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An etiquette expert offers simple but effective dos and don'ts.

Jess McHugh
December 10, 2016

Millions of people will fly to visit friends and family for the holiday season, meaning the normal stress of air travel will be ratcheted up a few notches.

The woes of these trips can be eased by travelers who act with kindness toward each other and make an effort to be a little less harried. With tips on how to survive a holiday flight, we consulted etiquette expert Diane Gottsman.

1. Be mindful of your fellow passengers

A little bit of decorum goes a long way. Whether it's ditching the egg salad sandwich or giving the person behind you a heads-up before you recline in your chair, small gestures go a long way, according to Gottsman.

This idea also includes not spreading one's belongings across seats or taking up too much space. The same goes for the eternal armrest debate. The middle seat has problems enough, so just give them the armrest, she said.

“It feels like it would be the polite thing to do to give them priority.”

2. Travel like a seasoned professional

While some of these tips might seem obvious to frequent fliers, putting in an extra bit of preparation in a few small ways can save both you and your fellow passengers a lot of strife.

Make sure you have your boarding pass out and available, so you're not holding up lines while you fiddle with your phone trying to pull up your ticket. Air travelers can help security run more smoothly by ensuring they do not have prohibited items and have taken all necessary liquids and computers out of their carry-on bags.

During the holidays, passengers should avoid bringing wrapped gifts through TSA security, whether in a carry-on or checked baggage, as anything flagged by the detectors will have to be unwrapped.

3. Don't try to be everyone's best friend

With the holiday spirit in the air and thoughts of eggnog and gifts on the horizon, people can be in a particularly chummy mood. Some in-flight conversation might be a welcome distraction for passengers, but it is certainly not the case for all.

Watch your seatmates' body language to see if the person next to you is interested in hearing about your grandchild, apartment, job, health issues...

“Being polite is very different than carrying on a long conversation,” Gottsman said.

4. Spread goodwill unto others.

Having a pleasant demeanor, a smile, or just a little compassion for people at this stressful moment can enhance the experience of all those around you, particularly for families traveling with young children.

5. Relax, but don't start the party just yet.

As some passengers gear up for an impromptu high school reunion or a complicated family situation, they might be tempted to drink more than usual.

Out of respect to your fellow passengers, drink in moderation and keep any loud singing of Christmas carols to a minimum.

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