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The Dos and Don’ts of Airplane Travel

I always liken riding in an airplane to living in a neighborhood. Except instead of having some walls and maybe a yard to separate you and your neighbors, you’re right next to and behind each other… in a small cylindrical tube high above the sky. Just like with neighbors, there are certain etiquette rules that make living, or in this case flying, with each other more pleasant. When it comes to airplane travel etiquette, here are my dos and don’ts. I think if we all follow these rules, we’ll all just be a little less miserable when our legs are cramping and we still have a few hours left until we land!

Dos and Don’ts of Airplane Etiquette

DO know that mom always gets to pick first.

If you’re flying with your mom or dad, it’s only nice to let them decide what seat they’d prefer!

DON’T ask to switch seats with someone unless you’re offering a better seat.

Here’s the deal, yes, it sucks that airlines now make you pay to select a seat. However, if it’s that important that you and your group sit together but you don’t want to pay, get to the airport early and ask at check-in if they can move seats. They’ll do it for free and it’s a first come, first serve type of thing.

Asking someone to switch to a less comfortable seat when they’re in the middle of boarding is just rude. You’re also taking advantage of someone in a flustered state. Unless, of course, you’re asking that person for a middle seat in exchange for your aisle or window seat. In which case, ask away.

DON’T take someone else’s bag out of the overhead compartment.

Never take someone else’s bag out of an overhead compartment. Sure you can slide it over to make room, but if things require a bit of Tetris, leave it up to the flight attendants.

DO help a fellow passenger if they seem like they need it.

It’s always good practice to offer assistance to a fellow passenger just like it’s always nice to help a fellow neighbor out. See someone struggling to lift their bag into the overhead compartment? Help them out!

Not only is it just a nice thing to do, you’re also helping yourself. The quicker the boarding goes, the quicker the plane can get in the air, and the quicker you can get to your destination. Plus, you know what would really cause a delay? Someone throwing out their back and needing medical attention ASAP.

If you have a weak bladder, DO ensure you sit in an aisle seat.

If you’re the kind of person that just knows you’re going to have to use the bathroom at least twice on a flight, especially for anything under six hours, do everyone a favor and get an aisle seat. Again, if you don’t want to pay for it, get to the airport early enough to ask at check-in.

DO give window seat carte blanche on the window.

The only person who gets to control the window is the person sitting right next to it. Sure you can always ask to peek out for a few minutes, but otherwise they get to decide if the shade is up or down.

DO allow the middle seat to get both armrests.

They get so little on this plane, just let them have both the arm rests. And if you’re in the middle seat, you’re well within your rights to nudge your seat mates’ arms off the rests. They’re yours.

DO keep your voice down.

Need to speak on the phone before departure? Traveling next to your friend and want to catch up? Totally fine – but keep your voice low. Don’t be that annoying traveler. No one else wants or needs to hear your conversation just like you probably don’t want to listen to your neighbor’s conversation either.

DON’T play music or video without headphones.

Bouncing off keeping your voice down – never, ever, EVER play music or movies or any sound from your technology without headphones in. I don’t know when people started thinking this was okay, but let me tell you it never was and never will be. No one needs to know your favorite song of the moment or what Tiktoks you’re watching. And no one especially needs to know what’s going on with Bluey or Paw Patrol either.

DO be conscious of smells.

I’m talking about both food and bodily smells. Don’t bring any food aboard that has a distinct smell. Airplanes are small and that smell will not only spread quickly, it’ll linger and just be unpleasant for everyone. Trust me, your greasy McDonalds meal is not going to be welcome.

This also goes for bodily smells. Hey, we can’t help what our body naturally does. But if you know you have smelly feet – keep your shoes and socks on. You might not be able to smell them, but I guarantee everyone within a four foot radius can.

DON’T try to chat with someone wearing headphones.

Airplanes can be great places to make a new friend – but only if both parties want to. If your seatmate has headphones in, don’t tap their shoulder and start talking. It’s a very clear “Do Not Disturb” sign. On the flipside, if you want to end a conversation, subtly putting your headphones in is a good way to get the message across.

DO practice normal bathroom etiquette.

This is the part where I tell you to flush the toilet and make sure it’s flushed because there’s always that one person on the plane who apparently never learned this important life lesson.

