I will never cease to be amazed by airports. Smaller airports like Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International (BHM) operate as snapshots of the communities in which they’re found. Massive hubs like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) are self-contained multicultural cities in perpetual change. Each airport wrests a degree of order out of almost unimaginable chaos. Unfortunately, there are some ne’er-do-wells who reject the unspoken rules of air travel and threaten all that is good from one terminal to the next.

If I may be so bold, here are some of those rules. Feel free to pass them along to your friends, family and the person in the seat next to you:

  1. If you have your boarding pass on your phone, know how to use it.
    After Al Gore invented the Internet, someone in the airline industry thought it would be a great idea to have boarding passes on cell phones. Look at you. You did an electronic thing. A line where people are seriously pressed for time is not the best place to learn said technology.
  1. If you’re in an expedited screening line, understand what it means.
    Some travelers automatically disrobe for their Transportation Security Administration (TSA) probing. To be clear, this isn’t required in expedited screening lines. You generally don’t have to throw your electronics all over the place either. Coming with this advance knowledge is essential since you’re in a line with people who are far more intimate with the TSA than you are or will ever want to be.
  1. Walk left and stand right if you want to live.
    Whenever you’re on an escalator or moving walkway, the left side of the platform is for people who are moving quickly. The right side is for stationary passengers or those who are irretrievably slow. Statistically speaking, violating this rule is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. No, you should not stand on the right and have your roller bag beside you. Treat the left side like a passing lane on the highway. For some reason, my Southern brethren are particularly guilty of violating this rule while staring aimlessly at the ATL ceiling.
  1. Gate 35x at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) is and will forever be the worst gate in this or any other universe.
    If Dante Alighieri composed his Divine Comedy today, Gate 35x would obviously be the Tenth Circle of Hell. Because the gate constantly boards three or four flights, it’s easy to miss a flight being called. If you do make it to the boarding door on the lower floor, they trap you on a bus for what seems like an eternity. Arrive at the plane, and the driver pops open the bus and unleashes passengers like fire ants from a freshly kicked mound. The ghosts of 35x’s lost passengers wander the DCA tarmac at night.
  1. Everyone is a gate vulture, and nobody knows why.
    Science has yet to offer an explanation as to why everyone crowds the gate to become the next body to board a metal tube of compressed humanity. It happens. Board with your assigned group. People who need assistance go first. Military in uniform usually goes next. People who paid more for tickets or who have airline status go after that. Then families traveling with small children. Then everyone else. Don’t act like you’re confused as this is almost exactly the same protocol for every single flight.
  1. Earphones are a clear indication that conversation is not welcome.
    Some people want to have an engaging discussion about whether or not President Donald Trump “tells it like it is.” Everyone else uses earphones to indicate their lack of interest in a conversation. Don’t take it personally unless it’s your spouse.
  1. The earphones mean the music is for your ears.
    It’s always nice to discover someone is a fan of Jock Jams Vol. 4 in flight. If other passengers are able to decipher that information above the sound of large jet engines, it’s distinctly possible the music may be too loud. Unless seatmates have discussed their shared love of “Jump Around,” one of them actually deserves to be in a House of Pain.
  1. There are two elbow positions on a shared armrest.
    Many civil wars could have been prevented had seatmates realized two elbow positions exist for a shared armrest. The taller passenger should generally place his or her elbow about half way up the armrest. The shorter passenger places his or her elbow behind. If you’re particularly broad about the shoulders, offer to be as accommodating as possible. Under no circumstances should your arm become a meat blanket for another passenger.
  1. An airplane is remarkably different than your fraternity basement.
    While entertainment, alcohol, and members of the opposite sex are commonly found in both fraternity basements and airplanes, every passenger should be able to differentiate contexts. Becoming incredibly intoxicated and belting out “Free Bird” is not customary behavior in one of them. It’s possible that the flight attendant has a keen romantic interest in a passenger; it’s more probable that he or she is being nice as a condition of continued employment. If you find these norms constraining, remember there’s possibly a federal air marshal on the plane with an itchy Taser finger.
  1. Exit the plane in an orderly fashion at a reasonable pace.
    It’s exciting to land on the ground alive. I understand that. Why anyone needs to behave like a jackrabbit on fire is beyond me. If you pop out of your seat, grab your overhead bag, and run down the aisle the minute the captain turns off the seatbelt sign, everyone on the plane is secretly hoping the flight attendant throat punches you on the way out.

Many other unspoken rules exist, but these should provide enough of a foundation to keep you from immediate harm as you take to friendly skies. Now, please finish this article, retrieve your identification and pull up your electronic boarding pass before you reach the TSA agent.

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