10 Ways to Improve the Flying Experience

Many stories have been written recently about what the airline landscape might look like following the rumored mergers. These articles tend to note that travelers will face higher fares, fewer available flights, unhappy airline staff, and a general sense of miserableness once Northwelta and Continited jam themselves together.

That said, on a day-to-day (or flight-to-flight) basis, you may not notice much of a difference. And if you do, I’m fairly certain it won’t be for the better.

But all hope is not lost. Allow me to make 10 suggestions – 7 for us passengers, 3 for the airlines – that would make us all a bit more comfortable once we get to the airport. Most people tend to complain about their flights and blame the airlines for their woes. Since 70% of my suggestions are for passengers, I guess I’m saying that I place 70% of the blame for the generally poor flying experience on my fellow passengers and only 30% on the airline. In truth, it’s probably half-and-half, but I think that we passengers can do 7 simple things to make each flight a little more pleasant…

1) Don’t recline your seat on a full flight. I know your seat reclines. I know that the $49 you paid to fly from Detroit to Orlando gives you every right to recline it. I’m conceding that. But please don’t recline it into my lap. Sure, push it back an inch or two; no harm, no foul. But on many airlines (ie, Continental), if you recline your seat all the way, I can’t even use a laptop, let alone eat something comfortably. Which forces me to either recline my seat (which I won’t do, as it’s number 1 on my list), or sit with your seat in my lap. Both options are terrible. I have two exceptions to this rule. If you’re in the front section on JetBlue you can recline, as it won’t affect me in the least. And if you’re on a redeye, you can recline because everyone else will be reclining. Other than that, please forgo your God-given right to lean back to make everyone else a bit more comfortable.

2) Don’t congregate in front of the boarding area. I know that you are crowding the boarding area because you are afraid that your bag won’t fit in the overhead bin. That is a legitimate fear. But people are getting on before you, and you standing there while 5 other boarding groups get on the plane before you will not make the boarding process go any faster. Having to push by a group of antsy passengers standing around, especially when dragging children, is annoying. Let’s make the boarding process a bit more humane and listen to the gate agents for when your row is called. Which leads us to…

3) Don’t get angry with the flight attendants. We’ve all seen people get testy with flight attendants and roughly 100% of the time it’s neither their fault, nor is there anything they can do to rectify the situation which caused the schmuck to get mad in the first place. They don’t make the rules, they enforce them. Nor do flight attendants cater the plane. Nor store it with pillows. Or blankets. Or cook the food. You think you’d be pleasant 100% of the time after flying around for 9 hours for $13/hour? No? Then give them a break.

4) Step off the plane and keep walking. I’m the type of person who walks quickly. I walk especially quickly after I’ve been sitting on a plane for 4 hours and I’m late. You are the same way. But the people who step off the lip of the plane and stand there waiting for whatever are not those types of people. Please, step to the side. You’ll be happier without someone running into your with their roller bag, and we’ll be happier because we can get where we’re going.

5) Help put bags up in the overhead bins. You ever watch somebody struggle to lift a heavy carry on bag and jam it into the overhead bin? Yeah? Perhaps you should’ve just helped the person. Helping the person a) is nice; and b) gets everyone on board faster. We can all agree on that.

6) Don’t talk on the phone after they tell you not to. As noted above, the flight attendants don’t make the rules, they just enforce them. So don’t be that person who keeps trying to talk on the phone after they’ve made the announcement that you must turn off your phone. And don’t give the flight attendant attitude about it. And don’t make a snarky comment after she walks away. And don’t ignore her when she’s asks you to turn it off again.

7) Don’t hold on to my seat when you get up. Unless you are over the age of 90, you are likely capable of getting up from your seat without grabbing onto my seatback and catapulting me forward. It’s annoying when it happens once; it’s torture when you do it every 45 minutes (both when you get up and sit down). Have a bit of consideration and just stand up. Or use your own seat to prop yourself up.

And 3 for the airlines…

8 ) Clean up in the terminal. I was recently flying JetBlue and their terminal at JFK was absolutely filthy. I don’t mean that it was old; I mean it was dirty. Wrappers and newspapers and garbage all over. Yes, I should’ve included this in the first section about passengers cleaning up after themselves. Noted. But having to sit in a pile of filth for 2 hours is upsetting.

9) Tell us what food is after security/and when we make reservation, tell us if there’s a meal. These are two parts of the same issue: our problem isn’t that airlines don’t serve food anymore (how is it that passengers complained for years about airline food then complained when it was taken away?) – our problem is that we don’t know if there will be food, making it difficult to plan ahead. And when we get to the airport, it’s never well marked whether there is food available after security or not. Passengers have shown a willingness to provide their own nourishment. It would be helpful if airlines and airports gave us a bit more direction about whether we’ll need it.

10) Keep us informed about delays. I’ve mentioned this before on the OTR and someone complained that pilots have better things to do than to keep passengers updated on delays. I agree. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t ask a flight attendant to tell us. Or to make it a priority to let the 200 people who have been circling unknowingly over Cleveland for 45 minutes that they are not, in fact, on their final descent into Boston. Passengers accept that delays are part of the game. We would just like to be told what’s happening so we don’t feel held hostage.

I’d certainly be interested to hear any other ideas readers have about making flights a bit more comfortable. Note that none of my suggestions would cost a penny. If we all do our part, our next flight could be, gasp, enjoyable.


  1. Here’s one.

    If you are on say, a single aisle plane and sitting at the window seat, when one of the other 2 passengers happens to get up to use the restroom, why not get up and do so too. Even if you don’t HAVE to use it, try because inevitably if you don’t, an hour later you probably will have to and then you’re gonna have to ask your 2 row mates to get up to let you out. At least this is what I do (and I’m a window seat person so I do this all the time).

  2. I do not agree.
    #1. I will recline if the seat allows me to do so. If you don’t want me to recline, then tell the airlines to change the seat.
    #2 I agree. This is also the fault of the airlines, they should tell people to move out of the way.
    #3 & #4 I agree
    #5 I do not agree. If you can’t lift YOUR bag, you should have checked it.
    #6 thru #10 I agree

  3. Adding suggestions would be great. Then you need to post that list to someplace that people who do those things read. Here, you are likely preaching to the choir. I’m sure most OTR readers are not part of the problem. It’s like complaining about rude drivers to AAA magazine. If you’re reading the magazine, you’re probably not one of the rude people and if you are, you don’t realize it and won’t change anything you do.

    Good suggestions, though. You might want to ask people not to immediately jump into the aisle at the end of the flight, remove their stuff from the overhead bins, place it on your arm rest and have the duffel bag jab you in the face. Or, like I did as a teenager, remove the heavy bag and drop it on some bald guys’ head.

    Also, while I’m sure the guy next to me from Orlando to JFK had a tough day and did lots of walking, he should have kept his shoes on during the flight. Further, the Axe body spray he used didn’t help to cover the scent.

  4. No matter how:

    no shoes (with socks) –
    no shirt (long sleeve, cabins are usually kept so cold you need ’em) –
    no service (don’t even let them on board)

  5. I completely agree with #1. Why is it so hard to imagine not being able to recline your seats. It slays me that people continue to drop their seats all the way back – my favorite is when they don’t even bother to let you know and you get bonked on the head, or worse, a cracked laptop screen. Courtesy people, common courtesy….

  6. Well, if they commit #1, you are perfectly in your right to commit #7. Often. And let your child kick their seat (as I did.)