Travel Etiquette When Stranded in an Airport

TripAdvisor columnist Lesley Carlin offers tips for travelers who get delayed.

ByColumn by Lesley Carlin, editor
November 7, 2011, 2:57 PM

Nov. 8, 2011— -- In this edition: The etiquette of getting stranded; how many people get to preboard with a toddler?

Q: With all the freaky weather this year, several people I know have been stuck in airports -- or even on planes -- longer than they'd expected to be. And they've told me some horror stories about passengers having meltdowns. Can you provide some general etiquette tips and/or advice for travelers who are stranded?

A: First of all, remember that nobody else wants to be there any more than you do. The pilots don't want to sit on the runway. The gate agent does not want to stand there and have customer after customer ask her to do something impossible. The guy sitting next to you doesn't want to sleep in a chair all night. If any of them could wave a magic wand and change the weather, they'd already have done it. You're all in this together.

So be kind, and don't expect special treatment. Instead of parking yourself next to a power outlet and monopolizing it for hours, let other people cut in and charge their phones. If you're in a chair and an elderly gentleman is standing nearby, let him sit down. If you're delayed on the tarmac and the woman next to you can't get a signal on her cell phone, let her borrow yours so she can call her husband and tell him she'll be late.

Encourage your kid to share his Thomas the Tank Engine trains with the bored little kid sitting at your gate. You get the idea, I think. A little kindness goes a long way toward making what seems like an interminable wait bearable.

But that's not to say you should not be prepared for a delay. Don't be that guy who wakes up late, doesn't check the weather, skips lunch, then boards the plane with nothing to read and a cell phone that's down to 10 percent battery power ... and then proceeds to throw an adult version of a temper tantrum. If your plane sits on the runway in an ice storm for hours, of course you're going to be miserable. So plan ahead. Bring food, something to drink and something to do. Make sure everything that needs to be charged is charged. If you have kids with you, you need to pack extra supplies, food and toys for them as well.

Also, I get a lot of questions in this column about the stinky side of travel. If you've ever been stuck with a seatmate who has vile body odor and/or has apparently just eaten an onion sandwich, you can just imagine how pleasant it is to be trapped overnight in a whole airport full of smelly folks. So please do your part to keep the odor down -- pack a change of clothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant in your carry-on.

Overall, just try your best to be considerate. All airports reopen eventually. Think of it this way: the next time the person sitting next to you from PIT-MCO can't stop whining because your flight is 20 minutes late, you can counter with, "Well, I slept in a chair in Hartford for two nights next to five backpackers who hadn't showered in two weeks and passed the time by playing drums, so it could be much worse." That should buy you some silence.

Q: Let's say you're traveling with a large family group: two sets of grandparents, their daughter and her teenage children, and their son, his wife, and their 2-year-old son. You're all on the same flight. The gate agent announces, "Passengers traveling with children under the age of 5 may preboard at this time." Does the entire group get to preboard? Or just the 2-year-old and his parents?

A: I don't think the whole group gets to preboard. Only the people who will actually be taking care of the child during the flight should need extra time. So I'd say just the child and his parents. The other passengers should board at the regular 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

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