Monday, May 26, 2014

More Vintage Airline and 'Jet-Age' Etiquette

"Until the early nineteenth century, napkins were dipped into finger bowls and then used to wipe mouths and chins at the end of dinner; the subsequent repression of this habit is a reminder to us how very neatly and carefully we now cut up our food and place it into our mouths. The comfort value of a final wiping on the face, however, is not underrated by airline companies, which arrange for damp wiping cloths, heated and ceremonially handed to us with tongs, to be provided either before or after meals. Childhood memories probably survive in us of mothers cleaning us up after eating. Providing hot rough cloths for wiping hands and faces is a traditional Chinese custom." Margaret Visser, "The Rituals of Dinner", 1991

Plane Travel

General rules of courtesy while traveling on an airplane are of course the same as those which prevail for train or any other travel but there are some circumstances and customs connected with air travel to different from those met elsewhere. It is well to be familiar with these in order to conduct yourself properly when confronted by then for the first time.
Do not take more luggage with you than you need.


Make your reservation well before the time of your trip. Be sure that you understand clearly the number of the flight, the time it leaves the airport, the time you are expected to be at the airport (usually about a half an hour before the time the flight leaves), and the time the limousine leaves the city terminal to take you to the airport for your flight. The charge for taking you to the airport is not included in the price of your ticket. You may, if you choose be driven to the airport in the family car or in a taxi, in which case see that you get there by the time specified. The charge for the limousine, usually about a dollar, will in most cases be less than taxi fare.
Show your good manners and don't be a "no-show"!  Taking the airport limousine only cost about a buck.
If having made your reservation, you find that you cannot make the trip, cancel the reservation as early as you can so that if the company has a waiting list of applicants for that flight (as they sometimes do) one of them may be notified in time to make arrangements. Do not be what the airlines call a "no show"; that is, one who simply does not show up for the flight after having bought a ticket.  Some airlines charge a premium in such cases when returning the fare or transferring you to another flight, but whether they do or not, you may have seriously inconvenienced someone else who might have occupied the seat which you left vacant.


Do not take more luggage with you than you need, and if you do, do not complain about the rather high excess baggage charges that will be levied. There is a limit to the amount of weight a plane can carry. The excess baggage charges are consciously set high to discourage individual passengers from taking, with their baggage, more than their share. Your baggage will be weighed at the air terminal in the city or at the airport, at whichever you check in, and you will be told there is an excess. On most lines you are permitted to take about forty pounds free, though on some reduced rate flights the allowance is less.
These foxy stewardesses from the 1960s made air travel far more fun for the male business clientele.

On some flights there are no specific seat assignments as there are on Pullman cars. In this case your ticket and titles you to a seat, and no standing room, of course, is ever sold, but you will select your own seat from among those that are vacant when you board the plane. If, however you choose one that has a card reading "Occupied," go on to another. The card means that someone has already chosen that seat and has left it temporarily.

The Stewardess
Pretty Groovy, Mod Airline Hostesses, Circa 1968-1970
You will be met at the door of the plane as you enter by a stewardess, or perhaps two. Many planes carry a notice telling you the names of your stewardesses, in which case use them.  Otherwise, the proper form of address is "Stewardess" -- not "Miss."

The job of the stewardess, for which she is well trained, is complex.  She will take your overcoat (if you have one) and hat, and any other impedimenta, and check them during the flight.  When on taking off and landing, or in exceptionally rough weather, the flashing sign tells you to fasten your seatbelt, she will check to see that all passengers have done so, and will help you to do so if you need assistance. She will serve your meals, the price of which, incidentally, is included in the price of your ticket on all but some tourist flights. If you are ill you will find that she has a supply of simple, often used medicine.
We bet Pat Boone and his family obeyed all of the etiquette rules and instructions in-flight. Most likely, all eyes were on them throughout their flight, what with those matching ensembles.
Some stewardesses are trained nurses. All have been given instructions in meeting the emergencies a simple illnesses and First Aid. If you are on a night flight, she will bring you a pillow and a blanket, and if you are fortunate enough to have an unoccupied seat next to you, she will probably remove the removable armrest that separates your seat from that next to you so that you may stretch out more comfortably. She is one of the prime reasons why your trip is likely to be comfortable and pleasant. She is deserving of the highest respect and the most courteous treatment.

