What, of all things, could exacerbate the long lines, delayed flights, and lost luggage that frustrated holiday travels?
Countless videos of screaming, ranting airport hotheads –- some devolving to fistfights -- are prevalent on YouTube. One particular cell phone drama documents an expletive-laden confrontation between two women in a JFK airport security line, illustrating in high definition television how the confluence of emotion and aggravation can boil over.
Airports are pressure cookers.
"It's frustrating," said Peggy Post, the U.S.'s preeminent expert in etiquette.
As millions prepare to fly for the holidays, we asked Post, author of the 18th edition of Emily Post's "Etiquette," for some advice to help travelers get by without getting into a screaming match.
Her perspective is twofold: Both as a leading etiquette authority, and as former flight attendant.
"Two years right out of college," she said, speaking of her tenure with Pan American Airways.
"I was young and jet lag didn't really bother me," she said, nostalgically.
Post said she leans on her experience with Pan Am to hone her modern travel advice.
"It helps me understand," she said.
Post, who still travels frequently, recognizes that the experience can be infuriating, irritating, annoying, and so on. And she said it is okay to confront those situations.
"You may certainly be firm," she said, but it is absolutely never acceptable to raise your voice—no matter how much of a release it might provide you.
"I wouldn't yell. Unless there's an emergency," she said.
Post said airline employees, as with all service personnel, deserve common courtesy. Post said that has been a theme of Emily Post's Etiquette since the early 1900s.
"When you're traveling, especially, remember to be respectful," she said. "That's at the top of the list."
TO RECLINE OR NOT TO RECLINE
Post says it is not inherently discourteous to recline. We almost have no choice but to press the silver button and recline in-flight, given how close together the rows are.
"You may certainly put your seat back," she said. But, "instead of just pushing it right back, try to do it slowly."
"Share." That's the one word Post uses to define that disputed sliver of territory between two seats. It's community property. Post says politeness allows for a compromise.
Consider saying this to a strong elbowed seatmate: "How about you take the back and I take the front?"
What about that motor mouth who just wants to talk? The one who won't keep quit when all you want to do is keep to yourself? Post says it's perfectly polite to turn to that chatterbox and say: ‘Pardon me, but I'm not interested in talking. Sorry. Have a great trip.'"
"Do it kindly," she said.
Gone are those gilded Pan Am days in which passengers dressed smartly for flights. Today's are travelers wear pajamas on planes. Or less.
Post concedes comfort wins in 2012. She has concluded the decision what to wear is completely personal, though she does say that keeping –most- of one's body covered is probably appropriate when in public.
Post sighs when she acknowledges the herd mentality that floods the gate. It's tough to remain polite, especially considering the inconsiderate among us who jump the line. Post said it is well within good manners to be strategic about your placement—near the other cattle.
"That's OK," she said. "But don't push; don't shove. And people do."
If someone asks you to move, does good etiquette require you to give in? Post says no. You can stand your ground and stay in your assigned seat.
"You don't even have to give a reason," she said. "You can say, 'I'd like to stay here.'" But Post says you must break the news kindly and gently to avoid retribution.
The best is last.
Post tells a short story, a tale she says is near perfect guidance for parents who choose to roll their young kinds onto an airliner.
The mom stands before her fellow passengers, prior to takeoff, and makes an upbeat public broadcast.
"I apologize for my son's behavior," she says—right up front. "I never know what he's going to do."
Invariably, the people seated around the soon-to-be screaming child are chuckling.
Post says that is exactly the attitude travelers should adopt.
"Something's going to go wrong," she said. "Try to make the most of it."
ESCAPE WHILE TRAPPED
Post said it's best when passengers have something to do, rather than dwelling on a crying baby, a canceled flight, or any of the other nuisances air travel can invite.
"Bring something to distract yourself," she said, quickly recommending her book: Emily Post's Etiquette, 18th Edition.
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