Show Respect to your Flight Attendants. When boarding the plane, please show some respect and humanity to your flight attendant. Make eye contact and say, “Hello.” Their days are filled with rude, inconsiderate and sometimes dangerous passengers. It’s nice to acknowledge them.

Be Mindful of Your Backpack. If you are wearing a backpack when boarding a plane, don’t become a human wrecking ball. Avoid clobbering people with the pack as you walk by, or as you turn to place items in the overhead bin.

Don’t be an overhead bin hog. Because of checked bag fees, carry-on space is at a premium. Avoid taking up someone else’s space by putting your bag in the bin horizontally.

Decline the Recline. If you must recline your seat, then be considerate to those behind you. Turn around and ask the person if it’s alright to recline, and then give them time to hold onto their drink, arrange their laptop, etc. In addition, be polite and keep your seat upright during meals.

As Much as Possible, Keep Kids in Check. Parents, please make an extra effort to keep your children in check. Conversely, passengers should not scold other people’s children. If you are the unfortunate person who is experiencing a child kicking the back of your seat, then ask the stewardess to intervene.

Most importantly, try to be patient. As NBC Travel columnist James Wysong said, “Have a heart. Sometimes kids just unravel — no matter how hard you try. Besides, you were a kid once, too.”

Imbibe Responsibly. Avoid getting smashed during your flight. High altitudes may increase the effect alcohol has on the body, so drink responsibly. Drinking may also increase trips to the restroom.

These increased trips may create an annoyance to others, especially if you are continuously crawling over them to get to the bathroom. You don’t want to end up like the drunken Iceland Air passenger who was duct taped to his seat after grabbing women, choking other passengers, and screaming that the plane was going to crash.

Middle seat armrests belong to whom? Passengers in the middle seat have limited room to stretch their feet or rest their head. Be kind and let them have first dibs on at least one armrest.

Don’t be Odiferous. Please use deodorant. Body odor on a plane (or anywhere) can be nauseating, and there is little one can do to escape an odiferous passenger. Keep in mind that too much cologne or perfume can be just as sickening.

Avoid being a “Chatty Cathy.” While some people may enjoy a conversation on the plane, others may prefer silence. Pay attention to your seatmate’s body language. If they don headphones, open a book, or close their eyes, chances are they are not interested in chatting. On the other hand, if you want to avoid conversion, then try one of these tactics.

Don’t Grab the Headrest. When rising from your seat, avoid grabbing the passenger’s headrest in front of you. Also, when walking to the restroom, don’t grab each headrest on your way — giving fellow passengers whiplash as you walk by

Keep Your Head to Yourself. If you must nap, be cognizant of the passenger beside you. Keep your head and other body parts to yourself. Unless you are related, avoid resting your head on the passenger next to you.

Be as Quick as Possible. When using the restroom, remember there are probably others waiting to use it as well. Avoid long extended times in the lavatory and don’t be a slob while there. Clean up after yourself.

Planes are not for Personal Grooming. Avoid painting or clipping your nails (both fingers and toes). And, while we’re on the subject of feet, do not stick them in the aisle creating a tripping hazard to others

Deplane pleasantly. When deplaning, do so politely and efficiently. Most everyone is excited to get off the plane so avoid standing in the aisle or worse, cut people off by rushing to the front. If you have a tight connection, then politely ask folks if you may go ahead. Most people will oblige.

I wish you much luck on your trip and if you do encounter any rude passengers, I hope the sheer joy of seeing your loved ones after a year-and-a-half will more that make up for their obnoxious behavior.

Pam Harvit is a certified international corporate protocol and etiquette consultant and speaks nationally on business and medical etiquette, as well as other related topics. You may request her services or e-mail your questions to pamharvit.com.

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