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Some Tips on Minding Your Manners in the Air

The Financial Post
September 23, 1994
Stephane St-Onge

Do you know which fork to use when eating a green salad at a formal dinner? Or where to begin if a waiter serves you an artichoke?

Despite your knowledge, displaying proper etiquette on a business flight is a whole new ball game.

There are several commonsense rules to good manners and image, which business travellers should know so they can avoid embarrassing moments, especially when sitting in a confined cabin 40,000 feet up.

"Appreciate that everything is smaller, so make yourself smaller than when you're on the ground," says Adeodata Czink, president of Business of Manners, a Toronto firm specializing in international etiquette and social graces.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Pay attention when stuffing coats, bulky suitcases or packages in the overhead luggage compartments. Objects sometimes fall out and land on whoever's sitting below, but the culprits rarely apologize, Czink says.
    As well, don't take up an entire centre seat with your carry-on luggage, which leaves no room for anyone else to put things there.
  • Don't sling a heavy duffle bag or suit bag over your shoulder and shuffle to your seat, hitting everyone sitting near the aisle in the back of the head, suggests Letitia Baldrige's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners, by Macmillan Publishing Co.
  • Acknowledge your neighbor with a nod once you sit down, and then leave him or her alone because it might be the first time in hours they have had a second to relax, Czink says.
  • As well, don't chatter with your neighbors if they are obviously doing work. If you're a victim of this, Czink says, simply state: "'I'm sorry, I have to finish this before we land'" You can always chat after your work is done. "It's better than telling them to shut up," she says.
  • On the other hand, it's only polite to have a short conversation during meals.
  • If you're going to stand up and walk about often on a flight, get an aisle seat so you're not constantly bothering someone who's working, suggests Rhonda Hjorth, president in Edmonton of Uniglobe Gateway Travel.
  • Some travellers dress up and put on too much shaving lotion or perfume, which can be difficult to stomach when there is very little ventilation in the airplane. So tone it down, "unless you want your neighbor to blow their lunch on you," Czink says with a laugh.
  • Treat flight attendants with respect. They are on board to make everyone comfortable and to save lives in the event of an emergency, not to cater to your every whim.
    If you do have a complaint, speak to the manager in the right department. Go to the head attendant on the airplane, or to customs. "Make sure you know what your complaint is, and ask for the right person," Czink says.
    "Don't blast the first person you see in uniform."
  • During the flight attendant's safety procedures, don't talk boisterously to those sitting next to you, possibly endangering the lives of those who don't know the procedures. Stay silent and obey them promptly, says Shannon Smith, president of Premiere Image Inc., Toronto-based international image and etiquette consultant.
  • Attendants are never tipped, Smith adds.
  • If you're eating in first class, don't select more food than you can eat, Czink says. "Have a certain elegance to the amount that you can eat."
  • Don't ask the flight attendant for an exotic cocktail that she just can't provide, all the while thinking you'll look sophisticated but in fact look terribly naive.
    And although it's an open bar in first class, don't have more than two drinks, because "it drives your etiquette right out the window," Czink says. As there is less oxygen in a cabin and you're already dehydrated because of the flight, it hits you like a "double-whammy."
  • One of Czink's pet peeves is when travellers forget to turn off reading lights during a transcontinental flight, especially when no one is reading and all other lights have been turned off.
  • Don't recline your seat far back, especially when in economy class with a passenger who's six foot four sitting behind you, leaving him no space for his knees, or with his reading material two inches from his nose, the Guide says.
  • Don't talk incessantly on the phone that's on the back of the seat in front of you, depriving everyone else from working. If you're using the phone, speak softly and make it fast.
  • Don't leave the lavatory untidy for others, Smith says. If you comb your hair or put o makeup, lay a fresh towel over the basin and throw it away. And don't take forever to shave or put on makeup while a plane load of passengers anxiously wait for you to finish.
  • Do dress properly. You might think it's OK to appear sloppy when travelling, but it reflects on you and your employer. Smelly sneakers, ripped jeans, undershirts and sweatsuits aren't appropriate travel clothes. And keep your shoes on if you're not wearing socks, please.
    If the flight is over-booked and you're in economy, there's a chance you'll be the one who gets bumped up to business class if you're already wearing a suit