Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 14 September

How can we improve the experience of flying? Please do not tip back your seat, says Thomas Blaikie

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,

Now that the school holidays are over, I imagine many readers of The Lady will be hoping to enjoy a cooler, less crowded, foreign holiday. But first, they've got to get there. Oh dear, why is air travel so awful? Fellow travellers are so rude. And slow. Airline staff are so rude. It's getting worse and worse. Can anything be done?

Jeannie Reid, Droitwich

Dear Jeannie,

Do you overstate the case just a touch? But I'm sure many readers will identify. Air travel has now become a nail-biting succession of make-or-break ordeals. The fear is not of flying but of being flung off the flight. Have I printed out my boarding pass in the required manner? Is my suitcase exactly the right size and weight? And so on.

While flight attendants have remained traditionally reassuring and pleasant ground staff grow more indifferent, off-hand and lordly by the minute.

Does low-budget travel have to mean: 'Round them up and herd them like cattle'? Too many passengers meekly accept that it does. But, in terms of cost, many 'no-frills' services have got a lot more frilly in recent times.

No, things cannot go on like this. We are paying, after all. Complain and complain. It's a bother and yields no immediate response. But it's the only hope. In the meantime, what can we as passengers do to improve the experience of flying?

For a start, don't tip back your seat. Isn't it now more or less accepted that, on short-haul flights, this just doesn't happen?

If you have small children, try to keep them occupied and stop them kicking the back of the seat in front. On the other hand, fellow passengers should try to make friendly contact with struggling parents. You might be able to help. Sitting there making loud, pointed remarks to the Loved One you are travelling with will only fuel your resentment.

Before boarding the plane, have glasses, book, computer, etc, which you want for the flight, in your hand, so you haven't got to faff around with your hand luggage in the plane.

Flights sometimes miss their slot for take-off because passengers are so hopeless about getting promptly into their seats. Try to stow your bag in the overhead locker without blocking the aisle. If you're at all infirm, get someone else to do it for you.

Do you talk to strangers on board? Everyone's nightmare is to be ground down by a bore all the way to Tokyo. Bores don't take a hint. If your neighbour takes up a book or falls asleep, shut up.

On arrival, try to get your hand luggage down before the doors are opened. Offer to pass the bags of those less nimble.

Explosive issue I know, readers – but on those buses to and from the terminus, must children sit while the elderly stand?

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER.


WHAT TO DO ABOUT... disappearing office mugs

The level of criminality in otherwise supremely decorous workplaces is astonishing. Where free newspapers and magazines are provided by the gracious employer, supposedly for everyone to read, they will all have disappeared by lunchtime. Anyone with a large number of pens – you can be sure they aren't theirs. Someone else will have none.

But mugs are another matter. Workers, whether high or low, are devoted to their mugs. Once, a friend of mine, upon taking up an important new post, threw away an entire cupboard full of frightful dilapidated ceramicware. Too late, he discovered they were the totemic drinking vessels of all his staff. It was nearly the end of him before he'd begun.

In less drastic circumstances, will we ever learn? Still the mugs evaporate. Their carers label them, they put ferocious pleas on them. Still the mugs evap'. There's no point in seeking your lost mug. You'll never find it again.

If words have any power, I can only beg you: don't take a mug that is not your own. Don't even 'borrow' it. On the other hand, the lover of a mug must never let it out of their sight. Keep it in a locked drawer and, ideally, never use it.

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