The Inelegance Of Travel

This past week I traveled home from University, and must say I was more than a bit appalled by what I saw in the airports and on the planes. Now this was no long trek – a simple hour and a half flight, followed by a short thirty minute connecting flight with just an hour layover in between. Should be uneventful, right?

Obviously I was not alive during the glory days of truly elegant travel, with its beautiful trunks, well appointed train cars, and dressed-to-be-seen travelers, and I neither expect this of others nowadays nor travel this way myself. But, I don’t think a little decency in manners and a little respect in dressing are too much to ask for.

First, most travelers seem to think they will be trying out for an olympic sport whilst flying. Track suits, sweat suits, high-tech, nitro-powered, day-glo running shoes, and more dirty sweat socks than I ever cared to see seemed to be taking over the airport. I understand wanting to be comfortable, and that’s why I wear a lightweight jacket, loafers that are both easy to walk in and slip off for security, and a little scarf or ascot for if the plane is cold – a seafoam green argyle velour tracksuit and flip-flops seem like overkill to me.

Going through every incident of poor airport dress would take me a century, and whilst lamentable, the real problem for me is travel etiquette. If you show up at the terminal looking like it’s triathlon time I might chuckle (haughtily), but if you act poorly, things get more serious. A young man about my age felt the need to cut in front of a young lady in the security line because she had a hard time getting everything on the conveyer belt, with nothing so much as an “excuse me,” a “thank you,” or even eye contact. I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, but when did it become acceptable to act like that? No one but the offended young lady and myself even seemed to notice, which I think was the most disappointing thing about the whole situation.


These are just a few of the things I encountered, and they highlight the general attitude I found to be problematic. Disregard for one’s fellow travelers and a general lack of respect for those one is sharing space with for a few hours seemed to be the order of the day- and while the issue of poor airport dress is more funny than anything, it does represent this underlying attitude of self-absorbed comfort with a disregard for the outside world. Anyone for loading up a few trunks with some fine linen, donning a straw hat, and boarding the Orient Express?


  1. Michael Andrew said:

    Thank you for the enlightening words Mr. Chesterfield. It’s unfortnunate that we have forgotten or ,what may be worse, that we never learned how to be considerate. If you could please provide some more advice on proper traveling etiquette as I would like to further educate myself.

    May 24, 2010
  2. Dear Michael Andrew,

    Not honoured as far as this article is concerned. Mr Pulvirent is the author.

    ‘The Art of Travel’ article I penned recently might also be useful to you.



    May 24, 2010
  3. Michael Andrew said:

    Thank you again.

    May 24, 2010
  4. dean said:

    Thank you for this timely article. Having turned 60 today I am one who can recall a “before” and “after” demarcation with regard to travel. Before the late
    60’s (and I was a hippy myself) there was a sense of manners and respect that permeated the society here in the U.s. in general. This sense was reflected in the dress of men and woman, a feeling for one’s public presentation. You didn’t board a plane or train or even a bus with dirty feet and socks showing, in ripped clothes, sweats-the kinds of things you see and experience now. There was this sense that you were part of something larger with an understanding of conduct befitting your public persona. I remember to this day my father taking several business trips a year flying to New York from Los Angeles where we lived. He’d have a suit and tie on and the whole family (five children and my mom) would get all dressed up in some our best clothes just to accompany my dad to LAX where we’d go right up to the gate with him then wait at the windows until we were sure we saw his plane take off. For the last 10 years I have been averaging about 25 flights a year for work and when I began I used those memories from the early 60s-of my dad-as my guide for travel attire and manners since I consider that period to have been one of the high points of the American experience in so many ways. (I was 13 in 1963) You’ll always find me in a suit or sport coat and tie. I find it helps keep me keep focused as something like a warrior with a job to do and I believe helps me to act in a civil manner towards my fellow travelers. A nice perk is the fact that I too feel I’m treated better by those around me. It’s a small thing. And I don’t mean to totally put down everything that happened as a result of the late 60’S but it’s plan to see and a little sad that so many since that time have never gotten any sense of just common manners and heads up about the relationship between how one presents themselves in public and how one can or should act. I keep thinking there must be some half-way point available to us as a society that would enable a better all around travel experience for all of us.

