Sit up straight and pay attention. There has long been an unwritten code for civilised business travel – unfortunately, it has now become necessary to write it.
Frequent flyers, the 21st century road warriors who spend many long hours in silver tubes for business, should instinctively know the code and generally do, but I fear standards are starting to slip.
Explainer: how to get the best seat on a plane
I wrote in this space six years ago about the core of the code. There is more to it, but this is what has to be grasped first:
“It is an unwritten law of frequent flying that only the most boorish bogans, the most selfish suits, only the least sophisticated and uncivilised primates, only those lacking in any sense of empathy or who are, at best, simply inexperienced and pig-ignorant, recline a domestic economy class seat when someone’s behind them.”
Aside from the increasingly rare occasions when there is an empty seat behind you, the only time the “recline” button should be contemplated is on an overnight flight when everyone does it together: On the count of three, everyone recline. Otherwise, you just don’t.
Alas, in recent days I have seen that core code value disregarded. Unbelievably, a fellow traveller in seat 4B reclined on a full Melbourne-Sydney flight. 4B on a Qantas 737! Row 4 is the row economy class flyers aspire to – it’s the one with business class legroom at an economy price. If you’re fortunate enough to score Row 4, the correct thing is to say a little prayer of thanks and be humble. Anything less is like throwing food in a bin while watched by someone starving.
And, unsurprisingly, the 4B offender was, shall we say, somewhat less than vertically well-endowed. Much more often than not, a recliner will be short. They are more likely to lack spatial awareness.
Or maybe it’s a society-wide decline in empathy. When the world’s most powerful nation elects a person total devoid of empathy – a psychopath – the rot has indeed set it.
So it has become necessary to formalise The Bingham Code – named by me in honour of Ryan Bingham, George Clooney’s character in the splendid Up In The Air movie – so that everyone can know the code whether they have the emotional intelligence to feel it or not.
The Bingham Code
1.On approach, consider yourself already flying.
There are many variables to account for when travelling.
Accept that stuff happens in life and some fellow citizens may be running late for a flight and therefore should be granted speedy access. Or maybe they are just really desperate for the first coffee of the day in the lounge. Whatever, if you’re not walking up the escalator to departures, you stand to the left-hand side and keep any baggage out of the way. You do not stand abreast of your partner. It can wait.
2.Check the kitchen sink in.
Airlines still allow you to check in baggage. They should not allow you to bring the kitchen sink into the cabin. Unfortunately, they often do – but that doesn’t mean you must. Less is more up in the air – or that’s what the airlines seem to think as they don’t provide enough overhead locker space for everyone’s kitchen sink. If you bring a second piece, you will suffer with it in your lap and footwell.
3.You know there is security to go through – be prepared.
It is a peculiarity of certain people that they can be in a lengthy queue at a bus stop and then be totally surprised to subsequently find themselves at the top of said queue and only then start rummaging for the pass or money required to board. Airport security queues are similar – you will reach the top of it. Be ready to make with the laptop and mobile phone and aerosols.
(Of course, a real Bingham thinks twice about travelling with aerosols anyway. And a real Bingham knows which belt and shoes set off the alarm and therefore doesn’t wear them. A real Binghamette has discovered which bling goes “beep-beep” and doesn’t wear it flying. But not everyone is capable of such sophistication.)
4.Once through, keep going through.
The X-ray machine is not only for you. Move your stuff as far down the line from the machine as possible to repack your bloody aerosols and get dressed again. A real Bingham will assist by deftly stacking any excess plastic trays when the security staff are busy or slack.
5.The lounge is for lounging, not camping.
There is a separate chapter to be written about appropriate lounge behaviour, but purposes of the brief Code, seats are for backsides, not your bags. And just because the booze is free, it doesn’t mean you have to drink it all.
6.Boarding is a team sport
Depending on the aircraft, there tends to be a much smaller number of doors than there are passengers. We have to share the doorway and aisle. See Rule 2. And it’s very, very poor form to lose focus, miss the boarding call and delay the flight while the airline pages you because you have luggage in the hold that can’t be quickly extracted and sent to a garbage compactor.
Like wearing a baseball cap backwards, wearing a backpack in close quarters lowers the individual’s IQ by 20 points. Boarding a plane, take it off and carry it in front of you, otherwise your reduced intelligence will see you move from side to side and half-turn at some stage, smacking a seated passenger in the head. Ditto ladies with large bags hanging from shoulders.
It is polite to acknowledge those you will be sharing thigh space with the next little while. It is not polite to embark upon your life story if the usual human signs of “not particularly interested” are present. On the other hand, genuine friendships can develop over free drinks and ugly snack packs at 10,000 metres between consenting adults– occasionally, frequent flying can be quite delightful. Just respect all limits.
And be aware: There’s something about alcohol and emotion up in the air. A couple of drinks and vaguely sentimental movie can force a tearing up. Respect that too.
If you have a weak bladder, request an aisle seat.
The person who draws the middle-seat straw has first dibs on both armrests.
If you watch a funny movie that makes you laugh out loud, remember you have headphones and what the “loud” part of “out loud” means. Control yourself.
If you are obese and require two seats to avoid squashing a fellow traveller, don’t book a single economy seat. Talk to the airline.
It’s the core of the code. You know it. It’s been written before – read it here ( https://www.smh.com.au/business/in-an-era-of-self-interest-the-upright-flier-declines-to-recline-20110423-1ds61.html ) In a more advanced society, garrotting recliners would be permitted, but recliners wouldn’t exist in an advanced society.
11.The Great Escape
It’s OK, claustrophobes, this flight too will pass. We will all get out of the aeroplane in time. No need to push past anyone. On the other hand, it is reasonable to be prepared to leave, “to have your shit together” so to speak. Nice tall people help nice short people get a bag down. If your kitchen sink is stowed 20 rows back, bad luck, wait – you’re not entitled to push through everyone else to get it.
As you leave, say thank you. The cabin staff do this much more often than you do and deserve some sympathy.
And also thank your god or gods and the mysterious laws of physics that allowed 70 tonnes of metal, glass and plastic to levitate and move speedily across the face of the planet, depositing you relatively close to schedule somewhere quite far away. It’s quite amazing really.
That’s it. Not difficult really. Allowance must be made for innocents who haven’t flown before. They need guidance, not immediate exposure to the lack of oxygen at 10,000 metres. The airlines should provide that guidance by including a copy of the code with the safety sheet and perhaps an email to first-time travellers.
The wonderful thing is that most people do get it. Most people understand. We’re sardines in a metal tube. We’re in it together. Play as a team and we’ll get through it. As previously written:
“For all that we read about the murderers and thieves and bullies, the vast majority of us aren’t bad people. We go to work and earn our money and pay our taxes. We buy Legacy badges and take our shift amid the smoke and spitting fat of the junior footy club’s barbecue. We drive on the correct side of the road and allow other cars to merge without fuss. We generally try to pick the lesser political evil when we have to vote. Collectively, we help our neighbours after flood and fire and feel sorry for the kid next door when the dog dies. We somewhat instinctively know that unrestrained selfishness is not the best policy.”
We don’t recline. We keep The Bingham Code. We’re not Donald Trumps.
p.s. 12. At the baggage carousel, your bag won’t arrive more quickly if you stand with a trolley between everyone else and their arriving baggage. Stand back a couple of metres, allow other passengers access, come forward when you see your bag, remove it and depart. Congratulations.
First published SMH October 30, 2017. Copyright Michael Pascoe