Modern Manners Guy Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life

3 rules for business air travel

Episode Summary

Unless you own a private jet, flying for work is never fun—it’s just not.

Episode Notes

Traveling for work can be a rollercoaster ride of emotions and mental stresses affecting your entire body. Yet, nothing makes your trip worse than having to endure all the “pleasantries” that come with flying. 

Modern Manners Guy is hosted by Richie Frieman. A transcript is available at Simplecast.

Have an etiquette question? Email Richie at

Modern Manners Guy is a part of Quick and Dirty Tips.


Episode Transcription

In a previous episode, entitled 3 rules for proper business travel, I discussed all the ways our mannerly minds are challenged due to the erratic obstacles we face when traveling for work. In that episode, I only touched on air travel, however, as I recently completed a cross-country trip, with four flights in less than four days, I figured revisiting airline etiquette was incredibly necessary. Unless you own a private jet, flying for work is never fun—it’s just not. It doesn’t matter what airline it is or the distance of your flight—nothing can prepare you for what happens around you when it comes to air travel. While you’re already stressed and filled to the brim with anxiety, your emotions are amplified by having to worry about deadlines, meetings, delays, email, etc. that come with traveling for work. Can anyone sense my pain yet? Still, despite the discomforts of flying for work, we must keep our spirits high and our manners intact… to the best of our abilities at least.

So, before you get into an all-out battle royal with the people in your row over whose armrest is whose, check out my 3 Rules For Proper Business Air Travel.

Rule #1: Know your arm rest

Let’s jump right into it and start with the first topic of debate: what is proper arm rest etiquette? Well folks, luckily for you, I’ve cornered the market on this longstanding dispute to now pronounce with the certified and scientifically proven method to handle how an arm rest should be divided.

Before I crack the code, let’s illustrate how a normal armrest situation goes down. After all, with all good science, we need to first make an observation. Take my recent trip; I observed the person next to me treating their seat like a royal throne. Okay, this person is clearly a colossal shmuck, so now we have to pose a question: do I tolerate this problem and sacrifice my own comfort for theirs? My hypothesis is that I absolutely will say something (and I did) but by following the next step in the scientific process of “making a prediction based on the hypothesis,” I predict 99.9 percent of people will allow their bodies to cramp up rather than speak up. To that point, I offer you two options to properly battle the armrest issue. 

First, as I did, you can speak up. It wasn’t hard and I gave no thought to “upsetting” Sir Selfish, Keeper of the Arm Rest… and their insanely disgusting-smelling trail mix. I know it’s not fun, but politely ask if the person can adjust their elbows either up or down the armrest to allow you some more room. This is by far the most reasonable of all requests on an airplane. For one, they don’t own both armrests, nor do they qualify to command all the real estate an armrest offers. Simply say, “Excuse me, but do you mind if I place my elbow here? I can place mine here so we both have room.” Trust me, 9 times out of 10 they will say yes. Worst case, they say yes, and then give you an obnoxious side-eye. But who cares? Sure, they’re being rude and immature but you can’t expect too much wiggle room from someone who clearly decided early on they were going to hog the armrest without a care for others.

Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, we have the Modern Manners Guy Official Arm Rest System which can be plainly described as the “One Up, One Down Method”. Also known in the scientific community as the OUODM (trademark pending), this technique is the most direct way to handle an armrest debate once and for all. Let’s say you’re sitting on the right side of the plane, going from the aisle in, your left elbow is up at the top of the left armrest, and the right elbow is at the bottom of the right armrest. By using or starting this pattern, it’s like an easy game of Tetris where all the pieces fit in perfectly together, and now everyone wins.

With that, the final step in the scientific process is to report your results, so please let me know how this works out for you. 

