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The Do’s And Don’ts Of Reading On A Plane

airplane

Reading on an airplane shouldn’t be that difficult.

You sit down, open a book, flip on your overhead light, and quietly read for a couple of hours while your flight is in transit. So simple, right?

Yet, things always seem to get complicated. Or, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I make reading on a plane complicated.

There’s a lot to think about, isn’t there? You have so many factors to consider if you want to make your plane-reading experience pleasant.

Like what?

Don’t be an over-the-shoulder reader.

Look, if you want to ask me what I’m reading, when I’m not actually focused on reading, then go for it. But don’t sit right next to me and read over my shoulder. If this ever happens to you, here’s my suggestion: Point to a passage and ask your neighbor,”So what do you think the author was trying to say in this sentence?” Maybe they’ll get the not-so-subtle hint. [Related: Bookish Pet Peeve #2]

Do keep your laptop screen guarded.

You’ve got to play defense against the over-the-shoulder reader. I’ve heard stories of people who were flying somewhere for legal matters and looked down at their neighbor’s laptop screen only to see their own name. The person seated next to them was an attorney for the other side. Whoops!

Do read something light.

Read something light, both literally and figuratively. Infinite Jest on a plane? Are you really doing that? That thing’s heavy enough to ground a cargo plane. And remember that you’re riding inside a flying piece of metal at 500 miles an hour. You probably want to avoid reading anything about people who die while riding inside flying pieces of metal that go 500 miles an hour.

Don’t read something creepy.

Creepy plane reading might include Lolita, Mein Kampf, and The Life and Times of Jeffrey Dahmer.

Do think about your books before the trip.

This is just a common courtesy–to yourself. Where are you going? How long will you be there? How long will your flight be? A flight from New York to Australia would certainly call for different reading selections than a flight from New York to Boston.

Don’t rely on the airport bookstore for decent books.

This is what happens when you don’t abide by the above guideline and plan ahead. You end up buying a Danielle Steel best-seller and everybody loses, everyone except for Danielle Steele I suppose.

Do keep your books, and your arms and hands and legs, inside your own little personal space while reading.

Imagine that your seat was boxed in by deadly lasers. If your book touches the lasers, it gets cut in half. If your arm touches the lasers, it gets cut in half. Keep your book inside the lasers so you don’t lose a limb. I’m just trying to help you here.

Don’t take your books in the airplane’s restroom.

The only thing worse than reading in a public restroom (don’t act like you haven’t done it) is reading in a public restroom on a plane. Nothing communicates “I’m gonna be here awhile” to your fellow passengers quite like walking down the aisle toward the John with The Grapes of Wrath in hand.

Do watch your volume if you’re reading out loud to your kid.

Yeah, Johnny loves hearing about the adventures of Pooh and Tigger. But the dozen people immediately surrounding you and Johnny? Not so much. Keep it soft, please.

Don’t talk to someone who’s reading unless it’s absolutely necessary.

You know one thing readers hate? It’s when complete strangers break our train of thought while reading. “What’cha reading, there?” she says. “The Hunger Games,” you say. “Oh, how interesting. Let me tell you about the time I didn’t eat for 3 days. I was really hungry!” No. Please, no. Don’t do this to a reader.

So if you’re traveling this holiday season, these guidelines will hopefully make your reading experience on an airplane much more bearable.

If not, I apologize. But just remember that plane rides are temporary. Reading is for life.

(Image: Guillaume Speurt: Flickr)

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27 Comments Post a comment
  1. I find just wearing headphones (you don’t even have to be listening to something) is enough to stop anyone talking to you so you can enjoy your book in peace, including the air hostesses offering you rubbish every two minutes.

    December 13, 2013
    • Sound advice.

      December 13, 2013
    • Good one. Closing your eyes works as well, but then you can’t read I guess.

      December 13, 2013
  2. Great timing for the holiday travel season :-D I always take a physical book or two and my kindle/iPad in case I get through the two physical ones!

    December 13, 2013
  3. I absolutely hate it when people bother me on a plane while I’m trying to read. You would think having my nose in a book is a clear signal not to talk to me! Great advice.

    December 13, 2013
    • Preach it!

      December 13, 2013
  4. jwcgd23 #

    Reblogged this on Newsroom.

