During this inaugural year of the Well-Mannered Traveler column, we’ve covered a lot of territory: everything from traveling with pets (Remember the guy who smuggled a monkey onto an airplane under his hat?) to the proper decorum at a campsite (“In a lighted tent, be careful about inadvertently giving the campground an erotic shadow-puppet show.”)
We’ve generated numerous lists of dos and don’ts, put our heads together to develop an imaginary air passengers “Code of Cordiality” and tempted fate by picking apart a detailed Vatican-issued document outlining rules for the road (try to “charitably convince the young and not-so-young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.”)
Have all those lists and all this yakking about manners made the world a more courteous place to travel? For some, I hope the answer is yes. For the rest of the world? Well, let’s just say we have a lot of work ahead of us in 2008.
But before we close out 2007 and embark on a fresh, exciting year of travel, let’s take a moment to review some of the most commented-upon travel issues we’ve tackled so far.
Squeezed to meet you
“Is there a polite way to deal with an extra large passenger seated next to me [on an airplane]? ... I nearly cry every time I see that I am seated next to such a person.”
“As a fat flyer, I’m tired of glares, stares, and (in some cases) rude comments from others who are made uncomfortable by my size.”
Early in the year, these two reader comments sparked a pair of columns that attempted to cover the sensitive issue of “seatmates of size.” We explored some of the options open to travelers who don’t fit into airplane seats. And we examined strategies and solutions for travelers who find themselves seated next to someone who fills up more than one seat.
The reader discussion continues almost a year later on msnbc.com's message boards, where the highly-emotional debate has at times spilled over into heated exchanges about discrimination, health care, airline policies and politics.
Dressed down for dressing down
Last summer, what to wear in the air became a hot topic after publicity-savvy Kyla Ebbert told the world (via the TODAY show and pretty much every media outlet) how goshdarn humiliated she was when a representative from Southwest Airlines pulled her aside to inform her that he found her short skirt and low-cut shirt too revealing and provocative for that day’s flight.
The incident led to a tongue-in-cheek apology from Southwest and (surprise!) a contract for a Playboy photo spread for Ms. Ebbert. The hullabaloo also sparked a more serious give-and-take about appropriate and inappropriate fashions for flying and debate about whether or not an airline has the right or responsibility to develop and enforce a dress code for passengers.
Forget snakes, what about kids on a plane?
My offhanded suggestion that traveling parents refrain from changing diapers on airplane seat cushions or tray tables sparked a surprisingly strong reaction. Readers weighed in to decry and defend all manner of creative methods for accomplishing this necessary task using laps, lavatories, floors, seat cushions and, yes, even tray tables.
Simply reading some of comments about nappy-swapping strategies that continue to be added to the discussion board will make you reach for your anti-bacterial soap. Anyone who travels with or near kids, or who regularly unfolds their airplane tray table, should definitely take note.
When the topic was kids and airplanes, the debate went far beyond in-flight diaper duty. Readers had plenty to say about proposals for child-free flights and family-friendly sections and a never-ending list of suggestions for what other passengers should do to keep squirmy kids entertained during a long flight.
And no, making ill-behaved children travel as cargo is not an option in 2008. Or ever.
Cell phone savvy
I surprised no one when I kicked off one column by declaring that cell phones have blurred the line between public and private conversations. But it was reader comments that helped paint a picture of just how wacky and outrageous the situation has become.
Well-mannered travelers wrote in with tales of being forced to listen to someone else’s way-too-personal or excruciatingly inane conversations on buses, trains and grocery store check-out lines and in restaurants, medical office waiting rooms, houses of worship, movie theaters and, oh my goodness, public restrooms. And many described the experience of noticing a car being driven erratically only to discover that the driver wasn’t drunk, but “merely” trying to operate their vehicle while yakking on the phone.
So far, airplanes have offered a reliable refuge from cell-phone conservations. But as we shutter 2007, keep in mind that while the U.S. Federal Communications Commission currently bans the use of mobile phones on airplanes, regulators in the European Union are open to the idea. In fact, Air France recently announced that it will soon begin allowing passengers to use their phones to make in-flight calls. Airlines in Australia and elsewhere are planning to follow suit.
During 2008, well-mannered travelers will no doubt be monitoring those experiments and joining in to debate all this and a host of other sure-to-be controversial developments.
There’s going to be a lot to talk about. Let’s stay in touch.