Airplane Etiquette 101: 8 Tips for Mindful Travelers
We’ve all been on a flight where someone does the inexcusable, and you wonder how they could do that on a plane. Airplane etiquette doesn’t have to remain a mystery for only frequent flyers—here are the (generally acknowledged) behaviors a good passenger should (and shouldn’t) do while up in the air.
The cult classic Snakes on a Plane garnered so much attention—both good and bad—precisely because the plotline (venomous snakes trained to attack and kill airline passengers as part of an elaborate scheme to eliminate trial witnesses) is so outrageous. Frankly, though, almost everyone has been a passenger on a flight where the threat of snakes seems almost preferable compared to the questionable etiquette of some of the passengers.
According to the FAA, almost three million passengers fly in and out of U.S. airports every day. Shockingly full flights averaging hundreds of people on just one plane, throngs of people at the airport, and all the other hassles related make travel stressful for anyone. Proper airplane etiquette begins even before you get on the plane, and following a few simple (and admittedly unwritten) rules of airplane etiquette (like streamlining your packing) can make travel days much easier for you and your fellow travelers.
Leave Yourself Plenty of Time
Parking takes time. Checking in takes time. Security, grabbing a bite to eat, and taking a pre-flight bathroom break all take time, too. Have a plan in place for what you need to do before you board and give yourself enough time to do it and still be at the gate early for boarding. Traveling with kids? Add extra time for them, too. By leaving enough time, you won’t feel the need to cut others in the security line, or make a mad dash through the airport corridors.
Be Prepared for Security
Proper airport etiquette means knowing the rules of what you can bring on a plane before you arrive in the security line. Shoes and jackets come off and are put in a bin. Items in pockets come out and are put in a bin. Liquids, laptops, phones, and other electronic devices are taken out and put in a bin. If you pack thoughtfully, going through security will be fast and simplified. Be prepared so you’re not scrambling and digging through your luggage. On the other side of the screening, take your items to a bench out of the way to reorganize your personal item and carry on bags.
Pack With Care
First, you should be able to carry and lift your carry-on bag into the overhead compartment with ease. While it’s certainly wonderful when someone helps you stow your bag, proper airplane etiquette says should be something you can do solo for speed and efficiency. As for your personal item, naturally you’ll want creature comforts like a blanket and water bottle—so it’s always good to review what you’ll need for a flight. Once in your seat, you should stay there (with the exception of a bathroom run) so get everything you’ll need to be comfortable together where you can access it. One pro tip is to use packing sacs to organize your snacks, electronics, and entertainment so you’re never spilling your own in-flight gear into your neighbor’s seat!
If You Can smell It, Avoid It
Do shower before traveling and don’t try to cover odors or otherwise wear colognes or perfumes. While you might love smelling your favorite fragrance, it’s overwhelming to others in close quarters, and it’s worth noting that some people are actually allergic to fragrances. As for food smells, no one wants to sit next to or anywhere near someone with a smelly burger or other hot food And let’s not even talk about the entire plane grounded because someone loved durian fruit just a bit too much. Leave time to eat ahead of time if you really need a meal on a short flight, or pack small snacks that don’t have a strong smell. Finally, there is no excuse to ever, ever pass gas on a plane. That’s what the bathroom is for. If you’re especially flatulent, take some Gas-X before the flight and spare your fellow travelers.
Of course it’s more comfortable to have your shoes off while traveling. A special travel set of slippers make all the difference, particularly on long-haul flights where there are different airplane etiquette rules in place. No one wants to see (or God forbid, smell) bare feet on a flight and someone’s own socks are oddly TMI, so slippers are the perfect solution (you can also use them when running to the restroom—it may be unwritten, but it’s generally acknowledged that going barefoot or in socks is a true no-no).
Don’t Recline Your Seat
This is always a hotly-debated topic in airplane etiquette. Plane seats are cramped and more people than ever are loaded onto flights. Reclining means you’re practically laying in someone’s lap, making it hard for them to have adequate space. You’ll be jostled when they try to get into their bag and you run the risk of spilling their drink or damaging their device when you recline. If you recline your seat, the person behind you must recline theirs and so on. Items like an eyeshade, a blanket, and neck pillow can add to your comfort while resting inflight when not reclined. Again, the airplane etiquette rules slightly change on long-haul flights—if the lights go out and your flight’s taking place overnight, generally reclining during the sleep time (never during meals) is acceptable.
Manage Your Children
It’s one thing to have an uncomfortable and fussy baby while flying and there’s not much that can be done about that (because, baby). But packing treats and activities for your older child is the best way to avoid unruly in-flight behavior. Wild children running up and down the aisles is unsafe and so is kids jumping up and down in their seats. Some parents like to choose several new-to-them, inexpensive toys, like a new coloring book and crayons, a scratch-off hangman game, or other items wrapped as gifts for each hour of the flight. Keeping them occupied is the best way to avoid a possible meltdown. Those without children may want to invest in some ear plugs.
The Middle Seat gets the Armrest
No one wants the middle seat. They want the aisle for accessibility or the window for the view (and the chance to lean while sleeping), so the elbow room goes to the poor person stuck in the middle. This is hotly debated, of course, but really—take pity on the person stuck in the middle who is wedged between two perfect strangers. And despite planes being cramped, do your best to stay in your own seat’s boundaries.
Ok, so maybe airplane etiquette isn’t as dramatic as poisonous snakes attacking passengers at 35,000 feet. Being polite and conscientious of other travelers shouldn’t be dramatic either. Following a few simple guidelines can make everyone’s travel run more smoothly.
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By Rebecca Treon on January 24, 2020
Rebecca Treon is a Denver-based freelance food and travel writer. She has two children who are learning to be intrepid travelers like their mom. When she’s not busy adventuring with her family, Rebecca can be found experimenting in the kitchen or attempting to have a green thumb.