Top 10 Rules We Wish Airlines Would Enforce

Posted Apr 1st 2010 12:51 PMUpdated May 5th 2010 10:22 AM

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Aaron Escobar, flickr

Have you ever had to sit next to a loud, drunk or just plain smelly passenger? How about in front of a shrieking kid who won't stop kicking your seat right where your chiropractor just performed an adjustment? How about one of those people who immediately recline their seat and keep it there -- even through meal service (if the airlines are even serving meals anymore)? Don't you wish there was a law against that? In an ideal world there would be. To wit, we put together a list of 10 commandments we would put into effect if we ruled the world (or at least the friendly skies). Some of the onus is on the airlines themselves, of course, but many of them require passengers to observe both etiquette and a smidgen of common courtesy. So let's be a little more thoughtful out there. Anything else you'd like to make part of the airline bible? Tell us in the comments below.


1. Passengers shall place their carry-on bags in the overhead bin directly above their seat.
It's so frustrating to book a seat towards the front of the plane hoping to make a quick getaway, only to find the compartments above your seat are full. That means either waiting for everyone else to get off the plane or fighting your way upstream like a salmon to find your bag that ended up back about 15C. Passengers should be required to use the space allotted for their seat, and that's it. Strictly enforcing rules about what passengers bring on the plane would also mean fewer flight delays, gate checks, stewards barking orders, and attempts by passengers to hoist carry-ons that they physically can't carry on. "I'm always hearing that readers think airlines should severely limit carry-on luggage," says Anne Banas of SmarterTravel.com. "Or better yet, reward those passengers willing to travel light with perks like priority boarding and deplaning."

2. Drunk passengers shall not be allowed to board.
Give the gate agents breathalyzer machines and bar anyone over the limit. If you don't think it's a big problem, it is. Intoxication causes both disruptions and flight diversions. One inebriated United Airlines passenger defecated on a First Class serving cart in plain view then tracked his poop through the main cabin. In January, NORAD dispatched two F-16 fighter jets to escort an AirTran flight because an unruly and over-indulged passenger refused to leave the toilet. Thousands of dollars and manpower were wasted, not to mention that the flight was delayed hours while the FBI questioned all passengers. A recent United Airlines DC-Vegas flight was also diverted to Denver after an allegedly drunk and disorderly passenger tried to open the cockpit door (nothing more embarrassing than appearing on the evening news and YouTube). It's for your own good, too, since interfering with flight crews can mean up to 29 years in prison and a million-dollar fine.

3. Airlines shall tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
We demand transparency in politics and finance, why not in aviation? It starts with the hidden surcharges. Airlines should be required to clearly list all in-flight fees (food, headsets, WiFi) up front on its website. The new Passenger Bill of Rights is a start, but we need a real explanation about the flight delays. Is the crew late because of a fender-bender, or just a bender (last year, both a United and an American Airlines pilot allegedly failed breath tests)? Admit when minor malfunctions are major -- and that they should have been repaired the night before. Tell us as soon as you know we'll have to go into a holding pattern and why. And as Banas comments, stop padding the itinerary so you can boast about on-time arrival. We are on to you.

4. All children shall have their own seat.
Children under the age of two are usually allowed to fly sitting on a parent's lap free of charge. Tempting for parents on a budget, but the thought of a squirmy infant with nowhere to go for three hours is not exciting. And what if there is extreme turbulence, or even worse, a crash landing? We say parents should have to purchase tickets (at a steep discount, in our perfect world) and should also be required to bring a government-approved car seat both as restraint and for the child's safety. And parents, we get that kids have sensitive eardrums (hence the squalling), but stop the seat kicking already. In fact, let's confine families to one section. Gadling.com's Annie Scott suggests, only half-kidding, putting families behind a soundproof barrier with formal kicking wall. Not a bad idea.

5. Passengers shall not violate the personal space of others.
This seems to be the most controversial commandment of all. TripAdvisor recently asked 3,200 travelers to air their biggest plane gripes and nearly 75 percent responded that large travelers should be required to buy two tickets. United and Continental already mandate buying an extra "air-besity" seat, as does Southwest, despite the Kevin Smith PR tummy ache (the director and carrier weren't a good fit). But even if your width stays within the confines of a conventional airline seat, you're still crammed in like a sardine. So we urge airlines to restore shrinking legroom back to the masses. Only JetBlue (and to a lesser extent, other value carriers) ensures passenger comfort in steerage. If we look at it from purely a safety standpoint, studies have found that minimum legroom standards help safeguard against blood clots, a potentially fatal risk for those spending lengthy immobile periods in cramped quarters. We also make the controversial call for eliminating reclining seats. Sure you should be able to eke out any bit of comfort you can, but that doesn't matter to the person behind you that is trying to work on a laptop or do something crazy like eat without getting crushed to death.

6. Passengers shall have proper hygiene.
Cleanliness is even closer to godliness at 30,000 feet, especially in a confined airplane with recycled air. Speaking of feet, don't allow passengers to remove smelly shoes and socks. Install antiseptic cleansers throughout the plane, not just at the lavatory. And have products like deodorant available for funky travelers who smell like they ran a marathon. The rule of thumb should be: if you can smell passengers from 10 feet away, ban them!

7. Airlines shall thoroughly clean the planes.
There's a reason health professionals often cite aircrafts as virtual petri dishes, incubating illness despite the HEPA air recycling filters. Yes, we know there's never enough turnover time and it's an unpleasant task. But collecting plastic cups, fast-food wrappers, and newspapers isn't sufficient. Change every seat-back doily, spray disinfectant throughout the plane, and really scrub the lavatory. And we'd appreciate it if you would check the seats and seatback pockets for chewed gum (a violation we have encountered -- twice).

8. Passengers shall keep the noise down.
If your seatmate can hear the music coming from your headphones, it's too loud. Period. Flight attendants should confiscate obnoxious flight DJs' gear and remind them to remove headsets instead of shouting over the music, unaware of the decibel level. While we're at it, just because you can use your cell phone while we are taxiing to the gate doesn't mean we need to hear every detail of where you're going to meet your ride. Same goes for your personal life, business deals, or the latest National Enquirer gossip.

9. Airlines shall institute dual boarding.
This is already done on some larger international flights, but imagine how much easier it would be if people could board using both the front and back of the plane. There'd be less jamming the aisles (another persistent threat to on-time departures). As a corollary, notes Banas, people who attempt to board out of their "zone" or before their row number is called should be publicly shamed and sent to the back of the boarding line.

10. Passengers with tight connections shall always be allowed to deplane first.
Really. The loudspeaker announcement requesting people to be polite just doesn't hack it. Keep the seatbelt sign on and escort those passengers off first. Then you won't be holding planes for passengers delayed on other flights. To us that's a win-win situation. And the crew should call ahead to the connecting flight and ensure the passenger can board (even if the bags don't). Every once in a while, a sympathetic flight attendant will go out of their way to make sure people get where they need to go, but think how much nicer it would be if this was law.
Filed Under: Air Travel

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