15 Tips on Becoming a Better Coach Passenger

Apr 11, 2011

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Over the past three weeks, I’ve flown over 23,000 miles in coach and 24+ hours in cramped metal tubes reminded me that the rules of engagement in coach are much different than business or first class. Somewhere over Greenland yesterday I thought I’d jot down my thoughts to help others become better economy class citizens.

Coach on a Delta transatlantic 757. A small space for 8+ hour flights, like ARN-JFK

 1) Try to figure out your seating situation before boarding the plane. On each flight I saw people scrambling to change seats once they were on-board and I even faced my prime exit row seats being taken by others. In fact on the flight yesterday, a woman was complaining loudly to the flight attendant that “because she had a urinary tract infection” she couldn’t sit in a middle seat for 8 hours. No lie. My advice is to select seats at the time of booking and if you can’t get a preferred seat, get to the gate early and talk to the gate agent when they open up the flight. There are a number of seats that are blocked for gate assignment, so changes can usually be accommodated. You are going to have a hard time trying to get someone to switch into a middle seat in the last row, so be proactive and there may be no need to annoy your fellow passengers with your sob story.
2) Don’t steal other people’s seats. When I boarded my flight to Stockholm on Friday, I had switched my exit row seat to the row 16 bulkhead (using the method in tip #1 since those seats are always assigned at the gate). When I boarded the plane, a man was in my seat, stretched out with an eye mask and blanket draped over himself with Bose headphones. Seriously? After a couple strong nudges he “awoke” and admitted he was in row 17 and that the extra legroom was “too good to be true”. If you want to switch seats, either use tip #1 or wait until boarding is completely over before snatching up an open seat.
3) Be mindful of your carry-on bags when walking down the aisle. When I’m seated in aisle seats, I generally get whacked with a purse or duffel bag at least once during boarding. I recommend carrying your bag with your hands and holding it in front of you, so you are aware of it’s path. When you sling a bag over your shoulder, you have no idea how many people you are smacking in your wake.
4) Reclining your seat is a right, but you should be reasonable with it. We all know coach seats are cramped, so I personally recommend following the following guidelines:
-Don’t recline during boarding. It’s hard enough getting in and out over people, reclined seats just make it harder.
– Don’t recline during meal service, if possible. Trying to eat a meal with someones scalp close to your face isn’t cool. I understand some people sleep through meal service and you’d want your seat reclined, but try to give a little bit of space when possible
– Don’t slam your seat back. Ease into your recline.
5) Don’t jostle the seat in front of you when exiting your row. I know that climbing over your seatmate can require a bit of acrobatics and core strength, but try not to yank back on the seat in front of you for obvious reasons.
6) If you have in-flight entertainment screens, don’t tap strongly on the screens because the person in front of you can feel it. I once had a JFK-LAX flight where the person behind me enthusiastically played Delta Trivia for 4 hours and even though I asked them to tap lightly, their excitement overcame them and they still poked at the screen.
7) Be nice to flight attendants. While I agree that some flight attendants can be rude, it’s not worth it to engage with them. I saw so many people being rude to flight attendants, you can see why so many become snappy. Just be nice – it goes a long way – this past year alone I’ve gotten a bottle of wine and other assorted goodies from the flight attendants for being a nice passenger.
8 ) Help others with their overhead luggage. If you are an able bodied person and see someone struggling to get their luggage into/from the bin, offer them a hand.
9) When you do put your luggage in the overhead bin, make sure the bin will be able to shut. I saw so many people put bags in wheels out and the flight attendants had to do major reshuffling to get the bins to close.
10) Keep your small personal items in your lap or under your seat until all bags are in overhead bins.
11) Don’t bring stinky food on-board. Smells are enhanced in the dry, cramped cabin, so eat your onion rings in the terminal. I once had to sit on the runway at LGA in sweltering heat on a Dash 8 propeller jet as the man next to me opened up a super cheesy Caesar salad. I nearly vomited from the smell.
12) The shared armrests belong to the person in the middle seat. It’s bad enough they have to sit in between people, so at least give them the armrests.
13) Don’t sleep on other people’s shoulders. This sounds silly, but I’ve had people sleep on my shoulder on more than one occasion. If you have a hard time resting your head on the seat, buy a head/shoulder pillow instead of canoodling with a stranger.
14) Allow the row in front of you to deplane before you rush the alley. I hate pushy people who can’t wait their turn.
15) When possible, get your overhead bag down before it’s time to leave your row. It drives me crazy when people clearly see that deplaning is approaching their row and only at that point do they start to collect their belongings. If you need more time to deplane, that’s fine – just get the heck out of the aisle.

I’m sure I could go on forever, but if you feel that I’ve made any glaring omissions, please comment below!

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