Saturday, April 13, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Between book tour, a trip to the UK, and author events, it seems like I've spent the last two months on a plane or in an airport. I think I deserve an airline traveler's gold star--or at least admittance to every airline frequent flyer's club.

But since no one has offered me those perks (unless, of course, I want to pay for an upgrade) I am going to offer you, dear readers, a few of my favorite airline travel tips.


-If you are going to be cooped up in very close proximity to a couple of hundred people for a considerable length of time, do, please, take a shower before you leave for the airport. Your fellow travelers will thank you. (And don't forget to brush your teeth.)

-When going through security, have your ID ready along with your boarding pass. Otherwise we will all wait while you rummage for that elusive driver's license.

-Do take off your watch, that clunky jewelry, and your belt BEFORE you get to the scanner. Otherwise we will all wait while you do so.

-If your flight lands behind schedule and you have reached your final destination, please let the people who are trying to make connections off the plane first. A few more minutes won't kill you, and your baggage won't have reached the carousel anyway. 

-Do help your fellow passengers get their luggage in the overheads, especially if you are a big, tall guy. Nobody wants a suitcase on their head.

Which brings me to the


-Do NOT try to cram an oversize bag into the overhead compartment. You are not a magician. It will not shrink. The flight attendants will have to take your luggage to the front and valet check it. We will all wait while they do so.

-I know sometimes you really do have to take a snack on the plane. Most airlines don't even give you cheap pretzels these days, much less peanuts. But, please, hold off on the burritos, the Big Macs, and the Chinese take-aways. We will all smell your food. Again. And again. And again.   (It's called recirculated air.) Stick to a sandwich or a muffin. (I might mention that it's a really good idea to forego the burrito BEFORE you get on the plane as well. There are consequences which your fellow passengers would rather not share...)

-The same goes for using perfume and hairspray while on board. Remember that recirculated air thing? Serious yuck.

-Do not shave, take a sponge bath, repair your make-up, or do anything else in the airplane toilet that takes half an hour when the plane is starting to descend and there are ten people waiting in the aisle who are desperate to pee.

-Oh, and one more thing. If the flight is a bit bumpy, please don't clutch the armrests, make the sign of the cross, or moan, "Oh, my God, we're going to die." Any of the above tend to make your fellow passengers uncomfortable. 

What about you, fellow REDs and dear readers? What are your air travel pet peeves?

And don't forget to have a nice flight!


  1. Goodness, I am chuckling over this, even though I have recently spent enough time in airports and on planes that I am nodding my head in agreement over every one of your tips! To them, I add:

    DON’T take seven years to get your laptop out of the bag and into its own bin for the security check . . . we’ll all be standing there, waiting out turn, while you try to figure out which way the bag opens and doing our best not to grab it out of your hands and do it ourselves, just to get it done.

    DO remember that the TSA agent can’t wait to address the threat you pose because you are wearing an underwire bra . . . unless you have a hidden desire to be poked, prodded, and put through the embarrassment of an over-zealous pat-down in front of all your fellow travelers, be sure to check your undergarments for those pesky hidden wire threats before you dress for your flight [or you could by-pass the issue by embracing the new French study that says women don’t even need to wear a bra in the first place . . . . ]

    Most importantly, check your eReader to make certain you’ve downloaded enough Jungle Red Writers’ books so that, for as long as those flight attendants actually allow you to have it on, you will at least have a good book to read . . . .

  2. Excellent advisories! Adding to it - keep your elbows to yourself. Do NOT take over our mutual armrest.

    And for myself - always wear socks or tights. Do not walk barefoot where so many other bare feet have walked. ICK.

  3. Love your guidelines Debs! and good additions Joan and Edith.

    How about, if space is tight (and when isn't it?), try not to lean your seat so far back that the person behind has a claustrophobic panic attack...

  4. Joan, I only wear underwire bras, and have for decades, but have never had any problem with airport security. I have no desire to either go braless (eek! the study people are either male or wear an AA cup), or to buy a new bra just to travel in.

    Edith, YES, to the socks. On one super long flight my seatmate slipped off her shoes the instant the flight took off. AIYIYIYI, did her feet reek! Omigod, omigod, omigod, tears were standing in my eyes, it was so rank. I felt bad for her, but that certainly colored our conversations over the next few hours, as you can imagine.

    And the armrest! It's not only for one person. Ask; don't assume you can use it exclusively. I'm happy to use the back edge, if you're too big to fit in the damned tiny seat, but do. not. touch. me. And the worst is when a seatmate falls asleep and lays their head on my shoulder. No wonder so many frequent flyers want the aisle seat.

