Rules for Flying

Yesterday I wrote an open letter to the passenger in front of me on my flight back from Lima. I’ll give her credit, in the quest to make physics her bitch she wasn’t a quitter. No matter how many times she failed to force two objects (her seat + my knees) to occupy the same space at the same time, she just kept right on trying.

My physical therapist sends her his love.

Anyhow, in honor of this experience I’ve taken it upon myself to write the following rules of etiquette for the air.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are not animals. No, we do not want to be crammed into seats the size of some laptops. No, we do not want to deal with two hundred strangers helped only by the contents of a mobile minibar.  No, we do not want to watch failed sitcoms while paying $4.00 for a can of cola. Yet we can get through this together if only we join hands and agree to a few basic rules, such as…

#1. Only recline with permission.


Yes, I get that some fliers see the recline as a holy right. They paid for it, now it’s theirs and to hell with anyone else. Those also the people who talk through movies, take the last cookie and steal parking spaces.

Well seats have gotten smaller. There’s less room for a person’s many bits and pieces and the rules have to keep up. Keeping your seat at 90 degrees may be less than perfect, but the Geneva Conventions are about three years from registering “reclined flier” as a stress position and war crime. Ask permission first, otherwise keep that seat up.

#2. And never recline while you dine.

Somone behind you is trying to use the seat tray. The seat tray is attached to the seat back. It’s covered with cups and coffee and a TV dinner. Do not turn their dinner table into a Seussian nightmare of weird angles and cut space.

As for those who actually move their seat during the dinner service, they should quite possibly be ejected from an airlock. (Note to airlines: install airlocks.)

#3. Or eat smelly foods.

We’re in a hermetically sealed canister trapped 30,000 feet up in the air and you decide that now is a good time to unwrap a cabbage and pickled onion slaw? Seriously? How about this, stick your nose in the tupperware and tell me how that smells, because that vinegary chemical wave is about to roll over the rest of us and bake itself into the fibers of every goddamn surface of this flight.

Same for french fries. Thanks to you, every single person on this plane now wants to go to McDonalds, but whoops. Turns out the average 747 doesn’t hit drive-throughs and they forgot to install a fryalator in the galley.

If you haven’t brought enough for the rest of the class, eat it at the gate.

And no curry of any kind. NO EXCEPTIONS.

#4. No screaming parents.

Have you read what happens to a baby’s head at altitude? It sounds awful! They’re little and scared and confused and in pain and can’t understand what the hell is happening or why their parents won’t make it all go away. In their shoes I’d wail too.

No, it’s screaming parents we need to put the kibosh on. I once spent 11 hours on a flight from Athens watching a mother several rows up try to wrangle her savage brood. Bad enough that she had three children so poorly behaved that they thought an Atlantic crossing was a good place for yelling, running and loud games, but I could see where they got it from. Every ten minutes she’d be on her feet screaming at one of them.

Parents everywhere, be part of the solution, not the problem. Because I have it on good authority that we’re getting those airlocks…

#5. The Armrest Armistice

Here is how the armrests are from henceforth to be divided: Window and aisle seats each get one on the outside. The middle seat gets two.

That poor sap has to sit in the middle, cut them a break.

#6. Always use headphones.

Why do I even need to say this? No one in this very cramped space gives a shit about your score in Angry Birds and we do not share your taste in movies, TV or music.

Headphones exist for a reason. Those who don’t use them are barbarians of the worst sort and should be forced to share a special section at the back of the plane reserved for belligerent parents and people eating fried curry.

These are all such simple rules. If we can all learn to follow them then I promise, flying will get much more pleasant from now on.

You can expect laminated print-outs of these instructions to begin appearing in seat pockets within the near future.


Eric Reed may be the only living travel writer who's afraid to fly. A freelance journalist, reformed lawyer and accidental expert on economic policy, he launched Things Dangerous as a place to tell the ups and downs of a beat writer's life on the road.

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  1. dave marshall August 24, 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Very funny well written article…thanks Eric from a frequent flyer – I identify with everything you said….except the $4 for a coffee…its at least double in Europe!

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