Travel Etiquette

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This is the time of year when holiday joy runs head-on into travel despair. When it comes to vacations, holidays, or business trips, how you prepare makes a huge difference. Treat your travel like any other meeting or public event. Dress nicely, play well with others, and accept that stuff happens.

First off, let’s all agree that traveling by plane or train is fraught with potential scheduling disaster. Late or canceled flights, speed restrictions, or damaged track can lead to a feeling of powerlessness, resulting in frustration and anger.

While the kind of problems described above can throw off even the best planning, more often than not it’s the creature comforts and day-to-day travel issues that cause the most stress.

Dressing for Travel

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, I always dress as though I am going to run into someone important. For business, it means I wear my suit and good shoes and pack the casual stuff. For pleasure, I’ll pass on the jeans and wear a nice pair of khakis or corduroys, and have a jacket or sweater handy.

The main goal is to dress well as opposed to dressing for a sleepover or cleaning out the garage. I make a conscious decision to look better than I have to look. Part of the issue is that I get irritated at how sloppy and disrespectful so many travelers appear. Portfolio recently ran a very good article on this topic.

It also goes without saying that I try and get everything I need in a carryon bag. Conversely, if that’s not possible, I’ll pack all the essentials in the carry on and pray that my checked bag arrives when and where I do. Don’t over pack your carryon; otherwise you’ll have a whole new level of frustration trying to squeeze it into a too-small overhead compartment.

Dressing nicely shows respect to my fellow travelers and to the airline or train crew. I am entering their office, their workspace. If I would never dress like a slob to visit a client’s office, why would I do so in the intimate environment of a plane?

Travel experts tell us over and over that how you dress directly impacts the treatment you get from the gate agents and flight crew. Just accept it; people are judged by how they dress. Everyone makes these kinds of judgments; we just don’t like it when it happens to us and the outcome is not in our favor.

Attitude

This particular subject means a lot to me. I spent a great deal of my younger years in the retail environment, which is all about relationships. While I always wanted to do well by my customers, I am of the belief that the customer is not always right.

The customer is not the most important person in the store. The line salespeople are; as are the managers, stock room, and shipping staff. Staff is what makes companies succeed and when you have staff that wants to give their customers the best service possible, everyone wins. Permitting customers to run roughshod over your employees is totally counterproductive. This is not saying employees are always right, it just means they are not human punching bags for cranky customers.

Treat airline staff, or any other staff for that matter, with respect and patience. You may be ticked off, but do you want to switch places with the gate agent who just announced that a flight was cancelled? You want that job? When they know that you are an adult and that you recognize line staff does not run the company, they are more likely to remember and look after you.

This happened to my wife and me on a trip to Europe. Our flight was cancelled after a hellacious drive to the airport though pounding rain only to be met with a disorganized sea or angry travelers. When I finally made it to the counter, I knew we would never get on the flight. I was angry and tired but made every effort not to take it out on the airline agent; it wasn’t her fault.

I was as reasonable as possible under the circumstances, expressed my exasperation and made it clear that I was venting in general, but not at her. It must have paid off somewhere because when everyone was finally issued tickets for the new flight we were upgraded to first class.


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Chris Hogan, an association executive based in Washington, D.C., blogs at OffTheCuffDC.com. A lifelong interest in style and clothing led to sales and management positions at several Ralph Lauren stores and an active wardrobe consulting practice