The covid-19 pandemic has, thanks to Zoom, killed off many work trips. But not all of them. Some in-person meetings far afield are coming back. And so is business flying. Plenty of obvious edicts of air-travel etiquette are effortlessly acquired, along with air miles, merely by flying frequently. As a sophisticated traveller, you probably know the drill by heart. Still, air-rage incidents are up markedly compared with pre-pandemic times—by 50% in America and a whopping 200% in Britain. Some people could do with a refresher.
Many rules of aeroplane decorum apply to all travel. But as a business traveller, you represent not just yourself but also your employer, whose logo you may well be sporting on your jacket or laptop bag. So hewing to them is critical. They begin to apply before you board the aircraft. Arrive at the gate early and in style—do not run for your life only to be panting embarrassingly or even worse, hold the plane and make 200 people wait for you while you are browsing gadgets at Duty Free. Queue-cutters and pushers have their own place in hell.
Once on board, remember the basics. Do not keep your headphones on when spoken to, make a fuss when you are told that chicken tikka is finished or, heaven forbid, perform any personal grooming in public. Bare feet on the seat or bulkhead are a no-no. Aggressive typing on your laptop is, too. Manspreading and “galley yoga” in the flight attendants’ work area are to be avoided.
Be wary of booze. Alcohol’s effects are more pronounced 30,000 feet above ground, even in a pressurised cabin, because of lower oxygen levels. If you tend to feel nauseous when cabin pressure changes during take-off and landing, avoid the vodka during the flight. Unruly, entitled passengers tend to be boozing passengers—and vice versa. You don’t want to become a TikTok sensation, and nor does your employer. Cabin crew, trained to be courteous and professional, should be matched in tone.
Economy class is the trickiest. As airlines are packing more seats on planes in coach, legroom is scarce and your own meal tray is encroaching on your space. This does not excuse putting your feet up on tray tables, slamming back your seat when you recline or handing the flight attendants rubbish while they are distributing food. Overhead bins are meant to be shared. So are armrests. You have no control over who sits next to you but you have agency. If you find yourself elbow to elbow with Chatty Cathy, it is alright to say “excuse me” and slip on your noise-cancelling headphones.
You should probably avoid working on anything remotely sensitive. As your company’s chief of security no doubt regularly reminds you, some people are nosy. Even those who aren’t may inadvertently sneak a peek at your spreadsheet. Take the time to think about strategy or read that management book you have been meaning to for months.
Corporate dress codes may have relaxed but opt for transatlantic athleisure only if you have time to change before heading to your meeting after you land. Boarding the red-eye in pyjama bottoms is not OK. Elasticated waistbands are acceptable. Yoga pants and flip-flops are not; they clash with the spirit of work—especially if colleagues and clients might be on the same flight. And you never know whom you might run into at the luggage carousel.
For those lucky enough to work for firms with fat travel budgets, business class helps attenuate these problems. You can work more freely and never need to kick the seat in front of you to let the passenger in the row ahead know they are reclining too comfortably (which, incidentally, you shouldn’t do in economy either). Even so, remember you are not alone. Do not violate other passengers’ personal space with your body, voice (just because you are a senior vice-president at Goldman Sachs does not mean others want to listen to your phone conversation while you board) or odour (splash on your hypnotic sandalwood cologne in moderation).
Most of these challenges are eliminated if you fly first class. You get a personal suite, à la carte dining, vintage champagne and, on some flights, doorstep baggage pick-up, check-in and drop-off by airline employees (though even that probably doesn’t excuse flip-flops). Or so this guest Bartleby is told. When she suggested corroborating it herself for the purposes of research, her request was regrettably denied. You will have to work this part out on your own. Fasten your seatbelt, and enjoy the flight. ■
Read more from Bartleby, our columnist on management and work:
The dark and bright sides of power (Jul 27th)
Workplace advice from our agony uncle (Jul 20th)
Executive coaching is useful therapy that you can expense (Jul 13th)
Also: How the Bartleby column got its name
https://www.economist.com/business/2023/08/04/a-refresher-on-business-air-travel-etiquette A refresher on business air-travel etiquette