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Who Gets the Armrest?

How can we make flights more enjoyable, or at least tolerable? Let's start with the basics.
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Bad breath. Bad food. Jerky seat recliners. Armrest hogging. Legs that stretch to the moon. Kids kicking your seat from behind. This is the kind of bad behavior we are forced to endure when traveling by plane. Air travel is not what it used to be! (Not to mention the security lines, the close quarters and germy surfaces, and the stress of a post-9/11 world.) Gone are the days of relaxing flying. How can we make flights more enjoyable, or at least tolerable? Let's start with the basics.

1. Dress for success: Leave the sweatpants and shorts at home. In public, it's always good to put your best foot forward. A great way to travel light is to wear your heaviest piece of clothing and carry your heaviest coat, which will make your luggage lighter.

2. Anticipate the flow of airport traffic: If you're traveling during the Thanksgiving or Christmas/winter holiday week or at the peak of summer, allow for extra time and and practice extra patience. Both things cut down on the stress of travel at busy times of the year.

3. Pamper yourself at the airport: What a strange concept, right? But at some of the larger airports you can have a foot massage, enjoy a wine bar, or have a mini manicure. This works especially well if you're not a member of any of the airline clubs and have a long layover.

4. Don't lose your cool when boarding. The captain is boss, so take your seats as fast as possible or the flight will be delayed. It's common courtesy for passengers to move out of the aisle as quickly as possible after boarding so the line does not back up. If you need to put your carry-on in the storage bin, wait till others pass you by--if possible--to avoid gridlock.

5. Prepare for the worst but expect the best: We all know Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. But why not try the opposite approach? The next time you're at an airport, instead of expecting the worst, just prepare yourself for it so you can be be pleasantly surprised when all goes well. For once.

6. First impressions create lasting impressions. Use elbow caution with your neighbors. The rule is this: If you share an armrest, the person in the middle generally gets to use both, although not always at the same time.

7. Travel with confidence: Don't be a victim of circumstance: Handbags should be zipped up and kept nearby, ladies. And just because a carry-on or other bag is in a storage bin doesn't mean it won't disappear. Stow possessions carefully, and make sure neither you nor anyone else grabs a look-alike when departing the aircraft.

8. Think golden rule: Treat others as you want to be treated at the airport, on the plane, and at your final destination. (If only it were that easy, right?) But it's an almost a guarantee that if you put yourself in someone else's shoes before you react, you'll make the right decision.

Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (, certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on and