    Debs, the airport lounges are SO worth it, if you travel frequently. When I travel with one extremely well-traveled friend she always drags me with her to the lounge. Free food and drink, secure Wi-Fi connection, newspapers, and quiet. Plus they will let you know when it's time to saunter to your gate.

  5. Why do we need to complain about each other, it's the Airlines that need fixing!

  6. Karen:
    This last trip was the first time I’ve ever had problems with the security folks and my bra, but it was far too creepy/embarrassing --- so much so that I just might go out and buy a bra just for travel simply to avoid the chance of a repeat occurrence . . . . I was so flabbergasted I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! [Heard about the whole French thing on the news last night . . . no information on the study’s participants . . . it just struck me as really strange!]

  7. The "study" was done by a French doctor, who says he "studied" the breasts of 300 women.

    Uh-huh. Pull the other one, Docteur.

    We have some serious travel plans later this year. Maybe I should consider wearing a sports bra for our 30-hour travel?

  8. oh, Debs - you made me laugh and shake my head all at the same time.

    As one who worked for the airlines back in the late 60's and 70's, I remember when flying and airports were so much fun. Now? ugh.

    The last time I flew I swore I would never do it again. Which means, of course, if I ever get to go abroad again I'll have to break that promise to myself. But for travel here in the states we either drive or take the train. I enjoy train travel and looking forward to riding the choo-choo to Malice in a few weeks.

  9. I forgot to add one of the things that irritates me most: on a long flight, when most people are trying to sleep or watching movies, close your damned window shade!!!!!!!!!!! There is nothing to see out there, and you either keeping people awake (that would be me) or from seeing the little movie screens. I've never figured out these people are claustrophobic or just completely clueless...

    Oh, yes, the socks. Always wear socks. And I have the best travel blanket. Cool Max. Weighs nothing, folds up to nothing, but it's warm and long enough to cover me at least from my feet to the top of my head.

    I always wear underwire bras and have never had a issue, by the way.

  10. Great subject! I've never forgotten the time on a long flight when I was seated next to two men (looked like a father and grown son) who, partway through the trip, decided to use the time to tend to some personal grooming - fingernail clipping. They both clipped their fingernails in their seats, and the little clippings flew around (as clippings do), and some of them landed ON ME. Ugh! So...NO nail grooming in your airline seat, please!

  11. I'm with Edith regarding the elbows. I often end up with the middle seat and if both my seat mates have their elbows and arms filling the mutual armrests, I end up feeling as though I have no space at all. I'm a small person but not that small! I think the armrests ought to belong to the middle person!

  12. And another DO: Thank the flight crew. Always. Especially if the pilots have made a good landing. Everyone likes being told they've done a good job.

    Susan, toenails. Eeeuwwww!!!!!

  13. Three things: 1) Like Lucy said, please don't put your seat back. If I am behind you, I will most likely have a a claustrophobic panic attack. Not pretty. 2)Go to the lavatory if you have to fart! Me vomiting is, again, not pretty. 3)Men who think it is their God-given right to spread their legs apart and into my space. Remember the claustrophobic panic attacks?

  14. How wonderful air travel would be if everyone lived up to your suggestions, Deb. Unfortunately, very few people care enough about others. In truth, flying is war, and if you don't prepare for battle, delay, discomfort, and even injury could

    Never bathe, smile, or let someone in front of you. To ensure the proper space during crowded conditions, smell, wear old clothes, chew gum, and -- my personal favorite -- cough and gag. Sneezing is good, too, if you can master it. I carry pepper.

  15. After years of corporate traveling for The Man, I also have a tip for parents. I understand how hard it is to travel with a small child. It must be dreadful, but if you let your precious jewel kick the back of my seat, all bets are off.

    My sympathy will go out the window because, if you make me do the parenting for you, I will get unpleasant, and I will encourage everyone in my row to lean their seats back, providing less room for you and your little darling.

  16. After years of corporate traveling for The Man, I have this word of advice for parents:

    I understand how tough it is to travel with small children, but if you let your child routinely kick the back of my side, my sympathy ends there. I have encouraged the sympathetic travelers in my row to lean back their seats as a group as a small revenge on the parents. And I have given children looks that make them behave the rest of the flight.

    It works.

  17. I travel at least 6 times a year and now have figured out several things that have helped. No more art portfolio and any entertainment I need is in my remains in my purse and just goes through. Slip on shoes, sports bra with no underwire, and 'blend in' clothes. I usually wear salwar kameeze, but find that this is a target for security for 'random' in....every time I fly. Yoga pants and a nice top with a shawl. Shawl dumps into bin, no undoing, no unbuttoning, and still looks nice and can double as a blanket or headrest. One book to read as they won't let me turn on my tablet until we are in the air, so it's my 'depart' and 'land' entertainment. Hope this helps someone!!

