Travel Etiquette: Switching Tables on a Cruise, Pre-Boarding Eligibility and Tipping

In this edition: Switching tables on a cruise, pre-boarding eligibility, "Do you need change?" and more.

Q: Is it unforgivably rude to ask to be reseated on a cruise after you've met your dinner companions? We had an awful family seated at our table and wanted to change, but then my husband noticed them going into a cabin two doors down from us. We thought we'd probably run into them in the hall at some point, which would have been awkward, so we just put up with them (and ate as quickly as possible).

A: If you're so unhappy with your tablemates that it affects your enjoyment of the cruise, you should ask to switch tables. If they're just kind of annoying, I'd put up with them. But if they're, say, picking fights with you about politics or have such terrible table manners you simply can't watch them eat, then it's time to talk to the dining steward. Sure, it'd be awkward to run into your former tablemates, but isn't a brief, awkward conversation preferable to seven nights of hellish dinners?

To minimize the awkwardness, though, you could always blame something else. "We originally booked a table for two (or the late seating, etc.), but somehow our reservation got screwed up. They were able to fix it last night. Hope to see you around, though!"

Q: How young do your kids have to be to make your family eligible for pre-boarding a flight?

A: Some airlines will mention a specific age (e.g., "Anyone traveling with children under 5") in their pre-boarding announcement. If they don't specify an age, I'd play it by ear based on your kid. I think that if you have a car seat or stroller to deal with, you ought to board early, just so you can leave your gear at the bottom of the jetway without holding up the entire line of passengers.

Q: I recently paid for a $22 lunch check with two $20 bills because I had just visited the ATM. The bills were both clearly visible when I handed the folder to the waiter. He took it from me, glanced at it, and asked if I wanted change. What's up with that? Did he seriously think I would give him an $18 tip?

A: Well, if he did, he's clearly delusional! I don't think waiters should ever ask if you want change, no matter how much your check is or what bills you're using to pay it. They should simply assume you want change, unless, of course, you hand them the folder containing the check and cash and say, "Thank you -- this is all set."

Q: Why do some airlines only provide blankets and pillows on certain seats? In coach, it seems to be one pillow and one blanket per row of seats, not per passenger (like they do in first class). If you're the first person to arrive in your row, do you just claim them? Can you take one from another row if no one's arrived in that row yet and someone's already claimed the one in your row?

A: I don't get why they do this. Either put a pillow or blanket on every seat or have people ask for them if they really want them. This one-per-row business is bizarre. Do they expect people to share, or something?

I'd say the first person to arrive has dibs, but if you get there later and would like a blanket and pillow, you should ask a flight attendant. Or bring your own. Then you're not only assured of always having them, you know they're clean -- which is more than anyone can say about the airline-supplied ones.

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? Email Lesley at