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Airplane etiquette: How to handle seat kickers and other conflicts

Thomas Farley, aka Mister Manners, offers airline etiquette tips for getting through some common conflicts that can arise while flying.
/ Source: TODAY

The airline industry has been having quite a turbulent year. Between a man being dragged off a United flight and an American Airlines flight attendant grabbing a stroller, it feels like it's only getting worse.

So how can you navigate the skies with an air of civility ahead of the busy summer travel season? We talked to Thomas Farley, aka Mister Manners, to get his tips for airplane etiquette as part of TODAY's "Manners on the Move" series.

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1. Be prepared.

Arrive early at the airport whenever possible, and anticipate the hassles that inevitably arise with air travel. Bring along items and activities that keep you happy, whether it's a favorite book, game or playlist. This will help keep your stress levels down, and your behavior on the up-and-up.

2. Engage in conversation.

Strike up conversations with fellow passengers. If we neglect the importance of human interaction, we really are just a step above cattle, says Farley. Popping in earbuds and pulling an eye mask over your face from wheels up to wheels down may be depriving you of the chance to meet interesting people, and perhaps even lifelong friends.

3. Be considerate.

Are you putting your own personal comfort above that of others? Whether it's smelly food or stinky feet, armrest straddling or rushing the exits, remember, this is not a private plane. You're part of a community of passengers when you fly. Think about how your actions could negatively affect others’ flying experience, and curtail any selfish behavior accordingly.

And while following these tips will you help you navigate the average flight, there are some common scenarios that arise when we're packed like sardines at 39,000 feet. Here's what to do:

Fussy Kids

If it’s an actual infant — and not a toddler — try to be understanding, says Farley. If the mom is giving the baby its bottle and doing all she can, it’s hard to expect more. Crying babies are a part of life.

Still, Farley draws the line with children whose parents allow them to continue their bad behavior. In fact, he views travel as a great opportunity for parents to teach their kids about self-control.

Child scream on aiplane
Address the parent, and never the child, during a conflict.Shutterstock

According to a 2017 Airplane Etiquette Survey by Expedia, 64 percent of Americans cited the “Rear Seat Kicker” as the most problematic passenger, edging “Inattentive Parents” (59 percent), defined as “parents who have no control over, or pay no attention to, their crying, whining or misbehaved children.”

If a child is misbehaving and kicking the seat in front of him or her, and if the parent is basically saying, “I can’t do anything about it” — the parent needs to offer to switch seats with the person who is being disturbed.

And if you're the seat-kicking victim, you don’t need to ignore it for the entire flight. Address it with the parents — not the child. You should approach it in an empathetic way, such as, "Sorry, but your child has been kicking the back of my seat for an hour. I am really trying to get some sleep/work, do you mind helping me?” If that doesn’t work, speak to the parent one more time, and if the kicking continues, talk to a flight attendant who may be able to move your seat.

Mister Manners' Airplane Etiquette

Disabled Flyers

If you see someone who is disabled on your flight, one of the most important things you can do is remember empathy and patience. Give those in wheelchairs plenty of space and time to get on and off the plane. While there's usually someone assisting anyone in a wheelchair to and from the plane, it never hurts to ask the passenger whether he or she needs help, or if you can grab a bag for them.

Flight Attendant Issues

Always be kind to flight attendants, Farley advises, noting that "99 percent" of them are extremely kind people. But if you're having problem — specifically with one of the flight attendants, try to talk to him or her first. If that doesn't work, most crews have a chief flight attendant, who heads the group. Speak to the chief rationally, and explain the details.

But ask yourself how rational your complaint is first. Is your issue something that will ruin your life forever, or just for the two-hour flight?

Drunk Flyers

Stuck sitting next to someone who's had a bloody mary (or five) too many? Put on your headphones and turn on a movie, says Farley. If they keep trying to chat with you, tell him, "I really want to watch this movie, if you don't mind." If he continues to bother you, reach out to a flight attendant for assistance.


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