Rule #2: Remember, you’re a brand ambassador

As the wonderful rapper Ice Cube once said, “You gotta check yo self, before you wreck yo self,” and I for one hate wrecking myself. I use that phrase to point out that when you travel for work, you don’t have the luxury of being incognito like you would while traveling with your friends or family. When you fly for business, you have to think like a brand ambassador or social media influencer who gets paid to wear a fashion brand’s shirt. If that person did something rude while wearing that garment, the brand is ultimately tied to the action by default. Trust me, your boss surely does not want you to become the main character in a Twitter rant, with your company tagged in the picture because your backpack proudly showed it. Even if you’re not wearing branded gear, you don’t want to find yourself in a sticky situation where they get your name, look you up, and find out that XYZ Company is the proud employer of someone who just cut in line for elderly people and little kids.

With the brand ambassador mindset, you have to be on your A-Game at all times and be a little more “buttoned up” with your demeanor. Now, I’m not trying to say you must don a finely creased outfit, with your freshly blown out hair, or wear your “date night shoes.” Yet, you do have to treat your trip—paid for by the company—as a major part of your job and thus an extension of your workday. Whether you’re going right to a meeting or to your hotel, you should still look the part of someone representing your company because there are always eyes on you and you never know who is watching. With that in mind: if you usually throw down two vodka tonics to “ease your nerves” don’t do it here. This is a virgin drink or coffee kind of flight only. Or if you’re someone who likes to snore so loud the pilot will double-check for turbulence, you can’t do this on a work flight. Yes, of course, you can sleep, but be a little more mindful of those around you and avoid having drool drip down your face like melted ice cream on a hot summer day. GROSS!

Rule #3: Don’t bring your desk with you

First, before anyone gets on me about this topic, I don’t want to sound hypocritical by saying you shouldn’t turn your seat into a workstation while on a work trip. I always bring my computer with me, but I stay within my limitations of the 15” of seat room I get to call my own. However, if you’re someone who likes to use three screens, five plugs, and a headset like a professional gamer during your regular workday, a plane ride is not the place for that style of work. I don’t care what you do or what your deadline is, but your airplane seat is the only place you get to call your office—kind of like your own micro-cubical. You don’t get to use the other person’s tray table just because they aren’t and you can’t be upset if you’re on the aisle and someone asks you to get up to use the restroom. You don’t own the row!  

As I mentioned, I was traveling for work and a colleague of mine said that she had a guy next to her who had a laptop, an iPad, and a yellow legal pad filled with notes. I’d like to give this man the benefit of the doubt and hope he has never been on a plane before but sadly, this wasn’t his first rodeo. My friend said the minute they were allowed to use the tray table, he set up his one-man band of an office, like something Inspector Gadget would pull out of his briefcase. He also kept flipping the pages of his legal pad over into her seat area, like he was giving a testimony in court. She said he did “apologize” but it was muffled at best and it happened more than once which was not a “mistake.” She then said that he asked if he could place his iPad on the corner of her tray table because her computer wasn’t taking up the entire tray. This guy was awful! Thankfully, she said she was going to need her entire space, which was the proper thing to do. 

My mannerly friends, a tray table is hardly a table for one, let alone something to accommodate two. If someone needs more room, then they should have booked two seats. It’s not your job to adjust your area for their needs. When you’re doing work on a plane, the proper thing to do is work within the skimpy parameters that your airline offers, which we all have to cope with. Even if you work up a sweat from how many times you have to go back into your bag to take something in and out, that’s just a part of the work trip process. 

BONUS TIME: Two things came up during my work trip that I wanted to point out and help properly settle once and for all.

  1. Yes, you can always ask a person who is sleeping (in any seat) if they can get up so you can get by. No one is the “Gatekeeper” just because they secured the aisle, nor should you feel obligated to hold it until you land. Folks, when you gotta go, you gotta go. Don’t be nervous about asking.
  2. Yes, you can lean your seat back. Your seat is made to go back for good reason and I trust that the FAA has done plenty of research to determine what is the most appropriate angle a seat can recline. The only recommendation I ask is to move the seat back slowly, rather than one quick jolt which makes the person behind you get a lap full of those stale snacks and watered-down soda.

So, if you can’t handle properly flying the friendly skies, then stick to driving, where you can eat, drink coffee, be merry, and be rude as much as you like. Cheers!