Avoid gate lice and wear your headphones: The dos and don’ts of airport etiquette
The mood was festive, or as festive as you’d expect at a crowded airport a few days before Christmas. I was in the thick of it all, waiting for a flight to Miami, excited to visit my in-laws, and to gaze at the pellucid waters of Miami Beach. I could almost taste the Cuban sandwiches and mojitos.
But that cheery yuletide aura was promptly crushed by the banshee-like screeching of a little monster — and not the Lady Gaga variety of little monster — who had turned the gate area into her personal playroom. There was no parent to be seen. She ran to and fro, creating a noisy domino effect by waking sleeping babies who returned her cries like a pack of cranky wolf toddlers.
Meanwhile, a woman returning home from college was on the phone catching up with her mother. This was a very detailed conversation that lasted the entire time I was waiting for my boarding group to be called. I wasn’t eavesdropping. In fact, I was doing the opposite. But the woman was conversing loudly through the speaker phone, sharing the details of Shelley’s love life (“poor Shelley”) and dad’s high cholesterol.
And what do we have over there? A woman decided to take her shoes off and prop up her bare feet on a suitcase as if she were sunning herself in Saint-Tropez. Nope. Absolutely 100 percent no.
This is what a trip to the airport is like in 2019. Etiquette? What etiquette? I’m no Emily Post. Heck, I’m not even Markie Post, but even a muttonhead such as myself knows how to be a courteous human.
What follows are some helpful hints on how to make everyone’s airport experience less stressful. Most of this is common sense, but for some reason common sense departs from airports more regularly than Delta Air Lines shuttles to New York.
Do use headphones Remember that the headphones are not for you, they’re for the people around you who may not want to hear the zombies groaning on the latest episode of “The Walking Dead.” Or, perhaps they don’t share your admiration of John Mayer. The prime offenders in this category are children. Parents love to set up their tykes in front of the iPad baby sitter without headphones. I once politely mentioned this to a parent, who responded by telling me that the headphones hurt his child’s ears. Well guess what? Listening to “PAW Patrol” hurts my ears.
Don’t let your children use the gate area as a playground Parents want their kids to burn off some energy before they sit on a plane, I get it. But remember that there are other people around who may not be fans of free-range, screaming ankle biters. Also, keep an eye on your kids. I hold my breath whenever I see unsupervised kids running around obstacles that could resulting in them tripping, falling, and hurting themselves or others.
Don’t use the airport as a yoga studio Maybe it’s best to get any and all exercise out of the way before getting to the airport. I can tell you from experience that no one wants to see your Bhujangasana while they’re waiting for their flight. This tip also applies once you board the plane. Is there anything more distracting than seeing someone’s leg swinging like a whirligig as you’re trying to read?
Do keep your telephone conversations private I don’t know what it is, but there is something about waiting for a flight that makes people want to talk on the phone. I’ve listened to endlessly mundane chatter, not because I’ve wanted to, but because the Talkative Toms seated near me in the airport keep their phone in speaker mode. This is an easy fix, hold the phone up to your ear. If that’s troublesome, there’s that headphone thing we talked about earlier. If you’re a cell screamer, find a quiet nook away from your fellow passengers and please respect their right to a little peace before a flight.
Don’t be a seat hog Who doesn’t enjoy stretching out with a little elbow room before a flight? Sadly there are always a few wormy apples in the bushel who take it too far. I call these people seat swine. They’re the folks who keep their backpacks, purses, or massive jackets on the seat next to them, even when the boarding area is filling faster than a mall parking lot on Black Friday. It goes without saying, but it appears I need to say it anyway: When you spot fellow passengers who need a seat while waiting to board, move your possessions off extra seats so others can sit their weary keisters down and relax.
Don’t crowd the gate before your boarding group is called In the travel world, we refer to people who block the gate as “gate lice.” A simple fix: If your boarding group hasn’t been called, don’t stand in line or block access to those trying to get on board. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve had to ask someone “Are you in line?” at the gate (inevitably they’re not), I’d have enough nickels to upgrade my seat to comfort class. You have a seat on the plane and you’ll still be in that same seat whether you’re the first one to board or the last.
Do go easy on the booze before your flight Everyone loves a good tipple to kick off their summer holiday, but no one likes a drunk, belligerent jerk. Pace yourself and know your limits. This is particularly challenging for those of you fortunate enough to be in lounges where the hooch is free. The Civil Aviation Authority in the UK states that the low air pressure associated with flying effectively thins the blood and strengthens the effects of alcohol. You don’t want to arrive at your final destination with the beginnings of a hangover, or in handcuffs.
Do be prepared when you reach airport security If you’ve been on an airplane anytime over the past 18 years, you may be familiar with TSA checkpoints. It seems that travelers develop amnesia when they approach this area because no matter how long the line, they magically forget that they need to remove their cellphones from their pockets, take off their shoes and jackets, and remove laptops from their bags. Instead, they wait until the last minute. When a bin is placed in front of them they begin the arduous process of removing articles of clothing, holding up the line. If you suffer from security amnesia, perhaps apply for TSA PreCheck. You can leave your shoes on and proceed at a slightly brisker pace.
Don’t be a human traffic cone There are a subset of travelers who engage in an action I call the stop and gawk. They come to a sudden stop in the middle of busy corridors and stare down at their phones. They also enjoy coming to a dead stop in busy passageways as they contemplate whether to eat at Sbarro or Burger King. Decisions, decisions. Here’s the rub: If you need to stop to look at your phone, the flight connection board, or restaurants, step to the side. If you’re on an escalator or a people mover, stand to the right and don’t block the hurried masses. It’s a simple courtesy, but sometimes it’s easy to forget if you don’t spend a large amount of time in airports.
Don’t be a baggage belt blocker When travelers arrive at their final destination and make a mad dash for the baggage belt, they congregate around the one tiny area where the luggage first drops as if they’re a hungry pride of lions surrounding a hapless gazelle. The belt spins around in a large oval for a reason. It gives everyone space to comfortably collect their luggage. When a crowd gathers in a single location at the belt, it results in a lot of elbowing. It also creates a visual block for others. Unless you’re carrying gold bars in your suitcase, please make like Stevie Nicks and stand back. Your luggage will reach you, and you’ll be giving others a chance to see when their suitcases arrive as well.