Are you guilty of breaking these unspoken airplane etiquette rules?

By Wendy Rose Gould
August 06, 2019

It’s probably safe to assume that most people who are being jerks on a plane are oblivious to the fact that they’re being, well, jerks. Maybe they’re newbie flyers or simply haven’t been filled in on the unspoken rules that make flying less awful for everyone on board. We’re all jammed together in those tiny, uncomfortable seats—usually with too much stuff—and with nowhere to go for hours. Anything people can do to accommodate their neighbors on this uncomfortable journey is helpful, and following the airplane etiquette below, offered by travel experts and seasoned flyers, is a great place to start.

Reserve the Overhead Bin For Large Bags

If it can fit under the seat in front of you, then it belongs under the seat in front of you. That includes your purse, messenger bag, backpack, diaper bag, duty free purchases, and small overnight carry-ons.

“Many folks have roller board traveling suitcases that they carry on for shorter trips that will not fit under the seat. Therefore, they can only be placed in an overhead bin where space is limited. If you place your small carry-on in the overhead bin, then it takes up space that could be used for roller boards. Put it under the seat, just like the airline instructs,” says Adam Duckworth, founder of travel agency Travelmation LLC.

Following this rule benefits everyone since it prevents the puzzle piece scramble during boarding, allowing you to take off without delay.

Give the Arm Rest to the Person Sitting in the Middle Seat

It doesn’t matter how long a flight is, sitting in the middle seat is the worst. “The person sitting in the middle gets both arm rests. Period. The person in the window seat gets the window, the person in the aisle gets the aisle, leaving the middle seat with the only luxury of two arm rests. Let them have it,” says Mona Molayem, a travel blogger who has flown to all seven continents.  

Mind Your Toes and Feet, Please

“Have you seen the cringe-worthy viral video of the airline passenger using his bare feet to swipe across a video touchscreen? Eek! Hopefully we don't have to tell you not to do that, but keeping your bare feet from contact with any part of the plane isn't just good flying manners, it's also good hygiene,” says travel journalist Melissa Klurman.

Bring an extra pair of socks if you want to take your shoes off (it’s understandable on long flights) but don’t walk around the plane barefoot. And whatever you do, refrain from propping your feet up on the seat in front of you. Keep your body—legs included—tucked neatly into the tiny space you paid for without infringing on the tiny space someone else paid for.

Keep Your Music to Yourself—Kids Included

Your taste in music is probably superb, but nobody else wants to listen to it when they’re trying to focus on their own form of entertainment. “It's never OK to have your sound turned on and audible on a plane," Klurman says. "This goes not just for music, which should be obvious, but for video games, social media, apps, and any other entertainment on personal devices. Note that this applies to kids, as well.” If you’re traveling with children, bring over-ear, kid-safe headphones so the entire plane doesn't have to hear Dora exploring. 

Be Kind to Parents With Fussy Babies

Nobody’s having a worse time on an airplane than a fussy baby, and second to that is their parent. “Traveling with kids is hard and incredibly stressful,” says travel advisor and fellow mom, Jenifour Jones. “Likely they have been stuck in a confined space all day and no one feels more tired, mortified, and stressed than the parents. If you want the crying or behavior to stop, perhaps offer to help out by interacting with the kids or distracting them.”

Book an Aisle Seat If You’ve Got a Small Bladder

“If you have a small bladder, don’t book a window seat. Asking the entire row to get up so you can use the restroom is a pain,” says Duckworth. “We all have to go sometimes, but if you are prone to it then book an aisle seat. It will save everyone the hassle of repeatedly unplugging their devices, getting up, and shifting their cargo.”

Keep the Lavatory Clean and Don’t Linger

Speaking of bladders, mind your manners when it comes to the airplane lavatory. “Airplane lavatory queues can form quickly. Treat the airplane bathroom like a drive-through: take care of business and move along,” says Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company. “Also, to prevent any odor from lingering, flush as soon as possible. Once you’re done handling business, be sure to close the toilet lid. It’s an extra measure of flying etiquette and overall.”

Don’t Treat the Plane Like Your Private Spa

On that note, the lavatory is not your personal spa and neither, really, is your plane seat. “Personal grooming is not meant for airplanes. Clipping toenails, painting fingernails, and flossing are especially egregious offenses,” says Nancy Atkinson, chief travel officer at TripActions. “Airplanes are shared spaces and therefore a potential Petri dishes for germs. Do your best to keep your genetic materials to yourself to keep germs from spreading.”

Don’t Bring Smelly Food on the Plane

“Airlines have become increasingly stingy with in-flight amenities, especially food, so bringing snacks is an important part of creating a comfortable environment when you're flying,” says Klurman. “Carry on your favorite portable comestibles—think things like bars and simple sandwiches—but be sure to keep them odor free. Now is not the time for pungent or intensely scented options.” We’re looking at you with your tuna and egg sandwich.

Recline If Necessary, But With Caution

To recline or not to recline? There is an endless debate over whether one should recline their seat or not. “In order not to be ‘that person,’ look back and recline your seat slowly, and do not have your seat reclined during meal times,” says Molayem. It’s also not in good taste to recline your seat all the way back if someone is working on their laptop or if there’s a tall person behind you. If you’re a fellow tall person yourself, recline partially and, again, with care.

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