9 rules for boarding a flight like a civilized person

by Сашка

Don’t line up at the gate until your group is called. (No, really.)

There’s something about catching a flight — the stress, the time crunch, the hurdles — that puts us all into main-character mode, sometimes at the expense of common courtesies. But no matter how much it feels like it’s us against the world when we fly, in reality, it’s a team effort.

“It’s not your aircraft, and there are other people, … and your needs are not necessarily any more important than theirs,” said William Hanson, an etiquette coach and the director of the English Manner. “That is part of the bargain whether you’re flying first, premium, business or economy.”

That bargain begins with boarding. If we can agree on best practices from the start, the whole travel process can go more smoothly, making flying — and life — better for everyone.

Here, according to travel and etiquette experts, are the unofficial rules to boarding a flight.

Get to the airport on time

A rule so basic we probably don’t need to tell you, but just in case: “Get there on time,” said etiquette expert and coach Lisa Richey.

A polite traveler arrives with enough time so they don’t have to inconvenience other travelers. Boarding thrives when you’re at your gate with at least a couple of minutes to spare, not if you’re cutting the line at TSA and sprinting through the terminal, whacking travelers with your flailing carry-on bag screaming, “Hold the plane!”

Treat the gate like a hotel lobby, not a picnic

As a rule of thumb, treat the gate like you would a hotel lobby or doctor’s office. You’re there to wait, so get comfortable. But not too comfortable.

Whether you got there hours early or you drew the short end of the stick with a delayed flight, resist the urge to sprawl at your gate or unfurl an elaborate picnic spread. There are other people who would like to share the precious seat-and-floor real estate before takeoff.

Keep phone calls quick and quiet

Millions of Americans these days can work from the car, the lounge or the airport toilet, but that doesn’t mean you always should. If you must take a call during boarding, keep conversations to a minimum, Hanson said. A quick call is perfectly acceptable, but save longer, more involved ones for the privacy of a hotel room.

When you’re talking over everyone at the gate in a deep dive about a business proposal, it sends a message to your fellow travelers that “what I am doing is so much more important than what anyone else around here is doing,” Hanson said. “That goes against every mannerly fiber of mine — and a lot of other people’s.”

Gather your belongings and boarding pass before you line up

Boarding should be starting any minute; your time has almost come to get out. Take these last moments to shift gears into efficiency mode. Toss trash, consolidate bags, refill your water bottle, wrap up your chargers.

As you’re getting your life in order, “know what items you want to access during the flight,” and make sure they’re handy, Alexis Bowen, co-founder of the travel planning company Elsewhere by Lonely Planet, wrote in an email. You don’t want to hold up boarding by digging around your bag for your phone or compression socks later.

Whether your boarding pass is physical or on your phone, have it ready to scan before you get to the gate agent, Bowen said. If it’s digital, Hanson recommends proactively turning your phone’s brightness up to full blast so it can be scanned more easily — thus keeping the line moving as smoothly as possible.

Wait for your assigned turn to board. (No, really.)

It is tempting to crowd the gate in anticipation of boarding, particularly when overhead bin space is limited and many of us carry on bags we’d rather not check. Even travel expert Samantha Brown — the Emmy-winning host of PBS’s “Samantha Brown’s Places to Love” — is guilty of preboarding creep.

“I think the gate agents call us ‘gate lice,’” she said.

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While lining up as soon as possible may sound helpful, it can actually slow the boarding process down. “If you are there and you’re not boarding, you’re in the way,” Brown said.

Instead, wait until your exact boarding group is called before you approach the gate agents. Don’t try to sneak ahead of your group, either. It’s “a complete waste of time for everybody when you get called out,” Hanson said.

Keep a healthy distance from the boarding area and your fellow travelers, too. No one likes to be crowded.

Don’t disappear into your headphones

When it’s time to hand over your boarding pass to a gate agent or greet the flight attendant on board, take off your headphones or at least pop out an ear bud to show you’re a decent human giving another human the time of day. It is very easy to put on headphones and escape the many annoyances of the world with a good playlist or audiobook. It is also easy to forget that it’s rude to wear them while you interact with people.

You’re better off not drifting into a headphone dead zone anyway. “You do sort of need to be attuned to the boarding announcements going on around you,” Hanson said. “Your flight may be canceled, and you’ll be blissfully unaware listening to your podcast.”

Find your seat and sit down fast

You’ve now scanned your ticket and are on the plane, but your responsibilities are not complete. Keep the ball rolling by finding your seat and getting out of the aisle as quickly as possible, so others behind you can do the same. “Avoid taking excess time to stow luggage and get settled; do whatever you can to not hold up the line,” Bowen said.

If you’re sitting in the aisle seat, Richey says to be conscientious of the row mates who will be joining you. Stand up when they arrive, instead of making them climb over you to their seat.

Use the overhead bin closest to your seat

While there’s still plenty of room for the taking, do your neighbors a solid by trying to put your luggage close to your seat assignment. If the bin gods look down favorably upon your flight, everyone will be able to fit their bag near them, avoiding the dreaded “my bag’s in the back of the plane, but I’m sitting up in the front” scenario.

But bins do fill up. Be courteous if your bag gets gate-checked, or go with the flow if you have to stash your stuff in a bin far, far away. Whatever you do, “don’t fight over the overhead bin space,” Bowen said.

Which brings us to our last tip:

Remember the Golden Rule

Travel, like so much else, goes much better when people love thy neighbor — even if thy neighbor is hogging the armrest.

Brown has made it a point to “pay it forward” when she’s traveling, such as by assisting someone with their bag or asking people with mobility issues at the gate whether she can grab them something on her preflight coffee run. “No matter what you’re going through, there’s someone else who is going through it 10 times harder than you are,” she said.

And, if you’re lucky enough to be a frequent flier, Brown said, “spread your capabilities and your know-how to help some other people.”

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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