One of the longest times you’ll find yourself pressed between two strangers is on an airplane, and the relative level of comfort we experience on any given flight has a lot to do with the behavior of the other passengers.
Did a rowdy crowd keep you from your beauty sleep? Did your neighbor’s incessant sneezing leave you in a sticky mist? Did the kid behind you kick your seat so many times you lost all resemblance to the good-natured human being you once were?
We’ve all been there. You settle into your less-than-luxurious basic economy seat that you purchased with your best travel credit card hoping for a smooth flight — but for the most part, it’s out of your control.
Still, while we as passengers can’t be responsible for turbulence or departure delays, we can follow some basic etiquette rules to avoid making the experience miserable for everyone else. Don’t be that guy everyone complains about once they get off the plane. Instead, follow our commandments for airplane etiquette, and let’s all treat each other respect.
I shall go directly to my seat
Boarding is a time-consuming process, so don’t make it even more annoying for other passengers by stopping to rummage through your bag before you sit down. Have everything you need prepared before getting on the plane, quickly place your carry-on luggage in the overhead bin directly above your seat, and make space for other passengers in the aisle.
I shall never remove my shoes and socks
You can’t always smell your own foot odor, but this can stink up a plane really quickly. Plus, some foot conditions are contagious, and unless you’ve just had a pedicure, your bare feet could be pretty gross to look at. On long flights, it might be OK to take off your shoes if you’re wearing socks — but exercise discretion. If your feet need to be free, you might want to invest in a pair of packable slippers.
I shall place my items in the overhead bin when sitting in a bulkhead seat
If you’re sitting directly behind a wall that separates two cabins, you’ll need to put your bag in the overhead compartment. The space under your seat is meant for the person behind you to store their belongings, and it’s against the rules to keep items on the floor in front of your feet.
I shall share the armrests
The debate over which armrest belongs to each traveler is certainly heated. Some people say the person in the middle seat should get both armrests, but the most popular opinion, according to a British Airways survey on flight etiquette, is that each person should take just one armrest. When in doubt, ask your neighbor politely which armrest they’d like to use.
I shall ask before reclining my seat
Reclining your seat can make it easier to get shut-eye, but you should always ask the person behind you if doing so is OK. Otherwise, you could accidentally hit them in the head, knock over the food on their tray table, or make using a laptop difficult for them. Suddenly reclining your seat too far is a great way to really upset someone. It’s best to avoid reclining altogether, but the person behind you might be understanding if you’re on an overnight or otherwise lengthy flight.
I shall keep my conversations short
Sometimes, you might meet someone on the airplane with shared interests and strike up a conversation. But even if both of you are enjoying the conversation, other passengers might not want to listen to it. And most people would prefer to keep to themselves on an airplane — according to the same British Airways survey, 83% of travelers reported that conversation should be limited to a greeting and a smile. At the very least, avoid discussing religion or politics, and only share pictures of your dog or cat upon request.
I shall limit my alcohol intake
It’s OK to start your vacation with a drink on the airplane. But you shouldn’t get so inebriated that you spill vodka on your neighbor’s pants, start telling embarrassing stories from your college days, fall flat on your face while attempting the unsteady walk to the bathroom, or forget your suitcase when exiting the plane. Just keep yourself under control. If you can’t even look at a Sudoku puzzle without getting dizzy, it’s probably time to switch to coffee or juice.
I shall not eat smelly food
Tuna salad might be a convenient airplane snack, but most people would prefer that the stuffy airplane air not smell like fish for the whole flight. Bring dry snacks like crackers or cookies, and if you need a protein, pick one that doesn’t have an odor (hint: not hard-boiled eggs).
I shall avoid personal grooming activities
It’s OK to apply hand lotion or put drops in your eyes to combat the dry cabin air. But whatever you do, don’t trim your nails, clean your ears, or pick your nose. If you have any doubts about whether a grooming task is appropriate, head to the airplane bathroom or wait until you arrive at your hotel.
I shall stand up to let other passengers into the aisle
Don’t force other passengers to crawl over you or stick their rear end in your face as they try to squeeze past. It’s awkward for everyone involved. Just unbuckle your seatbelt and step into the aisle if someone needs to get up to stretch their legs or use the bathroom.
I shall stay in my space
Sitting in an airplane for hours can make you restless, but you shouldn’t get out of your seat unless you have to. Limit your bathroom breaks so you’re not constantly asking your neighbors to accommodate you (see above). And if you’re going to take a nap, pack a neck pillow to keep your head from falling onto your neighbor’s shoulder.
I shall keep my kids under control as much as possible
While you can do your best to calm a crying infant, no one can really blame you if your baby makes noise on the airplane. But you can talk to your older kids about airplane etiquette and explain how their actions affect other passengers. Also be sure to bring plenty of distractions to keep your kids busy during long flights.
I shall silence my electronics
Keep your phone and tablet on silent and make sure you have a good pair of headphones for listening to music or watching movies. Also, don’t turn up your device so loud that your fellow passengers can still hear what you’re listening to even with your headphones on.
I shall clean up after myself
Make sure the spaces you use in the airplane stay clean for other passengers. Don’t make a mess in the lavatory; wipe down the toilet and sink before exiting. Use antibacterial wipes to clean off your tray table after eating, and don’t just push the crumbs onto the cabin floor. Finally, be sure to throw away your trash when the flight attendants stop by to collect.
I shall wait my turn
Everyone’s anxious to get off the plane at the end of a long flight, but that doesn’t mean you should somersault down the aisle before anyone else gets a chance to stand up. Allow passengers seated ahead of you to grab their bags and exit one row at a time. That means if you’re sitting toward the back of the plane, you might have to wait a while — but that’s proper airplane etiquette.
The bottom line on airline etiquette
If you want to be the worst airline passenger in the history of travel, go ahead and clip your toenails while singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall” or peel the shells off your stinky hard-boiled eggs while asking total strangers for personal advice.
While thinking about travelers breaking these commandments might be comical, but it’s in no way fun for other passengers when someone is disrespectful on a plane. Maybe you have a rewards credit card that is giving you some extra flying perks, but most of these rules still apply in those situations. So unless we want to be responsible for a rough start to someone else’s vacation, let’s all be kind and thoughtful about our own behavior each time we fly.
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