Airplanes are shared spaces.
I encourage you to adapt the situation and space to your needs, but not at the cost of making it even less pleasant for others.
Every person in your cramped little sky tube full of farts and recycled air are human beings that would rather already be at their destination, just like you, even the ones that are being assholes. A good few are nervous flyers, anxious and touchy and stressed-out just by virtue of being in an airplane at all.
Try and keep that in mind as you’re getting up, shifting around, or trying to sneak that little stretch in. Stay conscious of where your body is in space. Think about getting to your destination as a team sport — instead of “how can I have my best flight and fuck everyone else,” ask yourself “what are things I could do that cost me little-to-no time or effort but make someone else’s travel a little less sucky?”
If you’re a wiggler, get an aisle seat so you don’t have to force someone to stand every twenty minutes. Consider making friends with your row-mates and warning them that you’ll be wigglier than the standard passenger. If you’re a sleeper, take the window so you don’t force someone to be rude to you. Don’t try and trade seats with someone unless it’s a net upgrade for them — you’re putting them in a shitty situation. Don’t block the aisle if you can’t help it.
Generally be considerate. Not only will you make others’ travel experience better, you will feel better, and better about everyone around you, because you’ve shifted your perspective on your environment from a dumb tube full of enemies to a dumb tube full of teammates.
This goes double for interacting with flight attendants — their job is a tough combination of wait staff, concierge and lifeguard, and as much as you might not want to believe it, they have your best interests in mind. Don’t get ornery when they tell you to put your laptop away. If you have a rough landing, that thing becomes a flying eight pound metal head-cracker pretty quickly.
But also, don’t get worked up when that dummy in the row ahead of you sneaks his back out. It’s not that big a deal. The attendant will notice, or they wont. Just chill.
Let it go when you get elbowed in the mouth by someone stretching (which just happened to me, and prompted this article). Remember that the person that elbowed you in the mouth is a real human person, with feelings and their own burdens to bear. The fella that got me got me good (there was even blood!) and while my first instinct was to pop him right back, I took a deep breath and waved off his apology. “It happens,” I said. “You didn’t do it on purpose.” Because he didn’t. No point in getting worked up.
Every part of travel, from being on public transit with a big suitcase to being in the security line with a big suitcase to trying to jam a big suitcase in an overhead bin, is an experience that you share with other humans that have the exact same goals as you. They want to get where they’re going with a minimum of muss and fuss. Almost anything you can do that would get you a little more room, time, comfort, or speed:
- Gives you a marginal-at-best improvement towards your real goal, which is getting to your destination quickly and painlessly.
- Comes at the cost of someone else’s time, room, comfort, etc.
More generally: If you expect kindness and courtesy, treat people with kindness and courtesy. Even if they’re not doing the same. Most will get the hint. Some won’t. That’s fine too.