What do I do now?

A friend of mine was recently traveling and shared something that happened to her while flying that made her wonder about the etiquette of the situation.

The town my friend flew into was small which required being on a smaller airplane. The little aircraft bucked and swayed in the sky more than a large jet usually does and my travel weary friend ended up getting sick on the plane due to the increased motion. I’ll spare you the details, but she had to let the flight attendant know she had thrown up so he could have it cleaned up.

My friend mentioned that no one around her said anything despite her obviously being in distress. She also wondered if she should have cleaned up her mess. She had many unanswered questions.

While it’s not fun being around someone who gets sick it would have been nice for those near her to have at least asked if she were OK, hand her some napkins and/or let the flight attendant know she was sick.

My friend was correct to let the flight attendant know about the situation. While I’m sure it was uncomfortable for her, she really was not equipped to thoroughly clean up the mess. The flight staff is trained and equipped to handle situations like this.

My friend’s situation reminded me of a TV show I saw recently where they put young child actors on the street to act like they were lost. The producers of the show wanted to see if people would stop and help the child. Very few people actually did stop. The majority just walked by.

I was also thinking about something I experienced. I recently had elective surgery that requires me to use crutches or a walker for a while. I went to the grocery store with my husband and used one of the motorized carts to get around. It was difficult for me at first to be “handicapped” and for people to see me that way. I eventually got over it, but I noticed that despite the big basket in front of the cart, I could not reach anything higher than about 4 feet off the ground. Thankfully my husband was with me, so he was able to get the things we needed.

But, what if he hadn’t been there? What if I had to use a motorized cart on a regular basis to get around by myself? How could I reach those upper items? A friend who had knee surgery and also had to use the motorized cart mentioned that now when she sees someone in one of those carts, she offers to help them.

All of these situations are somewhat unusual. But, here’s the deal, we need to stop and help others. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself, if I were in that situation what would I need/want? Remember we too can end up in a difficult situation and we would want others to help, right? Sometimes we just have to step outside of our internal worlds and see the need and then respond.

Have you ever been in a situation where you needed help? How did people respond? Have you wondered how to help someone in distress? What has held you back from helping others?

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. Shelly on August 30, 2011 at 10:25 am

    Arden, thank you so much for reminding us to look outside ourselves, and take a moment to help others. I was on crutches years ago in Boston (long before motorized carts), and shopping alone was nearly impossible. If it weren’t for a few nice folks, I would have only been able to purchase and carry home about five items. As far as the airline situation you wrote about, I agree that your friends seat-mates should have asked if she needed help and called the flight attendant over. I worked as an international flight attendant for a few years, and it’s easier (and less severe) for everyone to do what they can prior to air sickness, (or letting a drunk friend drive-or text), than keeping silent and pretending nothing is going to happen. I’m sure your friends seat-mates wish they had been empathetic and proactive.

  2. Heather V on August 30, 2011 at 10:54 am

    I’ve also had foot issues that landed me on crutches for 6 months, and thus using the motorized cart in stores. I was usually alone. Let me tell you, people are so rude! Not only did no one ever offer to help get the higher items for me (luckily I could stand on my good foot), but they refuse to move so that you can get by. Even when I was walking on crutches with a cast up to my knee, I would be hobbling straight forward and someone would be in my path…they’d just keep walking so I had to move out of their way, which is not easy. I was surprised though, that in the parking lot, drivers were extremely kind and patient. They would always stop and allow me to cross, even though it was obvious I would take longer than someone on foot. Anyway, I hope you are standing on your own two feet very soon!

    Another thing I wanted to share about traveling, is what my sister in law did when flying with her 10-month-old daughter. They flew from So Cal to Seattle to NYC. They had a long layover in Seattle, and my niece did not do so well on the first segment of their trip. So, we stopped at Walgreens and got a big bag of earplugs, which she handed out to surrounding passengers before the flight, and apologized that the baby may get fussy. It really helped alleviate tension before they had even taken off, and my SIL was MUCH less stressed.

  3. Arden Clise on August 30, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Shelly and Heather,

    Thank you for your comments. It seems when we have been in situations where we have needed help or where you’ve had to help people because of your job we become more aware of the need.

    I know I wouldn’t have realized it’s hard to reach things when you are in a motorized cart until I had to experience that.

    Heather, I’m sorry you’ve been treated so poorly. That’s a shame. Some people are just clueless.

    I love the earplugs story. I can see how that would alleviate the tension because the “elephant in the room” has been named and those sitting near the baby knew the mother was sensitive to the baby bothering them.

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