    December 13, 2013
  5. Brilliant post, some great advice there :)

    December 13, 2013
  6. I bought 1Q84 at LAX. #sothererule6

    December 13, 2013
    • Boom!

      December 13, 2013
  7. Ugh, I hate Danielle Steel! No, hate is too soft a word… *despise* is more like it.

    I think my best choice of reading on a plane was “Brave New World.” It’s fairly short and engrossing, and I had just enough time to finish it on the flight.

    December 13, 2013
    • That’s a great choice for a plane book!

      December 13, 2013
    • I just recently read Brave New World – not a plane, but regardless, loved it! And I think it would make a great in-flight read. Good choice. :)

      December 13, 2013
  8. I admit I’m guilty of over-the-shoulder snooping. I can’t help it, I want to know what people are reading!

    December 13, 2013
  9. Getting on a plane in a few hours. Short trip this time, 2 hours, but often it is longer. My little tip, in addition to yours is I find that if I’ve already made a decent start on the book before traveling, I seem to be able to settle into it better amongst the distractions on an airplane or in an airport. Also, this sometimes reveals to me that I don’t want to take that particular book after all, and I select another. Thank you for a good post.

    December 13, 2013
  10. I *hate* it when people approach me while I’m reading. I know I should be more charitable in such situations and understand that the gate crasher to my imagination probably doesn’t realize how annoying he’s being, but it frustrates me so much. Sometimes, when reading in public, I feel like wearing a “do not disturb” sign around my neck :)

    December 13, 2013
  11. Good stuff! I have had personal experiences with some over the shoulder readers.

    One time, I was writing a blogpost on my laptop, and I casually glance over at the lady next to me and find her rather unashamedly reading my post as I’m writing it. And then she goes, “I totally agree with what you’re saying.” Really, lady?!

    A worse incident: I once sat next to a woman who was sick with a sinus infection. The flight was completely full, so neither of us could change seats or anything, so I was already feeling pretty germaphobic and anxious about catching whatever she had, but of course I wasn’t going to say anything. At one point, she leaned over and touched my book! She goes, “that’s a great book!” and just starts tapping the front cover. NO!!!!!! Needless to say, I caught whatever she had and spent the next two weeks of that business trip feeling like complete rubbish. :(

    December 13, 2013
  12. Reblogged this on jocelynlyx and commented:
    A good read (“:

    December 14, 2013
  13. Great post! You’re spot on about airport ‘bookstores’. For all the travelling I’ve done over the past five years, I’ve only gotten one half-decent book in one – The Psychopath Test, http://www.jonronson.com/psycho.html Actually a great travelling read!

    December 15, 2013
  14. Reblogged this on femirhmn196882013's Blog.

    December 15, 2013
  15. Allie #

    One of my ‘rules’ when traveling is akin to what Geoff said. I always take at least 1 physical book plus my nook. That allows me to pick a book that fits my mood and works in the situation. (Too many noisy babies? Too jet-lagged? Read something that doesn’t require much concentration. Nice & quiet flight and wide awake? The book of choice is one with more substance.) Another thing that I do is I take a couple of magazines (usually something like Scientific American or Food & Wine.) When I sit next to a ‘talker’ or over-the-shoulder reader I pull out one of the magazines – Smaller passages are easier to concentrate on, plus many of these types of boors give up because they don’t want to get into an intellectual discussion.

    On one flight I had a woman that kept talking no matter what I did, until I pulled out a Sudoku magazine and she said “oh I love Sudoku!” I handed her the magazine & a pen and was able to read the last 2 hours of the flight in peace!

    December 15, 2013
  16. Interesting points. How about don’t read on an aeroplane if you get motion sickness, unless you have your sick bag at the ready.

    December 15, 2013
  17. Liz #

    Loved: “don’t read anything creepy!” Although it might aid in avoiding conversation with your neighbor.

    December 16, 2013
  18. There’s a word for the people described in 1 and 2, but I call them “rubberneckers”. Good post.

    December 17, 2013
  19. Interesting points! My tip for international flights: Suggest a movie to the person next to you. They’ll be engaged for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (3 or so if it’s something like Lord of the Rings)

    December 17, 2013
  20. I’ve long been of the understanding that an open book is the universal signal for “do not disturb”. Apparently I’m the only one though.

    January 6, 2014
  21. Great post, I found it very informative. Thank you for sharing this.

    January 30, 2014

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