Airport etiquette (an oxymoron?)

In pursuit of professional development (and crossing off another city from Aaron’s travel bucket list), we ventured to Austin, TX so I could attend the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) – I will geek out on this experience in a future post.

While we didn’t fly out together on this particular trip, Aaron and I often watch (and lament) our fellow passengers throughout the entire air travel process. I admire (but don’t envy) people who spend a great deal of their time traveling through the friendly skies. Because, from my experience, these skies are not so friendly. And, they certainly do not offer the opportunities to see humanity act in its finest form.

Why is that? What about boarding a metal cage with wings and some inflatable sides causes people to turn from this:

niceairplane

to this:

angryairplane

Is it the confined space? The narrow aisles? The layovers? Hangovers? Or, is it simply because this type of activity fully reveals that most of us are selfish creatures who lack empathy and awareness? Aaron opined about our travels last year during a particularly time-crunched deplaning opportunity. One of the flight attendants kindly asked folks who didn’t have a connection to “stay seated, allowing those passengers with connections the opportunity to exit the plane quickly.” Take a wild guess how many people stayed seated on that flight?

Maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t travel by air that often – about five to six times a year, on average. I acknowledge that my experiences wouldn’t qualify as valid data for a research project. But, there’s just something that seems to emerge from even the arguably most practical people upon entering an airport.

Airport travel can be stressful, especially for those of us who like to control situations. You essentially surrender your control in order to fly. This may explain why people are so unwilling to give up even more when asked. For example, because most flights are booked to the gills, overhead bin space becomes a premium. And, if you are not in the first or second boarding group, your bag may not find a home. To counter having to check bags during the board process, airlines have moved towards offering checking your bag at the gate – a great way to circumvent baggage fees (unless you fly Southwest because they still rock the “bags fly free” motto).

Each time I have witnessed this plea from the gate attendants, I see so few people take advantage. Yes, if you check a bag, you will have the additional step of retrieving it at your final destination, which may add another 7 to 10 minutes to your journey. But, how much time will you delay the boarding process if you’re that person who just can’t find a spot to put your bag? Or, the person who starts manipulating items already in the overhead bin in order to make space for theirs? “Oh, I’m sorry sir – can you actually put your bag under your seat? My enormous duffle needs to fit up here.”

I realize this post may be verging on the petty, but I think I just feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment, as I often do when I see a chance for people to put others ahead of them. It’s more than just not checking a bag or staying seated when others are trying to make flights. It’s the avoiding eye contact with people boarding, internally begging them not to sit in that open seat next to you. It’s the carrying on loud conversations in confined spaces on topics not needing to be shared by the public. It’s allowing your children to watch movies with no headphones. If I have to hear that Dora the Explorer song again, I’m pulling that chute.

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What have your air travel experiences been like?

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