  18. Kim, I do all the above, including the pashmina--which I greatly prefer to the nasty, polyester so-called blankets the airlines provide. But instead of a book, I bring along a magazine I've been wanting to read, and I leave it in the seat pocket for someone else.

    Also, after a bitter experience of sitting on a blistering hot runway in Salt Lake City one August with no water or snacks, I carry an empty water bottle through security, then fill it somewhere in the terminal to carry on, and I also bring plenty of wrapped, gluten-free snacks of my own choosing. Pretzels are not diet food, nor are they really food at all.

  19. My husband had the distinction of sitting next to someone on a long flight who was so overweight that the belly overhang kept turning the TV on and off! How's THAT for claustrophobia?

  20. Oh, Miss Debs... wonderful! Sorry I'm late. Couldn't stop laughing.

    My addition to airline etiquette would be to the TSA agents: Do not tell me to get out of my wheelchair and then exclaim shock when I say that I cannot walk. Do not exclaim disbelief when I say I cannot hold my arms above my head. If we are in the United States (and many other countries) do not ask me what is wrong with me. That is illegal and wastes time. While you may ask me if my dog is a service dog needed for a medical condition, you may not ask me what he does for me that someone else cannot do. The only documentation you are allowed to ask for is the notation that the airline has been notified he will be traveling with me on the plane, and I have received clearance to bring him. Because only so many dogs are allowed to fly in the passenger department at one time, I do this a week in advance of flying. It is documented with the airline. He knows where to place himself, and he will have his safety harness on, properly attached. While the flight attendant may help me with this, it is none of your business. And no, you may not take him away from me while you try to figure out if I'm for real.

    For my fellow passengers: I enjoy a good conversation, but I sometimes tire of answering questions about my assistance dog and my wheelchair. If you would like to chat with me, I am very friendly. It would be very nice if you would find a couple of other topics to talk about. You know, the normal stuff you open with works for me too.

    Blessings on the lovely women who asked if I was visiting family in Denmark. We had a great conversation about the history of the region, literature, the royal family, and the purpose of the church in today's Denmark. She helped me find my way to the train station, and it ended up that we rode together all the way to Odense.

  21. Oh I agree with all of the above! Reine, when I broke my pelvis last year and couldn't move the TSA agent was annoyed I couldn't walk through security, then pushed me roughly from side to side in the wheelchair even though I said I was being airlifted home with a broken pelvis. No sympathy at all.

    I'd add men who assume the whole arm rest is theirs to spread into my seat. And the compression socks , pashmina, inflatable pillow and eye shade are my must-haves. Off to Europe in a couple of weeks.... sigh.

  22. Sage advice, both yours and the commenters'. I would add: always show courtesy to everyone, no matter how pressured you feel, and especially show courtesy to the people behind the airline counter, who are so accustomed to being yelled at for things they cannot help that one kind word and a smile of "I know it's not your fault" assurance brings such a painfully grateful look to their eyes ...

    Okay, perhaps show less courtesy to the truly unworthy, like the parents who let their kids keep kicking your seats, but remember that persistent courtesy in combination with determination is hard to fight against.

    I'd also add: perfume isn't only a problem in enclosed spaces with recirculated air. You would be surprised how many people have serious problems tolerating scents. Those of you with hay fever will understand the analogy of living in a world where most people constantly carry bouquets of, say, ragweed.

    However, at the risk of becomingpersona non grata in this venue: "... close your damned window shade!!!!!!!!!!! There is nothing to see out there ... I've never figured out these people are claustrophobic or just completely clueless... "

    Now here is where you and I seriously part company. Nothing to see out there? Sometimes, perhaps, and at that point I would be glad to close the shade for you far enough that you can see your movie or get some sleep but I can still catch at least some glimpse of what's out there, but -- nothing to see?? There are landscapes, there are cloudscapes, there are the wrinkled seas beneath you crawling. Are people now truly so jaded by air travel that they see airplanes as flying movie theatres? That makes me feel very sad, indeed.

    I am so grateful that, before blood pressure problems made flying an iffy proposition, I had a few last chances to fly -- and, I assure you, I spent them with my nose pressed to the window.

  23. J JM, I have flown on many flights where the cloudscapes were breathtaking, and I've watched in awe for hours. And I'm always happy for the shades to go up when the plane is descending and you can see the landscape. It's just that on transoceanic flights, that's a LOT of water, and sometimes people really do need to rest or be distracted. And usually the people with the shades up during "quiet time" are not looking out the window.

