The Ps and Qs of 21st century travel etiquette

Who owns the middle seat arm rests on an airplane, really? How do you break away from the marathon talker in seat 12E? And what do you do, if anything, about the angelic-looking child kicking the back of your seat?

Incivility and rudeness are often the product of stress, and there are few situations more primed for stress these days than travel – especially air travel.

Once glamorous, air travel is now a test of patience, and sometimes even endurance. Patience, courtesy and flexibility will help you cope and a sense of humour will serve you well. While you may have little or no control over long security lines, weather delays, the cabin environment or your choice of seatmate, you can control how you react to adversity. All the more reason to come as prepared as possible to circumvent predictable problems. Here are a few tips, both defensive and offensive, to get you through your travels with less stress and more civility.

- Arrive early. This may be obvious, but it's often undervalued. As your stress level rises your capacity for tolerance and civility often decreases.

- Stay calm if your gate agent gives you bad news. Losing your temper won't get you there faster, and it may lose you the sympathy of the one person who could possibly pull some strings.

- Dress and pack with security in mind to avoid delaying other passengers. Do your homework on current screening procedures and airline policies for checked and carry-on luggage.

Wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, and keep items you may have to remove from your luggage for screening, such as laptops, readily accessible. This keeps the line moving, which keeps tempers calm.

- If you can't choose your environment, create your own. Bring eye shades for napping, and use earplugs to block out unwanted conversations. If your seatmate won't stop chatting with you, smile and say, "Well, it's been nice speaking with you. I'm going to read for a bit now".

- Do your fellow travellers a favour and step away from others to take phone calls.?Keep calls brief while in the air or in security lines.

- The middle seat arm rests are shared property. That said, it's generous for the aisle and window seat holders to give the middle passenger a chance to claim them first

- Travelling is trying for adults, and even more so for children. Crying babies are part of the air travel package, so it's a good idea to carry some earplugs. However, if a child is kicking the back of your seat, it's okay to ask their parent to have them stop – keep it short and offer some understanding.

- Reading over someone's shoulder is nosy and intrusive. Avoid the temptation and come prepared with books or a laptop of your own. If 6A is taking an unhealthy interest in your screen, meet his gaze briefly. This will jolt his awareness – the best medicine for rude behaviour.


- The writer is the spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, a US-based organisation that addresses societal concerns such as business etiquette.


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