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Travel

How to Navigate Four Sticky Situations When You Travel

Before you try to switch seats on a plane, or use your phone on the train, learn these points of travel etiquette.

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Can I ask a passenger to switch places with me so I can sit next to my son on our flight?

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You can ask, but the etiquette of such a request depends on what you give in return—and whether your son is old enough to be comfortable sitting away from you. “Aisle seats are typically prime real estate,” says Karen Hickman, owner of Professional Courtesy, an etiquette consultancy in Fort Wayne, Ind. So asking a passenger to swap his or her aisle seat—and especially one in a roomy bulkhead or exit row—for your middle seat might not go over well. But if you sweeten the deal by offering a better (or equal) spot, your trade is more compelling. If the passenger says no, don’t press it. Rather, seek out a flight attendant for help if you need to sit next to a child (or an elderly parent).

I like to work during long train rides. What are the rules for making phone calls from my seat?

Keep calls short and unobtrusive. Even better, try to find a more private place in the car to speak. One-sided gabfests on a cell phone can be irritating or distracting to fellow passengers in a way that person-to-person chatter is not. Preferably, you should get as much work as possible done by text or e-mail, and leave phone calls as a last resort. Before starting a conversation, alert the people nearby, says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies. Say, “I have some business calls to make. Would that bother you?” Above all, avoid private or heated discussions.

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When I overhear travelers discussing inappropriate subjects in confined spaces, I bristle silently. How can I amicably ask the offender to change topics?

Defining “inappropriate” is tricky because there is only so far we can go to control other people’s conversations, says Hickman. If contentious political or religious opinions are grating on your nerves, change seats or slip on some headphones. But if vulgar language or overly personal topics are bothering you—and likely, others within earshot—you can speak up. To avoid provoking the offender, speak calmly and clearly, and lower your voice. Say “Do you mind speaking more softly? Your conversation is making me uncomfortable,” suggests Fox.

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How can I politely (and safely) redirect my taxi driver if my navigation app suggests he’s taking an indirect route?

Instead of accusing the driver of taking you for a ride, assume it could be an honest mistake (or your app’s mistake)—or that he knows a better route. First ask if you’re on the quickest or most direct route, which leaves you an opening to point out the alternate route your GPS shows.