Ahead of me is a mass of frustrated, sleep-deprived creatures who are ready to throw me over the edge of sanity. I attempt to secure a small place of my own in this bleak world, but the chaos spills over into my space via screaming babies and loud, inane conversations on cell phones. A voice comes over the loudspeaker announcing bad weather and I watch the frenzied mob ready their pitchforks and cry for justice. Is this my worst nightmare? No, it’s just another pre-holiday visit to the airport, which for many of us is a much worse experience than anything the Bogeyman or Freddy Krueger could conjure.
Airline travel is enough of a headache, but couple that with the high stress levels of the holidays and we have a volatile situation on our hands. How many of us have seen our fellow flyers mercilessly yell at a security screener, or allow their kids to turn the small waiting area into a playground? Imagine how much more enjoyable our annual holiday travels would be if everyone followed the basic rules of airport etiquette. Oh, to dream the impossible dream …
Show Compassion to Stressed-Out Staff
Nobody’s happy when flights are delayed or, even worse, cancelled, especially when all we’re focused on is getting home to our loved ones in time for the holidays. However, many times those delays are for our benefit. Do we really want the pilot to fly through a terrible storm or navigate through an overly-populated sky and risk our lives so that we might get somewhere a little faster? Besides, all the rolled eyes and raised voices in the world aren’t going to make the planes arrive any sooner, so let’s take a deep breath and avoid taking our frustrations out on the airline staff, who are really just helpless messengers. They are already swamped with work and suffering the abuse of rude patrons, so let’s be the ones who make their days a little brighter by not yelling at them over the counter.
Be Mindful of Close Proximity
Travel is at its peak during the holiday season, creating crowded airport terminals and stuffy, overbooked airplanes. Those of us hitting the air this month can count on getting up close and personal with many people we’d rather not. But it doesn’t have to be too uncomfortable if we abide by these simple guidelines.
Avoid the spread-out syndrome.
Knowing they’ll be at the airport for a while, some people like to make themselves comfy and spread their luggage around them, or even put it on seats next to them. This guarantees people will be sitting on the floor and resenting those in seats. Keep luggage and personal items as close as possible to make room for others.
Ditch the smelly perfumes and/or food.
Sometimes there’s nothing worse than sitting next to somebody on a plane who has overdone the cologne, or is snacking on something particularly pungent. Smells permeate the cabins with no means of escape, so consider this before you bathe in Chanel No. 5 or pack that tuna and red onion sandwich.
Don’t treat cell phones like megaphones.
The people who are forced to sit around you don’t need to hear about your love life, job details, or anything else you choose to loudly discuss on your cell phone. Remember what your grade school teacher said—use inside voices! If it’s too loud in the terminal because everyone else is trying to make themselves heard, find a quieter spot to avoid contributing to the din.
Wait until the flight attendants stop speaking to continue conversation.
I’m a superstitious flyer. I believe that listening intently and making eye contact with the flight attendants while they go over airline safety directly relates to the plane not crashing. Out of respect to those of us who are paranoid (and respect to the attendants making the speech, of course), keep the lips zipped until the demonstration is over. Some people really do want to know how to use seats as flotation devices.
Know Before You Go
By now, most people should know the basic rules about what we can and can’t bring on an airplane. (Those who don’t can check out prohibited items  and rules for liquids .) But there’s always those folks in line who haven’t flown in a while, live under a rock, or believes themselves to be above the system and complain when the security guard throws out expensive makeup or shampoo. While packing, find out what’s allowable on board and plan accordingly. Have your carry-on liquids in a clear, zip-top bag and have it in your hands, ready to present to the guard when it’s time to go through the detector. Security check lines will be long enough without the extra time it takes to fumble through luggage or packing something that requires the bag to be searched.
Don’t Cut in Line
It seems impossible that flyers could forget a basic rule learned in elementary school, but it seems to happen all the time. Just wait your turn and don’t incur the wrath of fellow travelers. (Remember, they’re all hyped up on stress, adrenaline, and copious amounts of Starbucks coffee—there’s no telling what they might do!)
Don’t Let Kids Run Around
What is it about children and large, unconfined spaces? While it’s entertaining to watch them run around like banshees, not everybody enjoys being guest stars in a game of tag or having their luggage knocked over. Fewer still enjoy hearing a child crying at the top of her lungs. Though it’s no doubt parents have it rough—trying to occupy their kids while dealing with their own baggage—some treat the airport as one big playground. Instead, try occupying kids with travel-sized games that will keep them close and under supervision. That way they don’t get lost, we don’t freak out, and everyone else isn’t stressed out by the discord.
Holiday travel need not be the horrific, draining catastrophe that we all know and loathe today. If we let politeness and decency win out over grumpiness and anxiety, the excursion could be—dare I say—somewhat pleasant! And maybe when others witness our benevolent treatment of airport workers and the people around us, they’ll be moved to act accordingly. Even small steps toward a better traveling environment can yield surprisingly big results.
Photo courtesy of lunchtimemama  on flickr (cc)
Updated November 23, 2010