Air Travel Etiquette

Cheap fares and empty seats may soon be a thing of the past, and that means travel anxiety could go (gulp) up.

As we all know, airlines have been famous lately for budget cuts and adding fees. According to USA Today, Delta said last week it would reduce available seats up to 5% from October through December compared with the last three months of 2010, and cut them by 2% to 3% in 2012 compared with this year. American made reductions on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays by up to 4% starting in August. United and Continental, which are merged, say the combined airline continues “to refine its capacity plans,” and reductions likely will be 2% to 3% for domestic flights for the year.

Matthew Jacob, senior airline analyst for ITG Investment Research, says passengers have fewer options after several airlines have merged in the last three years.

The carriers realize that reducing seats lets them boost fares along with their bottom lines, Jacob says. “Lower supply means higher prices,” he says, noting that planes on average have been flying 80% to 90% full. “Paying more to fly on fuller planes is going to be the norm for at least the next couple of years,” Jacob says. “I think the days of lying across a row of three empty seats on a transcontinental flight are really behind us.”

Given that prices may be going up and there may be more annoying babies in the seats near you, let’s go over the top ten points that we should all keep in mind to make our travel experiences less horrible.

#1: Be on time and then don’t take forever to unload your vehicle. Other people are circling the airport or waiting behind you to get that curb spot, so get your luggage out of the car, say your quick goodbyes, and make the next people happy that they didn’t have to spend time waiting for you to remind the relatives to feed the fish and take out the dog. If you are checking bags, get there an hour and a half early.

#2: Do what the security people tell you to do. Expect the fact that everyone has to remove their shoes, no matter how bad of a food odor problem you may have.

#3: Stay positive. Yes, going through security is annoying as all hell, but it doesn’t have to last long, and once you are through the line, one less thing to worry about.

#4: Don’t be that guy. You know, John Candy circa “Plans Trains and Automobiles.” It’s natural to want to strike up a conversation with someone you’re going to be sharing a seat with for a few hours. It’s part of the human condition, and a nice thing to do to pass the time. While there is always a time and a place for the so-called “single-serving friend” (Fight Club, anybody?), if you don’t want to talk to the person then kindly put your headphones on—and this is a polite way to escape John Candy and enjoy your next few hours of airplane serenity.

#5: Don’t bring your loud baby on the plane. If you do, make sure you put your baby on mute.

#6: Don’t put on ANY cologne or perfume, it WILL bother somebody, even if it cost $100 and came from France.

#7: When the plane lands, be patient and courteous. We’ve all been on the plane where everyone is standing up and about to pounce on the poor flight attendant who is about to open the door. If your neighbor doesn’t have any carry-ons, let them get off first so they’re not held up by the people that have 5 bags in the overhead compartment.

#8: Be glad you are flying and not driving, which is ridiculously more time consuming, dangerous, and irritating (road rage and such).

If you are looking to get the lowest fares, start looking a couple of months beforehand if possible but don’t purchase them yet. Unfortunately, there have been times when I bought a flight and then 2 weeks later the price went down. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you want to yell at the airline customer service person because all they will tell you is that your fare was the best fare “on that day” it was purchased, which just means that you are stuck with it. You would hope that people are rewarded for planning way ahead, but sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Check out a website that has historical data on fares to give you a better idea on when the best time to purchase might be.

#9: Flying can be fun. These days you can buy a portable DVD player for under $100. Some flights now have satellite TV and a wide array of movies to keep you entertained.

#10:  Exhale. Life is short, make the most of it and respect the airline staff so they in turn treat customers better.

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