Airplane Etiquette & What Not To Do On A Plane

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If you fly often, you start to pick up on some unwritten rules of flying and you learn what not to do on a plane. Some things are more obvious than others while others may come as a surprise. Airplane etiquette is all about being polite to others and not causing a scene or making a situation awkward for those around you.

For example: if you want to switch your seat to an empty one after the doors close, make sure you ask a flight attendant before doing so. You never know if they have that spot reserved for someone else and you may end up causing an issue that could easily have been avoided.

Simple questions will resolve a lot of issues when flying and will contribute to a seamless flight.

airplane etiquette: view out of the airplane window

Flying Etiquette & Behaviors to Avoid While Flying

Airplane etiquette #1: seating

Don’t fully extend your seat without a warning. Nothing is more irritating than the seat in front of you violently moving towards you while you are enjoying your meal and a movie on a flight.

There are two different ways to politely lean your seat back: you can slowly move it back or you can ask the person behind you if they’re okay with you moving your seat back.

But either way, avoid doing this while someone is eating. It’s much easier to accommodate when you don’t have a cup of hot coffee or a plate of hot food in front of you.

Airplane etiquette #2: armrests

Don’t take up both armrests if you have a window or aisle seat. In general, the unwritten rule of the middle seat is that you get both armrests. This is because your space is quite confined with people on either side of you. If you have either a window or aisle seat, make sure you take the left and right armrests respectively.

airplane etiquette: view of a small airplane

Airplane etiquette #3: hygiene

Please keep unhygienic manners at bay. This includes picking your nose, blowing your nose loudly, clearing your throat of phlegm every few minutes, and sneezing openly. If you have a cold, then either be discreet about blowing your nose (turn to the side) or head to the bathroom. If you need to sneeze, do it inside your shirt where it’s contained.

You may be wondering why we’ve included clearing your throat. On one flight, we had a lady a few seats away who cleared her throat constantly, every few minutes. Listening to this is fine on a short 45 minute flight or if you have earplugs/headphones in your ear the entire time. However, on a long 7+ hour flight, not so much, especially if you’re trying to eat!

Airplane etiquette #4: the aisle

Avoid spreading your legs out into the aisle or crowding out the person next to you. Flying sucks sometimes, no doubt about it. And if you’re tall, there’s even less space for you to be comfortable in.

Putting your legs in the aisle may seem like a good idea at first but once the flight attendant runs over your foot with their service cart, you’ll quickly realize what a terrible idea it is after all. If your legs are long and you don’t want to be cramped, make sure you look into seats with more legroom when you book your tickets.

Make sure you don’t block someone’s aisle space when you’re waiting for the bathroom. We realize that the planes are cramped and sometimes it’s hard to know where to stand in line. But if you can avoid it, don’t stand directly in front of someone’s seat while they’re sitting there as they’ll be staring at your bum the entire time. If you can’t avoid it, apologize and try to move as quickly as you can.

Don’t talk so loudly that people a few rows in front of you can hear. The same goes with laughing. Try to respect the quietness – sometimes there are adults trying to sleep, other times kids.

Airplane etiquette #5: mealtime

It goes without saying, don’t get drunk. There are quite a few airlines that serve free alcohol with dinner but that doesn’t mean you should drink excessively. The flight is no place for partying and the attendants won’t appreciate your loud behavior or even worse, vomiting that might follow.

Opt for odorless snacks to bring onboard. One of our biggest pet peeves is smelling someones breakfast, lunch or dinner that they’ve decided to bring with them. Our least favorite foods are foods that smell, like beef jerky or onion chips or worst of all, an egg salad sandwich (true story).

lady enjoying wine and food before a flight

Airplane etiquette #6: deplaning

Deplaning can be a challenge especially if you’ve been cooped up for hours. Resist the urge to get up and walk ahead of everyone. This is considered extremely rude. Wait your turn and then grab your bags and walk down the aisle. If you see someone near you who needs a hand, help them with their luggage.

An exception to this unwritten rule is if the flight is running late and you have a connection to catch. Let people know that you have a short connection and then ask if you can advance in front of them.

Airplane etiquette #7: window seats

Avoid reserving a window seat when you have a small bladder. We mean this in the nicest way but if you know you need to use the toilet often, then we would recommend booking an aisle seat. This is just the polite thing to do as you can get up and go without having to bother the middle and/or aisle seats to let you pass every time.

view outside the airplane window

Airplane etiquette #8: vulgarity

Avoid watching movies with an excessive amount of sex or violence when you have kids near you or next to you. In the same manner, avoid cursing. Be respectful of your surroundings and the people in them.

Airplane etiquette #9: social cues

We are huge fans of striking up conversations with people sitting near us. In fact, we met the most interesting professor on a Europe flight once and chatted with him for the entire 7 hours. To this day, we have no idea how we held a conversation for that long but he was so easy to talk to and had so much information to share that it made it interesting and helped pass the time.

However, be very careful to pick up on social cues when you start a conversation. There are a lot of people who prefer to be left alone, especially for a long flight. And that’s totally okay. As passengers, we need to respect the signs: disinterested gaze, looking down at their phone or out the window, silence on their end, etc. We’ve seen a lot of cases where one person started chatting away and rather than a two-way conversation being enjoyed by two people, it was a one-sided chatter that was clearly unwanted.

Other travel tips:
How to hide cash while traveling
Best suitcases for travel overseas

people boarding a plane outside

Airplane etiquette #10: kids

This flight etiquette tip is two sided. If you’re traveling without kids, don’t glare at mothers or fathers try to keep their little ones entertained. Be kind and understanding. Use headphones if there’s a baby nearby as sometimes they’ll scream due to ear pressure. Be patient and don’t say rude things to them. They’re upset just as much as you and certainly don’t love hearing their kid cry.

On the other hand, if you are traveling with a toddler or a child old enough to know better, make sure they’re respectful of others, especially the seat in front of them. Avoid letting them kick the seat in front of them, hoping that the person sitting there won’t notice. And if they need a diaper change, please change it as odors do permeate the air. After all, we breathe recycled air while flying.

Above all, be considerate. Speak kindly to those around you and do onto others what you would have them do onto you. Remember that the space within a plane is very finite and people cannot escape so it’s especially important to respect others and try to curb your annoying habits and behaviors until you deplane.

Grace

A travel photographer and writer with an insatiable desire to explore the world and inspire others to see it for themselves.

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