Seat Belt and Smoking

Holy smokes... This flight attendant was lighting someone's cigar!  
When the lighted sign forbids smoking and instruct you to fasten your seatbelt, obey it promptly. If you wish to smoke after the lighted sign has been turned off, that is, when the plane is in the air, do so, if you smoke cigarettes. On most planes you are asked not to smoke a pipe or cigars, since they are offensive in close spaces to many people.
From Eleanor Roosevelt's "Common Sense Book of Etiquette" 1962

Changes in Dining Onboard and In-Flight

 A "proper" tea was once served, free of charge on flights, but one had to watch out for that pesky turbulence!  
"An airline dinner is a useful device to keep passengers pinned to their places and occupied for an appreciable length of time. People hurtling through the air in a metal tube, both uneasily aware of what could go wrong and stupefied with boredom, are deemed to require solace. Eating is comfort -- provided that nothing untoward or unexpected occurs during dinner. In the early days of air travel, until the early thirties, travelers ate at tables set out in the plane, as in a restaurant. There were wine bottles, flowers, cloths on the tables, and male stewards (then called couriers) in white jackets, serving the meals. The shuddering and dipping of the aircraft caused spills, and the noise was so infernal that conversation had often to be carried on by means of written notes -- but still things were done "properly," which is to say as far as possible as they were done on earth.
Things were still done "properly" the way they were on earth.
The first passenger aircraft in service after World War II fitted people into planes as though they were in a bus; airline management had realized that the future lay in cutting corners, increasing the numbers on board, and relying on the prestige of technology to make up for any loss in luxury. The gamble paid off. The new air travelers packed themselves into small spaces with a sense of fun, awe, and excitement. At first, seats were reversible so that passengers could turn them around and sit facing each other for meals; soon even that kind of encouragement to companionship was denied. But a three-course dinner with a hot meat component is still provided for everybody (except those who exempt themselves on health or vegetarian grounds), whether they are ready to eat or not, on the foldout flap which anchors us to our places while dinner is served.
Ummm... Yum? A typical 3-course 1990's in-flight dinner ~ "Manners, here, impose passivity and constraint; ornamentation is taken taken care of by the oddity of our being served dinner at all in such circumstances.... Airline passengers are extraordinarily docile and uncomplaining ... grateful for safety." 
No effort is spared to impress upon us that we might be cramped and uncomfortable, but we are certainly experiencing a technological miracle. A tray is usually the receptacle for dinner, with pre-moulded compartments or fitted containers keeping every course separate. The separateness is spatial, not sequential: an airline meal is one course of a tiny dinner (à la français). There will be cellophane coverings and plastic lids (we are hygienic, we are safe) and cutlery, pepper, salt, and paper napkin in a neat bundle. Until air travel became entirely banal, people used to save their little plastic knives, their mustard packets, and swizzle sticks stamped with airplane motifs, as souvenirs; they were familiar objects, but small and sufficiently odd-looking to remind us of those strange meals aloft, and approved others that we had been there. The knife, for instance, often has an almost triangular blade: it's bizarre shape looks convincingly modern, but it is actually designed so that we can eat with elbows so tightly compressed to our sides that the blade must descend almost vertically upon the meat. Nobody with any sense would eat the hors d'oeuvres of an airplane meal first. They are almost always cold, and the heated meat and two vegetables will cool off in a matter of minutes. We therefore attack the main course first, then rip open the hors d'oeuvres, toy with the stiff lettuce (most of us leave this "entremets" uneaten), then attempt the block of cake.

For the higher price of their tickets, first class and "business" class passengers get better food as well as wider seats. In their anxiety to please their richer customers, and to mark as clearly as possible the difference between them and the mere "economy" or "coach" class, airlines spend as much as four times the amount on meals for the well-heeled in their curtained-off enclosure upfront as for those in more straitened circumstances behind. In North America food service is becoming an important selling point on aircraft, now that the few airline companies which are left have agreed among themselves to refrain from the turbulence that used to be caused by competitive fare cuts. So more imagination is being tried when compiling menus, china and metal cutlery are increasingly supplied, and meals, especially in the upper class, may even be served in courses ( à la russe).
Another hip, mod, airline hostess from the late 1960's ~ New air travelers packed themselves into small spaces with a sense of fun, awe, and excitement!

The "companions" close to our sides (we face other people's backs) are likely to be strangers. Meals are provided in strict accustomed sequence: breakfast, lunch, dinner, with "proper" tea-breaks and drinks, in spite of time changes, and regardless of the fact that eating events may take place with very short periods of sedentary time between them. An airline meal is not large: who would expect a large meal in our cabined and confined state? But it is invariably complete, and as complex as possible. It tries to carry all the connotations of a shared, comforting, "proper" dinner. It is supposed to supply a nostalgic link with the cultural presuppositions with which flying conflicts, such as warm kitchens, stable conditions, and the products of the earth. Manners, here, impose passivity and constraint; ornamentation is taken taken care of by the oddity of our being served dinner at all in such circumstances. There is no question of argument, and only very limited choice. Airline passengers are extraordinarily docile and uncomplaining. They give up space and ceremony, believing that this is only fair since they are gaining time and ought to be grateful for safety."  Margaret Visser, "The Rituals of Dinner" 1991