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How To Be A Good Person On An Airplane

Illustration for article titled How To Be A Good Person On An Airplane

Things are getting bleak in the skies. See this article in the New York Times about swapping seats on a flight:

“I just tell her that I think she’s in my seat, and she basically says, ‘Yup,’ “ Mr. Nickerson recalled. “She wanted to be on the single-seat side and so did I, obviously.”

Mr. Nickerson held firm, but as it turned out, the flight crew needed to shuffle around passengers to balance the weight distribution, and he found himself seated next to the woman, who seemed determined to make her displeasure known.

When an elbow first landed in his ribs, Mr. Nickerson figured his seatmate was still adjusting. But by the third — or maybe the fourth — jab, he had a hunch that the woman next to him was sending him a message.

“I mean, it’s a 60-minute flight. There’s no reason,” he said. “I think she was looking for another fight but didn’t want to be the instigator.”


Airplanes are bad. Airplanes are a reminder that all great innovations eventually become nothing more than tools to help evil corporations separate people from their money with maximum efficiency. You are not there to take a magical journey in a flying palace, but are about to be canned like a non-perishable foodstuff into a flying prison. It’s enough to make even the most cheerful person on the planet a grumpy prick eager to snap on the first person who coughs in their direction. Airplanes can reformat the kindest people into selfish, petty monsters who will gladly ruin another person’s day for the sake of a few extra inches of leg room. We have to stop doing this to each other. We have to be better people on airplanes, and here’s how we’re going to do it.

Respect the sanctity of the overhead compartment

If there’s one surefire way to start some shit on an airplane, it’s by being a dick about the overhead compartment. The overhead compartment is the place from where all the energies that will determine the mood of a flight are drawn. If treated properly, it will bring balance and calm to the people onboard, allowing all of them to stow their luggage and find their seats in a timely manner. If it is disrespected, however, it will bring chaos and discord, not unlike the river of slime from Ghostbusters II.

Never place your suitcase sideways in the compartment, so that the handle and wheels are pointing toward the front and back of the plane. This should be self-explanatory, given how much space arranging suitcases like this takes up, but there are a lot of jerks (like you, maybe!) out there who think this is an okay thing to do if their suitcase is too big to fit the proper way, with the wheels or handle facing out. Don’t do this; it is a piece-of-shit thing to do, and if your dumb luggage is too big to be stowed properly, you need to check it.

Keep your small things out of the overhead compartment, too. If you just toss your jacket or cosmetics bag up there all willy nilly, you are doing one of two things: Claiming all of the unused space around your small item for yourself, or forcing someone else into the awkward situation of finding a more efficient place for your junk when they attempt to put their bag in the compartment you have so rudely imbalanced. Keep the small shit under your seat, or wait until everyone else’s bags are put away and then find a corner to jam it into.

Most importantly, you need to know when you’ve lost a battle with the overhead compartment. We all believe you when you say that your bag always fits snugly in the compartment, but maybe you just packed one too many sweaters this time, and the thing is just not gonna fit. Do not be the person who blocks the aisle for 12 minutes while trying to jam your big, dumb bag where it won’t fit. Take the loss and find a flight attendant to gate-check it for you, or risk getting shivved by the angry mob you’ve created.

Don’t touch other people’s stuff

I don’t think this really happens that often, but I once saw an old lady take a dude’s skateboard out of the overhead compartment, drop it on the floor, and then place her bag in the empty space. It almost started a riot. (On that note, don’t put your skateboard in the overhead compartment, you idiot. Seriously, man.)


Keep your damn voice down

In my experience, this is the thing that people fail at the most when flying. Something about the ambient noise—the steady hum of the engines, the whooshing of the air vents, the sustained sighing—that convinces a certain kind of person that nobody, not even someone sitting right next to them, will be able to hear them unless they shout.


People talking loudly in public always sucks, but it’s an even worse experience on an airplane. I’m convinced that all the background noises mentioned above are specifically designed by Satan to to deaden and distort the human voice, so that anyone who loud-talks on an airplane ends up sounding like Fozzy Bear on quaaludes. You haven’t experienced hell until you’ve spent three hours on an airplane listening to a guy eight rows back honk away about his fantasy football team.

