“I am somewhat embarrassed to ask the question. I had an encounter recently and I am unable to find a legitimate answer,” writes a TravelSkills reader.
We love getting emails like this… here’s the rest of her query:
I am a frequent flier, flying in excess of 100K for the last 15 years. Recently, I painted my nails on a flight, first time ever. When I say “on a flight” I mean, during boarding with the door still open. There was no one next to me and I boarded with group 1, so the plane was relatively empty. I decided to take a minute (literally) and quickly paint my nails.
The flight attendant said I needed to stop as this was illegal. I immediately stopped and didn’t hide in the bathroom to finish. I was intrigued as I had never been in this situation before. I asked the same flight attendant if it was indeed illegal and she said ‘yes’ because of re-circulated air. I attempted to clarify because the door was still open and she insisted that it indeed is not allowed.
Still intrigued, I have attempted to find additional information online. To no avail. The only thing I can find is an incident with a woman in 2012 in which a woman got arrested, but the charges were dropped.
Again, I am somewhat embarrassed to ask the question, is this indeed illegal or just irritating to others? The question is not whether it is rude or disruptive to other passengers. I assessed the situation and made a judgment call…If this is indeed illegal or not permitted, where would one find an extensive list of things not permitted on airplanes? Also, I’m trying to determine whether this is a hidden rule or a flight attendant fibbing about something illegal because she didn’t like it. I didn’t press the issue with the actual flight attendant, fearful for any consequences. I am hoping that you can provide some insight or validity to a unique situation.
So the question is: Is painting nails onboard a plane illegal? Technically, the answer is no. You cannot be arrested or removed from the plane for breaking the law if you refuse to stop painting your nails onboard. (But you can be thrown off a plane if you are involved in an altercation when asked to stop painting. It happened.)
Is it irritating to others? YES! But from a quick poll of airlines, we found none that have a formal policy against painting nails onboard. Instead, they simply recommend against it.
A United spokesperson told TravelSkills, “We don’t have a policy against nail polish. However, as a courtesy, we ask customers to refrain from using it for the comfort of their fellow travelers.” Southwest’s response was similar: “For the comfort of all our passengers onboard, this practice is frowned upon and the customer will be asked to put away their polish.” Virgin America said, “As a courtesy, we do request that guests refrain from using it onboard flights for the comfort of their fellow travelers.” At Delta, a spokesperson said that the carrier “does not have a published rule on polish.”
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Was the flight attendant “fibbing” that painting nails was illegal simply because she didn’t like it? Yes, based on the official responses we received from airlines. No laws were broken.
With the shift in the story to the behavior of the flight attendant, we decided to ask Heather Poole, an 18-year career flight attendant and author of a book about her experiences called Cruising Altitude about what happened. She had plenty to say:
“Everyone is looking for a reason to get in a fight onboard planes these days, aren’t they?” she said. “Anyway, during training, we were taught to ask passengers to put polish away because it’s a flammable liquid and because of the offensive smell. We tell them it’s okay to have the polish onboard, but it’s not okay to use it,” she said, adding, “And no one has ever had a problem with that.”
Is it okay for flight attendants to fib a little to get someone to stop an offensive behavior? How would you react to someone painting their nails next to you onboard?
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