Stop Shoulder Surfing: How to Be a More Considerate Traveler

Isn’t it annoying when a suitcase is rolled into your shin by a texting-while-boarding passenger? Don't be that guy.

By Jason Bargas August 9, 2017

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Feel free to chat with your fellow passengers—as long as you're not interrupting them. Were they wearing headphones? Reading a book? Working on a spreadsheet? You may be interrupting.

Image: Shutterstock

A close friend and fellow business traveler theorized that it is, indeed, possible to fart on an airplane without spreading any noxious fumes due to the pressurized cabin and the porous composition of your seat cushion. Stifle your urges, Sparky. That theory is officially crap. Just because the cushion floats does not mean it is a cork.  

Below, nine more etiquette tips for travel (and real life).

“Be Excellent to Each Other”

Bill & Ted waxed poetic in this riff on The Golden Rule. The fictional surf dudes were right. Take a deep breath and extend some courtesy to your fellow travelers. Further, customer service reps at airline ticket counter, hotel desks, car rental counters and restaurants are in the service industry, but that does not make them servants. Do not treat them as such. Aside from being sentient humans, they are also empowered to help you with missed connections, hotel upgrades, and saving you money. These hard-working folks can also transform your life into a Groundhog Day-like Hell. My former colleague still has no idea that her mysterious mid-week check-outs and ADA-compliant bathrooms were a direct result of her bitchy attitude toward the hotel staff.

Take Advantage of the Queue

Question: what’s more frustrating than waiting 12 agonizing minutes to pass through the TSA checkpoint? Answer: encountering oblivious travelers who have not used that waiting period to prepare for screening. Use your time in line to: empty your pockets, secure valuables in a carry-on, locate your pouch of travel liquids, prep your laptop for removal, take off your shoes, drink that bottle of water hidden in your laptop bag, remove the eight dollars and seventy-six cents in mixed change from your pockets, etc.

Respect Carry-on Rules

Ask yourselves the following questions to avoid being a carry-on jerk:

  1. Do your carry-on bags meet the size constraints of the carrier?
  2. Do you have more than three pieces of carry-on luggage?
  3. Will your personal item fit under the seat in front of you?
  4. Does your suitcase feature an expansion zipper that has been unzipped, i.e., is the bag is expanded?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, gate check the bag that is in violation. Gate checking quickly keeps the flight on time, and you avoid wasted time and effort spent trying to cram it into the overhead bin. Plus, as an incentive for this preferred behavior, many airlines do not charge for gate-checking bags, which entails surrendering your luggage for checking on the jetway just before you enter the aircraft.

Be Cognizant of Your Luggage

Isn’t it annoying when you get whacked in the head by a purse, or a suitcase is rolled into your shin by a texting-while-boarding passenger? I can sympathize. Please, please, please put away your mobile device and use that hand to carry your bag down the aisle. Do not be tempted to shoulder your bag. Doing so results in your bag protruding behind you like an errant fifth wheel, and it will knock a seated passenger in the head.

Seatback Tray Tables Should Be Used Gently

The seatback tray table should only be used for your in-flight refreshments and laptop. Each movement of the tray is amplified and passed into the seat back and relayed to the seat occupant. Thus, it is not an appropriate location for your jumping toddler, video game console, or typewriter (yes, this has happened). Next, having a baby on the plane does not entitle you to anything except early boarding.

Have Some Empathy for Traveling Parents & Chaperones

No one wants to be seated next to a child throwing a tantrum—least of all his/her parents, guardian, or chaperone. Don’t be the bigger baby by throwing your own tantrum about “not believing [you] have to deal with this.” A polite request to change seats is no big deal; berating the staff or the parents is the wrong move.

Enjoy the Silence

Travel is exciting. It is natural to want to share your excitement with the passenger next to you. Give it a shot if they are not sleeping, reading a book, rocking out to tunes, watching a movie, or pretending to do any of the aforementioned activities. You should only force communication in the event of an emergency or at the direction of a staff member.

Minimize Shoulder Surfing

The struggle is real when the person next to you is catching up on Netflix, practicing a presentation, or doing anything that you think is niftier than staring out the window into the clouds. Fight the urge to shoulder surf.

Buy a Privacy Filter

If you are the person with a device and are seeking some privacy, stow it until you’re in a private setting. Else, avoid putting it your neighbor’s line of sight or use a privacy filter to mitigate the risk of disclosing trade confidential information. Get one for your mobile device as well.

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