Don’t recline your seat

I understand that this has previously been a topic of great debate, and I agree that the psychopaths who put those anti-reclining gadgets on the seats in front of them are monsters, but don’t recline your seat.


My reasoning is simple: When is the last time you were on an airplane and didn’t feel a hot burst of rage the second the person in front of you dropped their seatback right into your goddamn lap? Why would you want to impart that experience on anyone else?

Use headphones or die

I am sorry to report that the scourge of people using their iPads to listen to music or watch videos in public, without headphones, has made its way from the subways and buses of great cities like New York and into to the skies.


On a recent cross-country flight, I had the displeasure of sitting one row in front of a man who thought it was totally fine and good for him to spend the duration of the flight watching episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond without headphones and with the volume turned way up.

This is the sort of cultural disaster that, should it be allowed to persist, will one day be remarked upon as a key component in the fall of human civilization. Alien historians will look back on our time spent on this planet, and they will say, “Yeah, that moment when everyone stopped using headphones on airplanes was a real turning point. That’s when the planes began to fall from the skies. That’s when the wars started.”


And another thing! If you are a good person who uses headphones, try to keep the volume at a reasonable level. The lady sitting next to you has no desire to experience your “Super-Cool Travel Jamz <3” EDM playlist.

Don’t talk to people who want to be left alone

Maybe you’re a chatty person. Maybe you’ve had lots of experiences on airplanes which involved you striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you, and the two of you chatted throughout the flight and you had a great time. That’s great. Good for you. Next time you’re on a plane, though, you should probably shut the hell up.


Most people don’t want to talk on planes, and that’s fine! If you try to start a conversation with the person in the seat next to you and they shut it down, even if they are very cold about it, you are not allowed to get mad at them. They are not being rude; they are just being a normal person who doesn’t really feel like spending a few hours talking to a stranger that they’ve been trapped with in extremely uncomfortable quarters. Let the other people in your aisle live. Read a book.

Don’t be a complaining DJ

If you ever find yourself close to saying something from this Twitter feed out loud to a flight attendant or crew member, just punch yourself in the face.


Don’t be mad at people for being themselves

Look, man, it sucks when there is a crying infant on your plane; it sucks when the old guy with the window seat has to get up to pee four times; it sucks when you have to sit next to a very large person who infringes on your personal space. But here’s the thing: Experiencing one of these things on a flight does not give you license to be a dick.


Babies cry, large people have trouble fitting into seats that have been shrunk to absurdly small sizes in the pursuit of profit margins, and old people have to pee a lot. There is nothing any of these people can do over the course of a flight to change themselves and make your experience more enjoyable. You being inconvenienced by the existence of another human being is not an excuse to start throwing elbows like the lady in the Times article, or to shout-mumble things like, “Someone needs to shut that kid up grumble grumble grumble,” or to demand that you be moved to another seat because the big dude next to you is taking up all the armrests. It’s definitely not time for you to pull some shit. Your shitty airplane experience is not special. Be cool, man.

Yeah, man, just try to be cool

Honestly, most of the tensions that arise on airplanes could be prevented if everyone just had a little more chill and a lot more empathy. Humans should strive to be less self-centered in general, but this is especially true in airplanes.


That crying baby driving you nuts? Imagine how stressed out and mortified the parents who can’t get it to shut the hell up and go to sleep are feeling. Was the flight attendant sort of short with you? Maybe he’s at the tail end of an 18-hour shift and he’s been catching shit from jerks in first class all day. Remember that one flight when you were sick and the 7-year-old kid behind you wouldn’t stop kicking your chair? Now that you’ve got a small child of your own, maybe take extra care to make sure he doesn’t go all Bruce Lee on the seat in front of him.

What I’m saying is that if there’s any time when it’s important to try and be your best self, it’s when you are crammed into a flying tin can with 150 people who want to be there as little as you do. So just, you know, try to throw around a little kindness the next time you are on an airplane.


Unless there is a guy watching Everybody Loves Raymond on his iPad without headphones. Feel free to throw airplane peanuts at that guy.

Image by Tara Jacoby.

Adequate Man is Deadspin’s new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.