Image: ‘BetaBlue’
Mark Lennihan  /  AP file
Brad Garlinghouse, left, senior vice president of Yahoo, demonstrates the capabilities of a laptop during a media preview flight aboard "BetaBlue," an Airbus A320 aircraft equipped with an onboard wireless network. JetBlue will started offering free online messaging services on one of its planes in mid-December, becoming among the first airlines to offer in-flight Internet access.
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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/3/2008 11:01:08 AM ET 2008-01-03T16:01:08

Happy New Year, well-mannered travelers. Congratulations on making it through 2007 with your manners intact.

While 2008 still holds all its promise, let’s take a quick look-see at some of the travel etiquette issues already on the agenda.

Seat 22B, you’ve got mail
In 2007, JetBlue — as well as several airlines in Europe — began offering limited in-flight Internet services for e-mail, instant messaging and surfing the Web. Many industry experts predict this on-board amenity will be universal by the end of 2008.

Some travelers look forward to being electronically available to their friends, family and co-workers. But those who enjoy being truly unreachable while on an airplane don't appreciate this new development.

For well-mannered travelers, in-flight Internet will raise a variety of etiquette issues. For example:

  • If you’re electronically available while flying cross country, will your boss expect you to open and answer e-mail?
  • If you have the capability of receiving text messages and e-mail but choose to turn off your device, will you be considered rude by those hoping to reach you?
  • What if you sit next to someone who opens their laptop and spends the entire flight surfing porn sites?
  • And if you’re paying for in-flight Internet access, do you trust — or want — an airline or technology provider to decide which sites, if any, may be blocked from in-flight use?

Seat 22B, you have a call holding on line one
Now that in-flight Internet has arrived, the next obvious step is being able to make and receive calls on your cell phone.

I’m sure plenty of you are rolling your eyes and cursing the heavens right now. But there are plenty of folks who can’t wait for the Federal Communications Commission to repeal its current ban and begin allowing airlines to offer this service in the U.S.

There may be no avoiding this one. Air France is about to begin a six-month test of in-flight cell phone use. And other airlines in Europe and elsewhere are lining up to install this revenue-generating service as well.

Alarmed? You’re not alone. Concerns about etiquette issues surrounding in-flight phone use already have the wires buzzing. For example:

  • Will airlines set aside a special section for passengers who want to conduct cell-phone calls?
  • Will mandatory “quiet times” be imposed so passengers without cell phones can get some peace and quiet?
  • And we already put up with them on buses, street corners and in restaurants and movie theaters. Will passengers put up with having to listen to those obnoxious ring tones on airplanes, too?

Will you be driven to distraction?
You don't need to commute to work or drive a rental car around Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles or any other city known for traffic congestion to know that traveling on highways around the country can be dreadful.

Well-mannered travelers suspect that all those clogged roads may be also be affecting the decisions made by the slow-moving drivers. What else can explain why so many people insist on trying to operate a vehicle while talking or sending text messages? Or, for that matter,  eating, reading, shaving or applying make-up while weaving through traffic?

During 2008:

  • Will commuters rush to join carpools?
  • Will road rage become a thing of the past?

Not a chance. Especially if you take into account the recent Conference Board survey showing that more people will be forgoing traditional two-week vacations in favor of a series of mini-trips.

Given how long it can take to get anywhere by airplane these days, those mini-trips will most likely be to destinations that can be reached by car. Over the next year, we’ll definitely be talking about car courtesies and review the rules of the road.

Will you try sailing away instead?
During 2007, more than 12.6 million Americans spent time on cruise ships. That number may increase by as much as 10 percent during 2008, due in part to the introduction of new destinations, the addition of unusual onboard amenities, and the launch of more megaships that can carry 2,000 passengers each — or more.

Cruising definitely has its advantages, but some well-mannered travelers are discovering that it’s not that easy to get away from it all by heading out to sea. Especially if you’re cruising on one of those city-sized cruise ships offering cell-phone service and many other “conveniences” found on land.

We’ll down some Dramamine and put our heads together and explore what a “cruise passenger code of cordiality” might look like.

Will you be a guest or a pest?
This year, travelers will encounter higher prices for food, gas and lodging. And that will make bunking with friends and family more appealing than ever, at least for your wallet. So during 2008, we’ll explore some fresh new strategies for being a well-mannered host and a truly great guest.

Will you let air travel get the best of you?

Will you take all weather and “we’re-not-telling-you-why” flight delays in stride? Will you keep your cool when a TSA officer pulls you aside to question the contents of your carry-on or to paw through your purse? Will you deal politely with the rude recliner in front of you and the underage seat-kicker behind you?

Don’t answer just yet.

I know it’s hard — and getting harder — to be a well-mannered traveler. But give it a try and let me know how it goes.

Harriet Baskas, The Well-Mannered Traveler, also writes about airports and air travel for USATODAY.com and is the author of “Stuck at the Airport.”

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