How Doors Work
While most people are familiar with the operation of what one might call the "standard" door (turn knob, pull or push, walk though doorway), and a good number have even mastered the more sophisticated models, such as doors with handles, and even those that revolve, The Curmudgeon has observed a rising confusion regarding the proper use of doors attached to modes of transportation.
Subways, buses, trains, elevators, shuttle trams and airplanes all have doors, but, unlike the ones one finds in stationary rooms and buildings, these doors lead in and out of "rooms" that are used to transport people from one place to another. To further complicate matters, before these "rooms" can continue on their journeys, passengers must either load on, load off, or execute some combination of both of those actions. And that's where things get tricky.
Loading in or out of a soon-to-be-moving transport often requires awareness of others, communal organization, and consideration—all major inconveniences. For decades, theme parks have been wisely sidestepping this quagmire by using discrete entrances and exits to their rides and attractions. They expel all the tourists from one side of the shuttle tram before welcoming a new group from the other. They off-load those who've just enjoyed the Indiana Jones ride before allowing the little jeeps to continue to the platform from which new "adventurers" will board. In this way, no one is ever burdened with having to think of the needs of anyone else. And that's for the best.
Sadly, that has yet to happen in real-world transportation. And so, The Curmudgeon offers this brief but handy guide to the use of doors.
Let people exit before attempting to board.
This is not only a hard-and-fast rule of etiquette, it's also a choice supported by science. If you had a box of winter clothes and wanted to fill that same box with summer clothes instead, it would be most prudent to remove the winter clothes first, making room for the summer clothes. It has something to do with physics. Loading the summer clothes first, then trying to extract the winter clothes, would be stupid.
This is a similar concept. Stepping onto an elevator, bus or subway car from which others are trying to exit blocks their paths, causing a probable delay in departure. This defeats the purpose of boarding as quickly as you possibly can. If speed is your goal, efficiency is your friend. Allow passengers to exit before attempting to enter. You'll be amazed at the effectiveness of this quaint technique.
Clear the aisles when boarding.
It's a proven fact that people cannot walk through other people. Ghosts can, but they don't require public transportation or, for that matter, doors.
When loading onto an airplane, if you pause in the aisle to remove your jacket, open your bag, extract a book for the flight, re-close your bag, wave to a colleague, say something charming to your neighbor, stow your bag in the overhead compartment, check your breath, retrieve your bag, pull out breath mints, offer them to everyone near you, re-close your bag, return it to the overhead compartment, stow your jacket, and make a joke about keeping everyone behind you waiting before finally getting settled in your seat, you are, in fact, keeping everyone behind you waiting. This prevents proper use of the airplane door, since that door is the only access to the one and only aisle—the same one you're taking your time vacating. There's a theme we expect will come up frequently in The Weekly Curmudgeon. It's called There Are Other People in the World Besides You, and it applies here. Since there are others affected by your conduct, it's important to observe the rules of proper plane boarding. Specifically, you must step out of the aisle as soon as you reach your assigned row. Yes, yes, it may mean gazing longingly for a bit at the perfect overhead spot for your carry-on. But delaying the headily satisfying experience of stowing your baggage snugly in the storage compartment is a sacrifice we all must make for each other.
But if the anticipation of that sexy, life-affirming storage spot is too much to bear, there is an alternative. You could prepare all of your carry-on items while in the waiting area—before you board—for lightning-quick stowage at the crucial time. If you're able to get settled quickly, without selfishly forcing others to wait, you can insure that you won't lose out on that exquisite overhead niche you have your eye on. Clearing the aisle to allow fellow passengers to pass serves two crucial functions: First, it is the most timely and efficient way of sorting everyone into their proper seats (short of having them board one row at a time, beginning with the last row, which is so staggeringly logical that every airline should start doing it right away). Secondly, it reduces the risk of beginning your journey with your new co-travelers in an atmosphere of hatred and resentment.
Clear the aisles when exiting.
Some readers may instantly detect the similarity between this and the previous point. Indeed, they are two sides of the same door, so to speak. If you feel moved to thank your flight attendant at length for his or her superlatively creative safety demonstration, you must do so during the flight, rather than on the way out. We all have places to be, and your seemingly gracious act, unfortunately, carries with it a simultaneous offense in that it blocks our exit, which is unforgivable. Do you anticipate needing fifteen minutes or so to retrieve your stowed baggage? For everyone's benefit, perhaps better pre-trip planning was called for. Nonetheless, you may now wait in an available empty row and allow your speedier co-riders to exit, giving you a generous amount of time to calculate the overly-involved extraction while you wait.
Use of public doors carries an implied social contract. If, in the course of operation, you see a fellow citizen nearing the door, you are obliged to hold it until such citizen has assumed control of said door. If the person is carrying a substantial burden, you must hold the door until they've passed through.
Similarly, if you're on an elevator and you see someone approaching, it's basic manners to hold the door for that person. And you should. No self-respecting citizen who claims to possess a shred of grace would do otherwise.
But if it's you who is boarding, it is most inconsiderate to hold the door endlessly for Rico, who is "just down the street" and will "be here any second." Rico will need to summon his own elevator car.
Now, if you and a friend are riding the elevator together and one of you is getting off first, you must limit your good-byes to the amount of time it takes the door to shut automatically. Holding up the other riders so you can finish your story—or go through your calendars until you find a time for your next lunch—is simply not done by any but the shockingly selfish and uncouth.
If you are fortunate enough to be the recipient of good manners in the form of someone holding the door for you, remember, this person is not a professional door holder, and neglecting to thank this person is considered inappropriate, not to mention unappreciative.
Before boarding, our hearts flutter madly with the expectation of that milestone moment when we cross that important line that separates the passengers from the merely hopeful. Once aboard however, we often forget about those who, like us, dream of securing their place among the transported. Satisfied with our new status, we (and by we, we mean you) stop just inside, happily contemplating the journey to come. It's a sort of amnesia that causes us to forget all about our fellow citizens. And so, one sees, for example, tightly packed crowds hovering just within the doors of subways, tubes and metros, while between the doors, welcoming space awaits. It's a small enough courtesy to move as far in as possible, allowing others to board in your wake, rather than blocking the door with your self-centered, amnesia-afflicted personage.
It's our hope that these simple rules of door etiquette will help you to avoid glares, swears, and perhaps even bodily harm. It's all part of making the world function more smoothly and restoring consideration and common sense to our everyday lives.