By Matt Villano, on December 18, 2013

Top travel etiquette tips

Be nice.


Above all else, this was the No. 1 piece of advice that travel experts shared during Expedia’s most recent Google+ Hangout on Air last week about travel etiquette. The hangout, hosted by yours truly on behalf of Expedia, was in conjunction with a study Expedia recently developed with Northstar. The study, which pulled data from 1,001 respondents, spotlighted the specific subject of passenger etiquette when traveling by air.


During the hangout, travel experts Rachel Rudwall and Robert Reid sounded off about a variety of topics concerning good behavior on planes. Most of their input was in the context of a busy period of travel between now and the end of the 2013 holiday season. In no particular order, here are some of the top travel etiquette tips that were discussed.


Tip 1: Remember that an airplane is neither private nor public space.

Because we all pay to sit in the plane, it’s not exactly a place where anything goes. Reid, a writer and former editor/spokesperson for Lonely Planet, suggested that it’s always a good idea to warn the people in the row behind you if you plan to recline your chair. Rudwall, an on-camera host, EMMY-nominated TV producer, photographer, and writer, noted that you probably don’t want to parade around barefoot (since you wouldn’t do that in, say, a hotel lobby or another quasi-public space). My advice on the subject is similar: When in doubt, do onto others as you would have them do onto you.


Tip 2: Lock the lavatory door.

Whether you’re using the loo for its intended purposes, or you’re using it to join the “Mile High Club,” both experts reminded travelers to be sure and lock the door. Those lavatories exist for everyone, and walking in on someone in any sort of compromising position can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. (Also, it’s proper etiquette to leave the lavatory as clean – if not cleaner – than it was when you found it. One of my major pet peeves is walking into an airplane lavatory with water on the counter.)


Tip 3: Speak softly.

Sound carries, especially when you’re in a flying metal tube. Rudwall said that if you’re sitting and chatting with friends, be mindful of volume so as not to disrupt others who might be trying to a) work, b) sleep, or c) just zone out. Reid added that if the Federal Aviation Administration decides to allow in-flight cell phone use, apply the same philosophy then, too. “I like the idea of people being connected while they fly, but if you’re all cramped and someone next to you is talking for two or three hours straight, that could be really uncomfortable,” he said. Because I travel frequently with my two daughters (ages 4 and 2), I’ve become a maniac about making sure members of my family use their “inside voices” in-flight. All passengers can benefit from this approach.


Tip 4: Practice good behavior on the ground.

Proper etiquette should extend to boarding and disembarking from the plane. Before take-off, this means obeying boarding-zone rules and being mindful of using only the overhead bin space above your seat. After landing, it means waiting your turn to get out of your seat and retrieve your belongings, then moving quickly and not dawdling – as you head for the exit of the plane. Reid suggested during the hangout that, upon landing, most passengers should remain seated until those passengers with connecting flights have disembarked. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly; why shouldn’t they have first dibs at getting off?

Viewfinder Tip: Especially at holiday season, a little good behavior on the part of air travelers can go a long way.

Tip 5: Use social media thoughtfully.

Many travel companies – including Expedia – pride themselves on interacting with customers over Facebook and Twitter. Still, it’s important that passengers don’t abuse this access. Rudwall suggested only Tweeting with an airline when a) you’ve got something positive to share or b) you can make constructive criticism about something the airline actually can change. “If you’re at a restaurant and someone next to you has an obnoxious laugh, that’s not the restaurant’s fault,” she said. “But if there’s a mouse in your salad, that’s definitely something they should know about.” Reid added that it’s also acceptable to turn to Twitter as a means of communicating with an airline when you can’t get through on the phone. One thing that’s never okay: Badmouthing a company for poor customer service in a forum that does not provide the opportunity to respond. We’re all guilty of it (I know I am); let’s make it one of our resolutions for 2014 to change our ways.


Tip 6: Do your part to speed up security lines.

Finally, Reid and Rudwall agreed that all passengers need to be more thoughtful on security lines to help move the process along quickly and efficiently. Reid’s suggestion: undress and organize items while you’re waiting in line. Rudwall’s: don’t wear jewelry to the airport; instead, pack it and put it on once you’ve gotten through security. Both experts suggested placing shoes soles-down directly on the conveyor belt, so as to prevent inadvertently soiling the bins that TSA provides.


Of course the most important tips that came out of this week’s Google+ Hangout on Air: Be nice. Be patient. Treat others the way you’d have them treat you. With an estimated 90 million people flying between now and New Year’s, airports and airplanes are likely to get crazy at this time of year. A little good behavior always goes a long way. 

What’s your best travel etiquette tip?