Dec. 15, 2011— -- In this edition: How to deal with eager bellboys; flying with a cat.
Q: If a bellboy takes a bag out of your trunk and brings it into the hotel before you can say you don't need help, do you still have to tip him? This happened to me yesterday. I said, "Thanks, I can get that," but I was dealing with the valet and couldn't actually stop him. Then he stood at the reception desk beside my bag, obviously waiting for a tip. I said, "I'm sorry, but I really could have dealt with that myself," and he said, "I didn't want you to lift such a heavy bag!" For the record, it wasn't heavy at all -- I put it in and took it out of overhead bins on my flight that same day. However, I felt like a jerk not tipping him when there were other guests standing around.
A: Don't you sometimes wish you were living in a movie? In a movie, you could yell, "Heavy? Let me see. Is this heavy?" Then, of course, you'd pick up your bag and smack Mr. Over-Zealous Bellboy with it, before pronouncing, "Nope. Not heavy at all. Thanks for your concern!"
Sadly, though, in real life, this would probably get you arrested. But please don't feel guilty about not tipping that dingbat. Bellboys have no business taking your luggage anywhere without your permission. And while I think it's important to give tips to recognize good service, this was completely unwanted service. Don't reward that, or he'll keep doing it!
You were clearly right to skip the tip, so, in my opinion, who cares what the onlookers thought. But if you wanted to make it clear you were not simply being cheap, you could have said something further that others couldn't help but overhear. "No, it's not heavy at all, and I prefer to handle my own bags. Next time, please ask rather than assuming I need help," would do nicely.
Actually, it would probably be good for you to say something like that within earshot of the front-desk clerk. The hotel ought to know one of their bellboys is behaving badly.
Q: I am moving from San Francisco to Denver with my pet cat, whom I absolutely adore. I plan to fly and take her in the cabin with me. However, I'm really worried about this because I haven't done it before. What (if anything) should I say to the people sitting around me? What happens if someone is allergic? Is there a chance we won't be allowed to fly? I have a particular start date for my new job and can't risk not getting there.
A: You should definitely tell people sitting near you that you're traveling with a cat. Do this as soon as you board. You want to make sure no one is allergic (more on that a bit later), but even if they're not allergic, everyone will appreciate the heads-up. They can get their earplugs or headphones ready, just in case your cat starts howling like a banshee at 30,000 feet. Also, if this happens -- or if your cat has an accident -- make sure you apologize to anyone nearby. (A considerate traveler flying with a pet would bring plenty of cleaning supplies, too. Then if, say, your cat throws up, you can clean it up immediately rather than subject everyone else to the smell while you run to the bathroom for paper towels.)
If there is a passenger who's allergic to cats, though, what happens next is up to the flight crew. If the other passenger will be fine as long as your cat is not in their immediate vicinity, you should offer to move to another seat (even if it means you're stuck in the middle seat of the last row on the plane). But if someone on the plane has a truly severe cat allergy, it's possible that the pilot will not let your cat fly in the cabin at all. You might have to choose between putting her in the cargo hold or taking a different flight. Actually, depending on the temperature outside, the cargo hold might not even be an option. If it's too hot or cold for pets to fly in the cargo hold, you'll just get reticketed.
I know that would be incredibly inconvenient for you ... but you have to look at it from the airline's perspective. It's a heck of a lot more inconvenient (not to mention dangerous) if the pilot has to make an emergency landing because someone went into anaphylactic shock.
If you're really worried you'll get taken off the plane and not make it to Denver in time, though, you should consider driving rather than flying. It's a long drive, to be sure, but you'd have much more control over your arrival date.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.