Travel etiquette from a blind traveler’s perspective

Traveling, whether for business or pleasure can be a stressful experience, especially on a plane where everyone is jammed in close to each other like cattle. What you may not be aware of however, are the additional stresses those who are visually impaired must endure when venturing out. Simple inconveniences a fully sighted traveler face are often intensified by the lack of sight. I hope to offer some insight into a few things you can do to make a visually impaired traveler more comfortable, but many of these will have the added bonus of making the fully sighted around you more comfortable as well.

Guide Dogs

Navigating an airport (especially solo) generally requires a good bit of focus and attention on the part of the visually impaired traveler. Guide Dogs are performing an important job – leading their handler through a stressful and often crowded environment. Dogs are so cute, and you may feel compelled to take time to interact with the handler’s dog, because they are so adorable. However, when in the airport, most guides are navigating in a location they may have never been, and since dogs are so social can become distracted if you interact with them. My guide Fauna wears a large sign asking people to ignore her, but there is hardly a time when I am navigating the airport that someone comes up and says I know I am supposed to ignore her, but I just have to pet your dog. After the person gets their puppy attention, they wander off to their flight and it takes Fauna several minutes to get settled back down and into working mode again. This can be especially stressful if I am racing to make a connecting flight. Please, feel free to interact with the handler, but don’t pet the dog.

Preboarding

Don’t get upset when a person with a disability boards the plane before you. Even with your bazillion air miles, people with a wheelchair or a service animal often need additional time to board the plane and get themselves settled. Recently I heard snide comments when I preboarded with my guide Fauna, the person stating, “why does the guy with the dog get to board early”. It made everyone around them uncomfortable and put the gate agent in the difficult position of explaining to the person that people who are disabled need additional time to safely board the plane. Don’t be that person, traveling is stressful enough.

The Stampede

Boarding the plane and getting settled in a seat can often be like a cattle stampede. If you take a moment to consider what you will need once you get to your seat, it can save those around you a lot of time when boarding. If you are wearing a coat, plan ahead and take it off in the concourse. This way, when you board the plane, you can quickly stash your bag in the overhead and not hold up the line while you undress for maximum comfort during the flight. I usually take the time to get my headphones out of my bag so that I don’t need to dig through and find them before I put it in the overhead compartment. Taking a moment to grab your book out of your bag before loading may not seem like it would save a lot of time, but if everyone has to take time to dig through their bag before taking their seat, it can add time exponentially to the boarding process.

Wrecking ball

Please take care to control your shoulder bags. I can’t explain how annoying it is when people are walking down the aisle and smashing their carry-on bag into the shoulder of every person as they go. As a visually impaired person who likes to sit on the aisle, I won’t see it coming. Be considerate of your fellow passengers and hold the bag in front of you so that you can steer it more effectively. In general, if you can’t control your carry-on bag, then you should check it. This should also go for those who have their bag loaded so heavy that they can’t lift it into the overhead by themselves. If your bag is that heavy, then check it.

That funk

Personal hygiene is a must when you are going to be in close proximity to fellow travelers.  Please don’t wear strong cologne or perfume. As a visually impaired traveler, my sense of smell is heightened and having to spend hours sitting next to someone who has bathed in perfume or reeking of body odor, is just gross. If you don’t have time to be freshly showered before boarding the plane at least wear deodorant and clean clothes. I strongly believe that if your clothes are soiled you should not be allowed on the plane.

Food

This is another one that affects everyone around you. Bringing food onboard is commonplace, but please avoid foods that are full of garlic and other pungent ingredients. The first thing that comes to mind is salami, and the second is greasy burgers from the fast food joints in the concourse. Fast food burgers are the gift that keeps giving when flying, they are gross to smell when they are being eaten, they get worse when the grease gets cold and you are waiting for the refuse to be picked up, but when the person is talking to you and their breath is nothing but mustard and onions it can be vomit inducing. Putting a few mints in your pocket will go a long way to those sitting around you regardless of what food you brought on board.

Shoes

Whether to take your shoes off during a flight is one of the most divisive topics when discussing travel. Shedding those shoes can be a comfortable thing to do, especially when on long flights, but for goodness sake please make sure your feet and sneakers are clean. Those shoes you wore all summer without socks should be left at home, nobody wants to smell that. Keep your bodily appendages under control, and don’t put your feet up on the armrest in front of you, flights can be long, and you might need to stretch, but having someone’s feet resting on your armrest, even for a short time is just gross. If you decided to take your shoes off during your flight, please remember to put them back on if you get up to use the lavatory.

Recline awareness

There is not a lot of room in the standard class, be aware when you are considering reclining your chair. Yes, you need to be comfortable, and yes it’s easier to sleep reclined. However, it is extremely difficult to deal with meal service wen the person in front of you is reclined into your lap. Reclining in general makes it difficult to effectively utilize the table. The flip side of this is to be aware of the fact that the fold up table is attached to the seat in front of you, meaning laying on or banging on the table will jostle the person in the seat in front of you. It is no more annoying than putting your feet on the seat in front of you and constantly pushing it forward. Be nice to the passengers around you and give them a break.  

Be considerate

  • Being a considerate traveler has a ton of advantages, most importantly keeping tempers that tend to get out of control when cooped up on a plane at bay. Here are a few quick things you should consider before boarding your next flight.
  • Be considerate of the person next to you. Not everyone likes to talk, some just want to catch up on sleep. If you like to talk to people and the person next to you isn’t interested in chatting, leave them alone. A book or headphones should be considered a do not disturb sign.  
  • Be considerate to the flight attendants. They have a tough job and have to deal with people all day long. Don’t make their life harder with complaining or whining.
  • Don’t overindulge with Alcohol. Yes, first class is awesome and free drinks are tough to turn down. But getting super buzzed before the flight at the airport bar or getting hammered on the plane are equally annoying. If you can’t handle your alcohol and have a tendency to become belligerent or argumentative, then it is best to stay away from the temptation. The altitude can get you drunk a lot quicker than you may anticipate. Beyond getting thrown off the plane, you can be banned from flying with that company if your actions are out of control.

Sleeping

You are responsible for your actions even when you are asleep. If you are a notorious snorer, or tend to lean on others when you sleep then it may be better to stay awake for the duration of the flight.

What is that smell?

Everyone has bodily functions, but please be aware that we are all in very close quarters when on a plane. Belching and bringing up the rancid smell of your lunch or worse, farting should be reserved for the lavatory. It is something that should not have to be said, but unfortunately many travelers don’t abide by this golden rule of considerate behavior.

Disembarking

Once you reach your destination be considerate of other passengers. Jumping up as soon as the seatbelt sign goes off and running back into the cabin to grab a bag is disruptive. There is plenty of time to have someone get and hand you your luggage from the overhead bin before the flight attendants open the door.

Gathering luggage

Everyone is in a rush, and it is very apparent when collecting luggage from the belts. Take a step back to allow others to gather their luggage. Likely yours is not coming off first, and if you are hovering at the belt blocking the way for others to grab their belongings you are just being rude.

Final thoughts

What do you think? Are there things that should be added to this list? Did you learn anything about visually impaired travelers that you may have not known before? I always love to hear from my readers, feel free to drop me a message on my social media links below and let’s chat.

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