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Mind your manners! An etiquette trainer’s 5 tips for pleasant air travel

Article published
23.8.2019 at 09:00
Who gets the arm rest between two seats? How do you politely wake up the person seated next to you? We asked a legendary Finnish etiquette trainer for tips on thoughtful travelling.

Air travel often goes hand in hand with a tight schedule, a bit of nervousness and limited space that must be shared with other passengers. Therefore, good manners and a relaxed attitude come in handy when flying.

Etiquette trainer Kaarina Suonperä shares her tips and tricks for making the journey a pleasant one for everyone involved.

1. Be flexible, give space and make small talk

“Travelling requires us all to settle for a little less comfort than usual. There are always other people on the move, and everyone else is just as busy as you,” Suonperä says.

In her view, minor inconveniences are not worth the fuss because what really matters is reaching the destination safely. A baby’s cry, for example, is usually something that not even the child’s parents have any control over.

According to Suonperä, a passenger seated in the aisle or window seat in a row of three seats should remember to give space to the person seated in the middle.

However, not even Suonperä can recall specific etiquette to guide the use of arm rests. But what can you do if you’re stuck in the middle seat with both arm rests taken over by the other passengers? The etiquette trainer thinks small talk and humour can go a long way:

“If you’re seated in the middle, you can think of a friendly way to ask if you could rest your arm for a while – you can even make an excuse, if it feels difficult otherwise. Playful small talk can help: ‘Excuse me, I noticed that this aircraft is missing two arm rests! Can we split this one?’” Suonperä suggests.

She emphasises that it’s always polite to offer space to someone who seems to be struggling with limited room.

2. Learn to say “excuse me” in different languages

Kaarina Suonperä stresses that travelling is more pleasant when you communicate with fellow passengers through friendly words and gestures.

“You can introduce yourself to the passenger seated next to you, and even smile!” she laughs. “Another thing to consider is being able to apologise in different languages. It’s very likely you’re forgiven for causing a minor inconvenience, if you say you’re sorry.”

Frequent flyers may be familiar with a situation where you need to use the lavatory, but the person in the aisle seat has dozed off wearing headphones. How do you wake up a stranger?

“A gentle tap on the shoulder and an apology will do the trick,” Suonperä advises. “The shoulder is a neutral spot, and most people don’t mind someone saying they’re sorry. Climbing over someone, on the other hand, is out of the question,” Suonperä says.

3. Keep odours in check

In public spaces, strong scents like perfumes and some hair products are a nuisance to people who are allergic to fragrances. An airplane can be an uncomfortable environment for those with allergies, since changing the seat during flight isn’t often possible.

“Travellers should avoid strong fragrances. Moreover, the smell of cigarette smoke can be disturbing to other passengers. If you see someone near you suffer from a strong scent, you can ask if she or he would like to switch seats,” Suonperä suggests. Sweat is another source of unpleasant smells. Suonperä recommends keeping your shoes on for the whole duration of the flight.

4. Be careful with alcohol

Holidaymakers often celebrate the start of a trip abroad by having a drink. Having too many drinks, however, can make other passengers feel uneasy. Suonperä points out that many of those afraid of flying use alcohol to reduce the fear.

“The fear of flying can be difficult for an adult to admit. Therefore, you should bear in mind when flying that there’s often someone around who is a bit scared. You can help that person feel better by having a nice little chat, for example,” she advises.

5. Relax and enjoy the flight

Suonperä recommends thinking of ways to make your flight enjoyable. Comfortable clothes and something interesting to read or listen to can help you relax in a situation where you must give up some of your personal space to other passengers. The etiquette trainer has one more tip, and it has to do with mobile devices:

“Thoughtfulness also applies to the use of laptops and other smart devices. The person sitting next to you also deserves an opportunity to rest in peace and quiet. And wishing fellow passengers a nice trip will hurt no one – on the contrary!”

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