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8 unwritten rules of travel etiquette

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Some rules are written down.

Rules like “No running by the pool”, “No smoking” and “Don’t murder people”. Sensible rules. Rules you can point to when someone breaks them, to state “Don’t pretend you didn’t know – we wrote it down and everything”.

Some rules are not written down – hence the expression, “unwritten rules”. Rules essential to the very fabric of social life. Rules we assume are so obvious that they don’t need to be written down.

But not everyone appears to know of all these rules, particularly in that most taxing of spheres; public transport. Some people, for unknown reasons (parenting, probably), just don’t know how to behave. So by way of public service, we decided to write these rules down.

Share them. Spread the word. Make the world a better, more ordered place.

1. Respect your neighbour’s right to an arm rest

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Everyone gets one. Everyone.

You know the three central seats in the middle of the plane? If you’re on the aisle, you’ve automatically got one. It’s yours. Claim it, cherish it, cling to it like it’s your only child.

Just don’t go elbowing your way to the central one as well. Don’t you dare.

If that poor guy in the central seat finds themselves sitting next to two equally selfish elbow spreaders, they’re destined to spend the flight contorted into an escapologists pose. You’ll cripple them for life. Probably.

Same goes for the coach, bus or tube; if you’re in a scenario where one arm rest is clearly your arm rest, then take it. Only encroach on the second arm rest if you notice it’s going free. Don’t assume you can challenge for both.

2. Do not play music through headphones at antisocial levels

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Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. David Bowie’s Hunky Dory. ABBA’s greatest hits. It doesn’t matter how banging you think your music choice is, kill it before the rest of the commute kills you.

There’s a simple rule of thumb for determining if it’s too loud: if we can hear your music over the music that our headphones are playing, then you need to turn it down. Take your headphones off, jam them over your knee and see if you can hear anything. You can? Then turn it down. Earphones? Then stick your thumbs over them.

Ever wondered how easy it is to strangle someone with their headphone cable? We don’t want to find out either…

3. Take your bag off the seat

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You know the score: the bus/metro/tram is packed, bodies crushing the aisles, yet someone brazenly sits – eyes glued to the window – with their bag taking up the seat next to them. People could be dying inches from their seat and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. They just like their personal space. They care about luggage more than people.

We don’t care what you’ve got in your bag. It could contain a lifetime’s supply of Marmite. Four puppies. An Xbox. Just search through your soul for a shred of human empathy and stick it on your lap.

4. Consider your sneeze

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No, we’re not suggesting you partake in months of extensive sinus control techniques in order to learn how to suppress your body’s ability to sneeze.

But when the time arrives that you do need to sneeze in the confines of public transport, don’t be rude about it. Don’t sneeze freely into the air around you, showering everyone in a cloud of mucous and spittle. Don’t sneeze into your hands, wipe them on the back of your jeans and then return your moist palm to grip the same pole everyone else is going to have to use for the rest of the day.

Got a cold? Get some tissues. And tell your parents they failed to make you into a proper adult.

5. Don’t block the door

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Using public transport can make some people inexplicably anxious. The proximity with other humans, using a route they may have never travelled before, fills their mind with needless fears: “What if I can’t get off when it’s my stop?” “What if I don’t realise it’s my stop?” “What if I’m trapped on this thing for the rest of my life? Will they put my corpse with lost and found?”

Chill out. You’re going to be okay.

What’s not okay is for you to pre-emptively rise from your chair in a full metro and expect everyone to move out of the way so you can shuffle to the door. That’s not how it works. It’s physics. When there’s no free space available for everyone to move into, there’s no way they can get out of your way so you can line yourself up with the door to make your exit.

The same goes for anyone who refuses to move away from the door for fear of losing a 0.7 second head start when they need to leave. “Oh no, this is my spot, I’ll stay here even if it means you can’t get off.”

Shift out of the way.

6. Go easy on the seat recline

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We love a good seat recline as much as the next weary traveller. We understand the joy of finding just the right angle to lull you into a relaxed slumber.

But there’s a certain diplomacy to the act of the seat recline, an act of decency that needs to be observed when encroaching into another flyer’s personal space. When we’ve been airborne for less than three minutes, it’s always appreciated if you gently lower your way to your preferred seating angle – inch by inch if necessary. It’s the only chivalrous way of behaving.

Don’t be that guy who hits the seat release and thrusts back with all the eagerness of an Apollo rocket. Everyone hates that guy.

7. Don’t use your seat on a plane like a rest room

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Things you can’t do in the confined space of public transport:

  • Farting
  • Repeated sniffing
  • Dredging up a lump of phlegm at the back of your throat
  • Picking your nose
  • Clipping your finger nails
  • Squeezing spots
  • Plucking anything out of your body with tweezers

We’ve seen each of these happen. We wish we hadn’t.

8. Never watch media without headphones

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Parents setting up their kids with eight episodes of Fireman Sam on their iPad. Millennials settling down for an hour-long train ride with nothing but YouTube and a reckless disregard for the general public. Couples settling down for that episode of Sherlock that they downloaded from iTunes.

It’s not okay guys. Why would it be? We wouldn’t come a sit in the corner of your living room and fill out a crossword when you’re doing this at home, so don’t bring your sofa experience to our commute.

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