    May 24, 2010
  5. warren mcleod said:

    Thank you for this wonderful story,i could go on and on about various similar experiences . Funny this article came just as a group of us were chatting about etiquette. As much as i agree with the writer the unfortunate part is the people you are writing about will never read this article actually may never read anything of use sad but true . My phrase for those people are have some road savvy put on the dog ,be classy ,be kind to people and dam it think about your personal hygiene if not for yourself the people in your general area. thanks for allowing me to write my feelings.

    May 24, 2010
  6. Mr. Flibble said:

    I do empathize with the sentiments here–who wouldn’t want a better dressed, more decorous world.

    On the other hand, I don’t think civility is something forgotten, but I think we have a distorted picture of the good old days and thus are a bit unfair to folks today and too forgiving of those in the past. The idea that good manners were widely practiced in the past, I think, is largely an invention. I also think that the idea that travel in the past was more romantic, or even dignified, is also an invention. That is not to say that people weren’t polite to each other or that sometimes a trip can be as wonderful as it seems in the movies or in a travel brochure, but when I read actual accounts from people who lived in these times I have a hard time reconciling some of the posts with the reality these people reported.

    First, travel for most people until relatively recently was tedious, risky, and decidedly uncomfortable. If you had sufficient means to buy a first-class ticket you could travel in some comfort (or even great comfort, by the primitive standards of the day). For most people, then and now, the modal experience is something different. A cartoon dating from the Gilded Age typified train travel for most (supposedly the most romantic way to travel, right?): People pouring out of a train en masse into a distant way station’s too-small dirty lunch counter to shovel down food and then cram themselves back onto the train right as it left the station. So most travellers enjoyed few amenities (i.e., no food to be had on the train). Most people slept on boards set up between the benches. I shake my head at the indignities of travel in 2010, but all I have to do is think back to how travel used to be.

    As for manners, the social elites of all time have their boors, snobs, idiots, drama queens, and a few people who were shining examples of tact. Most appeared to be average in civility, with good days and bad days. If there are fewer accounts of people using words like f#ck or sh%t or g-d–n, it is only because those who controlled the publishing of literature edited out those things, contributing to the illusion that those words were not used with any frequency. Police reports and personal diaries reveal a very different world. Even Edgar Allan Poe, in the decorous 1840s, wrote a whole short story making a joke about the word “goddamn”. If there was ever an era that really was prim and proper, I have yet to encounter evidence to support the hype. To read what people in the past felt about anything and everything, you’d think the world was going to hell in a handbasket. Some things never change.

    As for the clothing, I will concede that there were greater expectations that folks would at least wear a jacket when travelling, that is to say that there was a dress code, but the accounts were also clear that those expectations often were resisted and resented.

    In short, if you are able to dress well and treat others well, then just do so. Enjoy the good feeling that comes from looking smart and being well mannered, but do it for your own pleasure. And if there is obvious merit in what you do, and others see the advantages and follow, then so much the better.

    May 24, 2010
  7. gary said:

    in milan where i live they all look like bums , even the ones who have to wear a suit and tie. Cheapest suit possible always poly black with crap poly ties. And you dont have to be like that here cos theres plenty of cheap good looking clothes always on offer.London is even better as regards that. I bought a 500 pound suits at M and S for 15 pounds

    May 26, 2010
  8. mr. W said:

    A fine article sir. I am consistently taken aback by what i see in airports these days, it seems an old t-shirt and jeans with sneakers is what the average man thinks suitable for domestic or international travel. How have things come so unraveled since only 4 or 5 decades ago? And you very astutely pointed out the lack of considered, pointed dressing is simply a symptom of a far more dastardly situation. The complete lack of tact among modern men. Vulgarity and personal comfort seem to be the way of the world these days and sometimes i wish we could return to a time i wasnt even alive to know, when we simply behaved ourselves in a refined way thinking first about how we would like our society to be before considering the easiest way to do anything. And what the hell is up with wearing sneakers on an international flight!? Is something as interesting and unnatural as flying through the air at incredible speeds in reasonable comfort over vast oceans really that old hat to men now a days or are they just lazy jerks.

    May 30, 2010

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