Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Flying Social Contracts

I don't fly as much as my wife thinks, but it does seem to be the case that there is a news story about air travel every time I fly.  This time: a spat between passengers over reclining seats. The guy had come prepared, put a plastic hunk known as a knee defender into the seatback in front of him to prevent the person in front of him from reclining the seat.  She, the passenger in front, got upset when she could not recline, asked for a flight attendant to intervene and then threw a cup of water in the guy's face.   Good times. As a seasoned traveler, the only thing that slightly surprises me is that this happened in the econoplus seats where people do have a bit more room, which means the recliner is slightly less inconsiderate.

This story speaks to the big problem--that there is confusion about the flying social contract.  Yes, the seats can recline, but do you really deserve/own the space behind your seat?  No.  You do not.  You cannot expect that the person behind you should just continue to let the dominoes fall with recliner after recliner until they hit a seat that does not recline much (exit rows and back of the plane).  Why?  Because the person behind you may want to eat, write, compute or whatever.

Basic consideration indicates that you should not recline much if there is a person behind you.  If the seat behind you is empty, recline away.  Otherwise, recline a smidge (an inch or so) but no more unless you see that the person behind you is reclining.  As someone put it on twitter last night, whatever comfort one gains from reclining provides is almost certainly less than the discomfort imposed upon the person behind.

Flying is full of tradeoffs.  Get the window seat and you cannot come and go as you please but you can lean on the window to sleep.  Take the aisle seat and you get more freedom but then you have to move out and back when the inners have to go to the bathroom.  And you get banged by carts and folks in the aisle.  Middle folks?  Well, they be screwed as there is no upside.  And, of course, this incident occurred between to middle people.  One reason I like keeping up my frequent flyer status is that I can dodge those seats most of the time.

Anyhow, because flying requires us to be close to strangers, the onus is on each of us to just be considerate of those around us:
  • Go light on perfume since you have to share your scent with those around you.
  • Do clean up before a flight for the same reason--your scent should not be so strong as to impose on others in a tight seating arrangement.
  • Be tolerant of the kids who cry and bump around--there is only so much parents can do.
  • Do try to provide distractions to one's kids so that they are less likely to be annoying to the adults near by.  
  • Do switch seats if you can to keep families together.... even if it might mean you get middled.
  • Follow the various instructions quickly so that we can get and off the plane and so that the flight attendants can do their jobs.  
  • If you have to move the belongings of other folks to get your stuff in the overhead, ask first and then do so carefully so that you don't mash hats/coats/packages. 
  • Be aware while walking in the airport so that you do not block the way of those who are sprinting to their planes.  
  • Do not dominate the charging stations--charge only one device at a time if there are others in need of a charge. 
  • and, it deserves repeating, Do not recline that far back.
the list can go on and on.  The basic idea again is just be decent.  Sure, travel stress can put anyone in a bad mood and off their game.  But rather than being contagious, the typhoid Mark of travel stress, chill a bit.

And yes, common sense is often not so common.  Alas.

Update:  Yes, on red-eye flights, you can expect more reclining but still some consideration for the person behind you, please.
and I was tweeted this pic by Johannes Wheeldon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I live overseas, meaning most of my domestic short haul flights are at the end of a long-haul and, while it might be 4 pm US time, it's 2 am for me and I got up start my journey. So, I want to try and sleep, which is hard on a plane and harder still upright. When I'm exhausted and miserable, I don't really care about the person behind me.

If the airlines don't have room for reclining, they shouldn't let the seats recline.