    Reine, Rhys, interestingly, I could swear there has been an improvement in TSA personnel attitudes the last fifteen or so flights. Some of them have even smiled and wished me a good flight! Whatever the cause, I'm sure to reciprocate!203

  24. Reine and Rhys, I do so know what you're talking about. Due to lupus damage in my joints, I have severe range-of-motion issues with my shoulders and cannot lift my arms above my head. I have had TSA agents try to jerk my arms up, causing excruciating pain and throwing me so off-balance that I'm almost knocked to the floor. Now, I just tell them to pat me down.

    I always pray not to get one of the men who insists on taking over the armrests and spreading his legs into both seats on either side. And NO ONE should remove shoes in the airplane! I've had to ask someone to put his shoes back on his (very smelly) feet, and when he wouldn't, call the attendant who told him he needed to keep shod.

    I tried to avoid wheelchairs for the longest time, but after the second time I was knocked to the ground by guys with lots of baggage rushing, now I always arrange for a wheelchair. Hate starting my stay in a city in the emergency room.

    Used to love to fly, but now, if I can take a train or drive, I always will.

  25. due to severe allergies to anything scented (even many foods) I no longer can fly which is extremely frustrating as there are places I'd love to go but are to far to drive and transatlantic crossing via QE2 is out of my range

    But, when I did fly, people who though the entire 2 or 3 seats in the row belonged to them - irritating !! oversized carry-ons, wearing an entire bottle of cologne or perfume, smacking gum, kids kicking back of my seat - o the list goes on

    while I miss being able to hop a plane to see friends who live to far away to drive to see, I don't miss feeling like a sardine for 4-6 hrs at a time :)

  26. Such fantastic advice, and a very timely topic for me, Debs. I'll be taking the red eye from California to NYC next week to see Bette Midler and Nathan Lane, each in their current Broadway plays. I couldn't be more excited about the reason for my trip, but the idea of dealing with Security makes my blood run backward.

    I don't do well with authoritarian figures to begin with, and this charade of having our footwear x-rayed is beyond ludicrous, so when I was ordered to submit my flip-flops for x-ray before a flight several years ago I caused such a stink that my husband was certain I'd be hauled off the the clink and put on the permanent no-fly list. Lest you think I was one of those travelers who annoyed people behind me while I argued with the agent, the whole thing took less than a minute, but I was damned if I was going to submit, sheep-like, to something so senseless without comment. Also, I'd checked beforehand, and was told it was at each agent's discretion whether or not to x-ray shoes. But Mr. TSA insisted, and when my plain-as-could-be flip-flops proved to be harmless, I took them off the belt and announced loudly, "Well, I'm sure we're all relieved to know that America is a much safer place because my flip-flops have been x-rayed!!"

    To add to the inanity of this, when I flew to Washington State this past February I saw signs announcing that if you're under two or over 85 you don't need to remove your shoes for inspection…

    Now for the things that make flying easier for me:

    - A good set of earplugs. Great for muting the noise of the plane, crying babies, and loud adults; for providing privacy when you so desire it.

    - A small plastic bag for trash. I usually bring string cheese and a piece of fruit, and often board with a cup of coffee. It's nice to have a place for the trash instead of waiting until the end of the flight when the crew comes around to collect it.

    - When I pack, I make up a small zippered bag to hold everything I'll want with me in my seat. I put it inside the backpack that I use as my carry-on and which goes in the overhead bin. All I need to do when I get to my seat is remove the small bag, my water bottle and my book, and I'm set. Things I put in it include earbuds for my iPhone, charging brick and cord in case of layovers, a pencil, a tin with mints and migraine meds, a cotton bandana to use as a bib, wet wipes, and the aforementioned plastic trash bag.

    - I don't carry a purse on the plane; I pack it in my suitcase and use my backpack, which holds my laptop, book(s), wallet, sunglasses, etc. When I reach my destination I put purse items away, but for going through the airport and such, it's simpler to have hands-free with a backpack.

  27. I've never flown but I used to travel on Greyhound buses. One time I was kicked out of my seat. I was laying down in the long seat at the very back of the bus and trying to sleep when a new passenger got on. She came up to me and said she needed my seat because she couldn't separate her two kids. One was a baby in a carrier and the other was maybe five or younger. I told her that I was trying to sleep since I had only had a few hours of sleep. She didn't care. She said she'd tell the bus driver if I didn't move. Shouldn't it be first come, first served? I moved but I would've liked to tell her to go ahead and tattle to the bus driver. What a jerk she was.

    I hate it when people take up too much room and spread their legs out. That happens in city buses too. Sometimes overweight people do take up too much room so you can't sit.

    I hated it when people kicked my seat in movie theaters, but now they have stadium seating so it's really not an issue. Sometimes people still hang all over the seats they're not sitting in though.