Air Travel Etiquette

Business Air Travel.

Whether you work in IB, PE, HF, Sales, Real Estate Development or a F500 role, travelling for your job soon becomes one of the realities of life. Those of us who have done it extensively will know that travelling for business is a whole different animal than heading to the local airport a few times a year when you jet out for your regular vacation. Flying to Miami on your way out to your next Caribbean cruise or jetting off to Indianapolis to visit your family for the holidays is not without stress, especially with the debacle that airport security has become, but it is nothing like what regular business travelers experience. For many of us on this forum, waking up at 4:00 AM to catch the 6:00 AM flight to Chicago in order to make a 10:00 AM meeting with a client and then flying back that night (usually with plenty of follow-up work on your plate), is a regular occurrence and never much fun. All of the inconveniences and headaches know to leisure travelers are only magnified.

Most of the airlines, love them or hate them, have programs that cater to the regular business traveler and attempt to attract repeat business through small perks that help lessen the pain. Priority boarding, access to better seats and upgrades are the most familiar. That brings me to something that I have seen occur with more and more frequency over the last few years as airlines have begun to allocate 'choice' seats in Coach to those who are either willing to pay a little bit extra or have accumulated a certain status level in that particular carrier's frequent flier program. Although most firms only allow for senior partners, managing directors or C-suite executives to book business class travel for domestic flights less than a specific duration, they will often book coach travel in 'Economy Plus' or get you early boarding and the choice of a better seat.

The more I have travelled lately, the more I seem to repeat a particular encounter with other travelers. Twice over the past month, and at least a half-dozen times over the last year, I have been approached by another passenger asking me to switch seats. Not surprisingly, this passenger is always assigned a middle seat and is asking to switch into an aisle or an 'extra legroom' seat that requires additional expenditure or higher frequent flier status by the traveler. Last week, on a flight from Miami to Denver, the woman sitting in the middle asked to switch into my aisle seat because she "goes to the bathroom frequently." I had just left a meeting with one client in Florida that day and would arrive in Denver after midnight for an 8:00 AM meeting the next morning. She was a mid-20s hippie/artist coming back from some trip to South America that her folks probably paid for. A few weeks earlier a middle aged gentleman who appeared to be coming back from a vacation with his wife asked me to switch seats so he could sit next to her. He was sitting in the middle seat in the last row of the aircraft (the row where your seats do not recline) and I was 2 or 3 rows in front of him in the aisle. In both instances, I was shocked that someone would have the gall to ask someone to volunteer to switch into a less desirable seat just for their own personal comfort. This is especially true under the airlines' new program of having travelers pay for these more premium seats. In the cases where I have been stuck in the middle (last week on a 6 AM flight from LaGuardia to Chicago) I would never think of obsequiously requesting something like this from another traveler. To me, it is just one of those instances in life where you have to play the hand you are dealt. Sometimes you get a good seat and sometimes you don't, deal with it and move on.

If these were just one-off occurrences, I would just chalk it up to the lack of etiquette on behalf of a few isolated individuals. However, it has happened so frequently lately that it is becoming increasingly annoying. My impression is that this is another example of the entitlement society that many of us have mentioned in other posts on the site. People think that middle seats are for other people and they are 'special' for one reason or another and thus do not deserve things like anything but the most comfortable seats on airplanes.
Now, there are cases where passengers do deserve special treatment. For the elderly, disabled or mothers travelling with small children, it is our duty as members of a civil and polite society to accommodate people that are less fortunate than us. What I have encountered lately does not resemble anything like this. To me, it seems like a less egregious example of those parents who hire handicapped kids to get their families front-of-the-line privileges at Disney World.

Anyone else experienced this, lately? I would be interested in everyone's thoughts on the situation.