Flight Etiquette Advice on Tipping, Heckling, and Working

Doing confidential work on planes; heckling visitors; & avoiding tipping gaffes.

May 20, 2010 — -- Q: I was recently flying to NYC for a business meeting and found myself seated next to someone who works at my company's closest competitor. (He was wearing a polo shirt with their logo.) I didn't introduce myself, thinking it'd be best not to speak with him.

However, I was planning to do some work on the flight—I was going to my meeting straight from the airport and needed to update a presentation. The presentation was not something I felt comfortable opening within view of a competitor, however. So I went to the meeting without making the changes. My boss was there too, and she was not happy with me. I think I made the right choice, though. Right?

A: You actually made one right choice and a bunch of wrong ones. Let me break this down.

First of all, let's talk about confidential information. Something's either confidential or it's not. If it is confidential, you have no business working on it on a plane, period. Always operate under the assumption that the person sitting next to you works for your competitor, whether or not they're wearing a polo shirt with that company's logo. So, yes, you made the right call not to open the file, but you shouldn't have been planning to work on it on the plane to begin with. Airplane seats are simply too close together for that.

Second, why on earth didn't you introduce yourself? If you see someone wearing your competitor's logo, the first words out of your mouth should be "Hello, do you work for Company ABC? I'm with Company XYZ." I think that's just a professional courtesy, and it wouldn't kill you to network.

So okay, you couldn't make the changes on the plane. I think you should've called your boss as soon as you deplaned, though, and explained why. Then she could decide whether to have you finish your work in the airport (somewhere private, please), even if it would make you late to the meeting, or if she'd rather stay on schedule and live without the edits.

When Is It Ok to Heckle Visitors?

Q: If your town is hosting a playoff game (I'm talking about hockey, but this could apply to basketball as well right now), and fans supporting the other team descend on your town, it's okay to heckle them a bit, right? I mean, I'd never heckle regular tourists, but if they're walking around with jerseys on, I think they're fair game.

A: Depends what you mean by "a bit." Gentle heckling, like, "Thanks for coming to town even though we're going to beat you!" is probably fine, if you say it with a smile. "You suuuuuuck, losers!" yelled across a restaurant, however, is never permissible.

Think about it: you have to kind of respect someone who likes a sport enough to travel to support the team they support. Even if, in your opinion, they support the wrong team. And it reflects much better on your team if the visiting fans go home saying, "I am so surprised how nice everyone was to us!" instead of "The people who live in _______ were every bit as obnoxious as I thought they were going to be."

Q: What do I do if I don't have small bills to tip the bellman and valet when I'm leaving a hotel? This happened to me last week and I was embarrassed.

A: Ask at the front desk or in the gift shop if they can break a larger bill. And don't worry—this happens all the time.

Lesley Carlin has been writing about travel and etiquette professionally for more than 10 years. As one of the Etiquette Grrls, she is the co-author of "Things You Need to Be Told" and "More Things You Need to Be Told" (Berkley). Have a travel etiquette question of your own? E-mail Lesley at traveletiquette@tripadvisor.com.