When you’re in the air, a little courtesy can go a long way

Healthy Traveler

THE flight from LAX to Denver was minutes from takeoff when a blast of noise erupted across the aisle from me. A girl, about 5 years old, was watching a raucous cartoon on a cranked-up DVD player, without headphones.

Swiftly, a flight attendant approached her mother. “Ma’am, you’ll have to ask your daughter to use the headphones,” she said.

The mom looked frazzled and said, “I did, and she said, ‘No.’ ”

As some nearby passengers stifled giggles and others looked exasperated, the attendant persuaded the preschooler to don her headphones.


Not all on-board rudeness is as easily handled. With overbooked planes and tightened security making many passengers crabby at the get-go, manners often flag aloft. Here are some suggestions to restore civility — and perhaps your sanity.

Take along gear and a friendly attitude to help you cope. Pack magazines, gum, candy and other goodies and offer them all around, suggests Dr. Mark Goulston, a Los Angeles psychiatrist.

“If you can preemptively trigger someone to be grateful to you, it will make it more difficult for them to be rude to you,” he says. “You want to plant these seeds of gratitude as a way to thwart or prevent a bad attitude.”

Helping others with their luggage can evoke similar feelings of gratitude, says Robert Maurer, a psychologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center. It can put you in a place of “service and compassion,” he says, and that may make you more patient.


Be diplomatic. If the behavior is too offensive to overlook, focus on making your request to stop the behavior as nice as possible, Maurer suggests. Try: “Sorry to ask you and forgive me for intruding, but would you be willing to stop using that nail polish? The smell is getting to me.” Realize, Maurer says, that passengers often are oblivious that they are bothering other passengers.

Diplomacy laced with guilt can work too, Goulston says. “People seem to respond [negatively] to physical sickness,” he notes. If someone’s noise is bothering you, you might say, “Oh, I get these migraines if the sound is too loud. Sometimes I get nauseous. And I really don’t want to get sick to my stomach.”

Be specific in your request. “Indicate how you are being disturbed,” says Stephen Sideroff, a clinical psychologist at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. “If the passenger in front of you is reclined to the max, try this: ‘Excuse me, it is difficult for me to get into a comfortable position when your seat is as far back as it is. Could you move it up a bit?’ ”

Compromise. Ask a reclining passenger to put up the seat for a specified time, Maurer suggests, so you can get some work done on your laptop. Then accommodate that passenger later by putting your laptop away and letting him recline the seat.


Enlist the flight attendant. If even the most diplomatic request gets no results, summon a flight attendant, says Peter Fiske, a spokesman for the Professional Flight Attendants Assn., the union representing Northwest Airlines’ flight attendants. “They may use humor — such as, ‘Do you mind raising your seat so the people behind you don’t have to eat off their laps?’ ” Or they may be firm, such as asking a passenger to turn off an offensive DVD or to put away potentially hazardous materials, such as nail polish.


Healthy Traveler appears every other week. Kathleen Doheny can be reached at