DO always clean up after your kids.

Flight attendants are not babysitters nor are they industrial cleaners or inflight maids. Despite what you may think, they do not have a supply closet full of cleaning supplies aboard planes. In fact, I believe attendants pretty much have hand soap and wet wipes to help them clean. Yes, they’re there to help, so if your kid drops a toy; I’m sure they’ll pick it up, but never expect it from them. Likewise if they ask you to pick someone up or clean up after your kid, they’re in the right.

P.S. Never, ever let your kids draw on the airplane walls.

DON’T parent someone else’s child.

As tempting as it is to turn around and start scolding the kid kicking your seat; trust me, it’ll fall on deaf ears. The best thing to do is to find the parent and nicely (and I mean nicely, not angrily-with-a-thin-layer-of-sugar) ask them to have their child stop. If that fails, grab a flight attendant to help handle the situation.

DO follow these rules for reclining your chair.

Here are my personal rules for reclining. If a flight is under 3 hours, don’t recline. If it’s over 3 hours, recline but do so politely. Make sure the person behind you isn’t in the middle of doing anything or has a drink sitting on their table. And don’t just slam the seat back, do it gently.

Also ALWAYS remember to put it back up for meals. Usually, a flight attendant will remind you, but it’s good to keep in mind and remember to do it on your own.

DON’T pop your gum!

I mean, this also feels like a no brainer but apparently not for everyone. The sound of popping gum is universally annoying, why do it on a plane? If someone is popping their gum around you, start dramatically jumping every time it pops. Hopefully, they notice and get the hint. If they don’t, turn and ask them to please stop.

DON’T ever put your bare feet up on an arm rest.

Another etiquette rule that should be obvious. However, I had to ask someone to take their feet down on a recent flight! IF you want to prop your foot a little bit, keep it in socks or put your airplane blanket over top so there’s a healthy barrier. But never just use the armrest in front of you as your personal footstool. That’s just gross for the person in front of you; I don’t care how clean your feet are.

DO be kind to newborn and newborn parents.

Now I know – no one likes the sound of a baby crying. But sometimes a newborn has to fly, and there’s a parent or two doing the best they can. Babies literally cannot help themselves, and it’s not as though parents can magically get an infant to calm down. Throwing dirty looks or making rude remarks isn’t going to help anyone or anything. Just invest in some noise canceling headphones or earplugs if you truly cannot cope.

DO practice patience when disembarking.

We all know those people that bolt straight up as soon as that seatbelt sign goes off. They then try to beeline to the front only to make it about half way where they’re not only getting in everyone’s way, they’re exuding this sort of anxious impatience that makes things tenser for anyone involved.

Just be patient when disembarking. Trust me, even if you’re worried about catching another flight, rushing around will maybe cut off five minutes at most. Wait your turn. It’s like merging in traffic – if we all just followed the thread-the-needle technique, things would always run smoothly. It’s when someone cuts someone off or tries to speed up that we start getting traffic jams.

DO use good manners when interacting with anyone but especially airline workers.

I cannot emphasize this enough – always be kind when talking to a flight attendant. Even if the attendant is a little snarky with their replies, be polite. Trust me these people have to deal with a lot of crap for not nearly enough pay. A bit of kindness goes a long way.

And, of course, as a rule of thumb always say “please” and “thank you”!

DO always remain calm.

At the end of the day airplanes are public transport just like buses or subways or trains. You’re truly not in the air for more than a half a day at most. If we all just remember to remain calm, think before we react, and take a few deep breaths, we’ll be much better off. We can’t always control what happens when traveling, but we can always control our reactions.

And there you have it – my dos and don’ts for airplane etiquette! Any you’d add? Let me know below!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. If you have a tight connection, ask a FA if you can deplane quickly. Don’t tell them. Ask and they may be able to help you out.

  2. Thanks for the post on politeness, Samantha. I have never understood the bad behavior I have witnessed when flying.

  3. Wonderfully stated and explained! I’ll be sharing this with family and friends! I love anything etiquette-related, and I think a book or ebook with travel etiquette for airport, cruise ship, plane, train, bus, hotel, etc, and other tips and tricks would be fantastic from you, Samantha! (Please correct me if one already exists!)

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