The unofficial rules of talking on the phone at the airport

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On a recent layover to Paris, I embarked on my obligatory “stop to use the restroom before a flight” routine and witnessed the most horrifying phone behavior: a woman on speakerphone, speaking to what I presume was her partner, while in a stall using the restroom.

I could hear the toilet flushing as she kept talking as if she were at home - although this is still questionable behavior at home, unless it’s a life-or-death emergency - and I don’t think complaining about a $16 overpriced airport sandwich falls into this category. Germs aside, I’d lose my mind if I was on the other end of the phone and heard the person using a public restroom.

Outlandish phone behavior in airports proves that nowhere is safe.

“As is the case with many things related to the flying experience, etiquette seems to be checked in the belly of the plane - and cellphone behavior is absolutely one of the ‘forgotten manners’ of flying,” says former flight attendant Brian Hart Hoffman.”No one - and I mean not one single person - wants to see or hear your FaceTime chat in airline lounges, boarding areas, or onboard the airplane,” he adds.

Personally, the airport time is my meditation time to prepare for a flight, and I find myself annoyed listening to the people around me yell voice notes at the phone about ridiculous topics or take speakerphone work calls.

If you absolutely have to take a phone call in the airport, here are a few rules to follow.

Stop talking on the phone in the bathroom

And perhaps using the phone altogether in the airport bathrooms. I’m certain whatever it is can wait five minutes.


It’s also about respecting other people’s time, not just their ears. Airport bathrooms can be crowded, and many of us our rushing to our flights. “I recently witnessed a person who stayed on the phone for 20 minutes, in the only women’s restroom, of the only airport lounge in Charlotte, North Carolina - as if no one else in the entire lounge needed access to the facilities,” says Leslie Haas Dowling, a digital creator in Greenville, S.C.

I nearly lost it when I noticed a woman charging her phone in the corner of a bathroom by the hand dryer - on speakerphone, seemingly on a work call. Airports bathrooms are chaotic enough without this behavior.

Ear buds don’t make you invincible

People think they’re quiet when using ear buds, but they most often encourage you to speak louder, especially when divulging details about the night before with your friend on the other line.

“Ear buds may create the delusion that you are being quiet but let me tell you, dear passenger, you’re screaming when you talk,” says Hoffman.

If you’re working, find privacy for a conference call

Not everyone is on vacation when flying, and it’s okay to take calls in airports, but find a designated area like a quiet nook or a conference call booth. “The whole ‘walk and talk’ needs to stop,” says Hoffman. “Seek privacy for your conference call . . . otherwise your fellow passengers are going to roll their eyes, shake their heads and pray for it to stop.”

Find an empty gate or corridor

This is nearly impossible given how packed airports are, but I’ve had luck walking a bit further to find an empty gate for phone call. International gates are usually less chaotic as there aren’t as many flights going in and out as domestic gates. While going into a bathroom stall to chat is simply gross, there are often corridors leading to bathrooms that you can find a quiet corner for a phone call.

If nearing boarding time, get off your phone completely

“I’ve lost track of how many times I’ll be checking in a person or boarding a person for their flight, and they’ll hand me their phone to scan . . . and then all of a sudden I’d hear someone start talking from their phone,” says Cinzia Pascale, a customer service agent at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

If everyone is on their phones, it’s consistently adding time to the boarding process. “It’s especially shocking to me because I’ll start working at 3:30 in the morning, and I’m always wondering who is even up and willing to answer these FaceTimes,” says Pascale.

Voice notes, and even old-fashioned phone calls are fine in moderation, but when done excessively, can interrupt other travelers from hearing important information about their flights and gate changes. “This can actually cause delays for the flight,” Pascale said, noting that it could cause a passenger to miss their flight.

“I’ve experienced people sitting at the gate having full-on conversations on speaker while I’ll be paging them to come to the gate for a message or to board the plane because we’re about to close the flight,” says Pascale.

If you need help, by all means, use your phone

“I do get a lot of guests who have issues speaking English, and in those instances, I really do appreciate them handing me the phone so I can speak to someone they know and are comfortable with so that I can answer all of their questions,” says Pascale. “But they’re seldom the ones causing a distraction.”

If it’s not that important, just wait

Aside from emergencies and important business calls, most airport phone calls can wait until you’re outside of the airport. Tune out; I promise you the screen time will be waiting on you as soon as you land.