Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Airplane Etiquette: Undue Deference Is Not Applicable When Exiting an Aircraft

Have you had trouble on a flight due to bad behavior by your fellow passengers?
To the question at the end of Dr Helen's post on airplane etiquette, I answered as follows — maybe some of you have a comment on the remark?

The most trouble I have had on a flight was not due to bad behavior by my fellow passengers, but to good behavior by my fellow passengers!

Indeed, the behavior on airliners that most annoys me is not that made by obnoxious people but that made by the supposedly politest of people — albeit at the worst possible moment.

People should realize that being deferential and coming to a complete stop in order to allow someone else to pass in front of oneself is not — repeat, not — applicable when disembarking from an airplane.

Specifically, the plane has landed and come to its final resting place, and now some (most?) passengers are standing in one long crowded line along the narrow aisle and are waiting at least somewhat impatiently — for reasons logical (having to catch a connecting flight) or otherwise — for the door to open to get off.

If anything, at this point, for some person to stop, and bring the entire flow of exiting impatient passengers to a stop — while waiting for some waif who is in no hurry to get off to skip into the center aisle, reach above her head to first get one bag out of the overhead compartment, then another bag, plus her coat, and a sweater, followed by her boyfriend who has to slide through to the aisle and engage in the same activities — is disrespectful to the people behind him.

Of course, this doesn't mean anyone should be a boor. And sure, stopping can be fine if it is but a simple pause when you can tell a person in front of you is set'n'ready (standing, watching when he or she can join the flow) to jump into the moving flow and take off at the same speed (or lack thereof) as everyone else. But too often some person will stop for a passenger who is seated, or has barely stood up, and is taking her time and seemingly in no hurry to get off, and is more or less oblivious to what is going on in the aisle.

It's akin to stopping one's car at a green light, making all cars behind come to a stop, i.e., breaking the flow of the traffic, and that in order to "politely" allow a car on the perpendicular roadway to make, say, a right-hand turn on a red light. No! Keep the traffic flowing and let the other driver move in her good time, i.e., when her light turns green (in other words, when there is a "natural" break in the flow)…

If anything, this type of aircraft deference is not only impolite, and annoying, to the people who are ready to leave the aircraft or in a hurry, it is also impolite to the passenger that the champion of politeness is supposedly being polite to: that passenger may be in no hurry to get off, and she is now feeling pressured to speed up when she would be just as happy taking her time and leaving later or even being the last person off the aircraft… No, pressure has nothing to do with politeness…

2016 Update: Two further thoughts: 1) people have eyes in the front and not the back of their heads, and that's one reason they are less aware of people behind them than those in front of them;

2) The middle aisle could be thought of the highway and the seat rows as the side roads, and a driver on the highway does not, or ought not to, come to a stop, halting all the traffic behind him, in order to allow a car or two from the side to enter said highway — even if he has not been (see the previous paragraph) using his rear-view mirrors. (I actually once saw this happen on the ring road périphérique circling Paris!) There is nothing impolite or uncivil whatsoever in having the side roads' drivers wait for, and yield to, the drivers on the highway.

In mid-March 2016 (almost exactly five years after the above post), I was in the aisle of an airliner that had landed in an East Coast airport watching the front people quickly exit when suddenly the flow came to an abrupt stop.

After what seemed like five minutes, due to the deference of one "polite" (!) middle-aged gentleman's who was apparently not going to advance any further until every single person in the five or six seats ahead of him had cleared their seats, emptied their luggage compartments, and headed for the exit, I finally couldn't take it anymore, and to this polite gentleman I finally made something like the following statement in a strong and clear voice:
It is very nice of you, and very polite of you, and very civil of you to wait for the people in front of you to leave the plane before you do, but at least a few of them do not seem in much of a hurry to get out, and maybe if you were as nice, and as polite, and as civil to the people behind you — those who got up the second the engines were turned off, among other reasons to catch another flight — perhaps the people in front of you will not mind if the people behind you are allowed to exit first…
That provided a kick in the seat of the pants of the polite gentleman and got the flow moving again, and once in the terminal, a couple of passengers gave me a smile or a thumbs up…

• The fact is that airlines have no incentive
to end their cumbersome boarding processes

Do airline companies assume that
terrorists can only afford a seat in economy class?

• Do Airline Safety Rules Make Sense? Yes,
But Not in the Way You Were Taught to Think