Most of us don’t bother how we are dealt with or how we come across while travelling, that is, by air. Those lucky enough to sit in business or first class are often blessed with those glorious few inches that grant you precious privacy and save you from jostling elbows and spilled drinks. Not to mention scrumptious food and real coffee.
Others travelling economy are not so lucky. Not only do you have to endure rows and rows of holidaymakers in the high season, you often end up with suicidal or murderous thoughts. The howling babies, the-not-so courteous passenger elbowing your precariously placed elbow off the elbow rest, the agony of inwardly and outwardly folding your frame deep within the tiny space of your allotted seat—you are lucky if you get one by the window, at least then you have some solace in resting your weary head on the side of the ice cold window. Brrr, it is still better then being wedged in the middle of the three-seat or worse the four-seat row! It takes making dashes to the toilet all the more challenging, at the end of a long overhaul, say a seven or eight-hour flight. You have to be a master tactician and strategist rolled into one, calculating the queue at either end where the toilets are placed, making sure you get there when the seat belt seats signs are turned off, learning how to be thick-skinned enough to ask those hindrances sitting in the way of you and relief, to let you pass. Yes it does take a lot of nerves to endure this, but that’s fine it is something we should have gotten used to, in this modern day and age since air travel is but a common occurrence.
But how many of us ever give any thought to how we should behave on a plane. Enduring being nestled like tightly-packed sardines is enough to fray even the sunniest, most resilient temperaments. It would be great to have your fellow passengers behave as politely as star pupils of the best etiquette academy so maybe it’s time we all started extending the same courtesy to others. On a not so recent trip to the nether end of the Continent, a good seven hours away, I was unfortunately seated next to a gentleman who thought he was Akon. If only he could hum that good for all he did was drink, burp, leer and push a poor Chinese girl’s arms (and mine) off the elbow rests. He then refused to get up when she wanted to visit the loo and expected her to squeeze herself into a thin line to be able to slide past his protruding knees. Urgh, he was lucky she was polite enough not to even utter a sharp EXCUSE ME! It left me seething inwardly, make a face bad enough to crash the plane and pretend not to hear him when he asked if I was going to eat my untouched muffin. The cheek of it! Mercifully that ordeal ended after hours of agonising, unable-to-sleep-a-wink in fear his head might roll this way. Though immigration at my port of arrival was smooth enough and the destination, foreign and exciting enough to lift my spirits, I could not help feeling bruised and raw inside.
While driving through chestnut tree lined sunny streets to my hotel I was struck by a saying I had often heard while growing up. One can only know the true nature of somebody during travel. Why? Because travel is disorienting, it is a reflection of your true nature, it strips away your layers of pretence and bares your raw and real self. So those of us who are selfish humbugs and do not really care how others seated next to us suffer can continue to behave in a boorish, offensive and uncouth way. Others who would like to be treated with courtesy can start extending the same to their fellow travellers. Why not be gracious and nice about it, would not that make a huge difference to your mood when you land in a strange land. Not to forget, having yourself remembered warmly by total strangers!
It is also sad to note there are fewer and fewer people now to extend a hand to ladies who are struggling to place a heavy bag in the compartments above. Feminism is fine but courtesy to the fairer sex still counts, or at least one hopes it does. Then there are those who cannot even bear to wait for ten seconds to allow a family with small kids to pass, no they must disembark first, and they don’t care who gets trampled, pushed, shoved in the process. As for the airhostesses they need to learn some basic manners, especially when dealing with people who do not speak the English language. One poor man who made the mistake of standing up while the plane was still cruising on the runway after landing was so badly shrieked at by a cockney-accented Missy that I wanted to shake her by her unhappy, bony shoulders. Had she been a little less caustic in tone, the poor fella would have left a happier soul, rather than bear a shriveled, petrified and sheepish look. Yes, there are many who are plain stubborn, but then there are also those who are not proficient in air travel and need to be gently reminded of the do’s and don’ts especially when they don’t know the language. Travel etiquette should thus not only be mandatory for passengers but for the cabin crew who must not by their behaviour give a bad name to their airline. So to reach our own little Cloud Nine let us start by giving others a more comfortable air start!
Faryal Leghari is Assistant Editor of Khaleej Times and can be reached at email@example.com