Airplane Travel Etiquette for the Real World

airplane travel etiquette
There is no worse way to start a vacation than having a bad seatmate on your flight. Airplane travel can be exciting, but if you’re stuck with someone rude or obnoxious it can be a real pain. Avoid being this dreaded passenger by following these tips:

Respect Your Space (or Lack Thereof)

Planes are famously cramped, but it’s important to keep to your own space during the entire flight. This means all of your limbs and personal items should be within the width of your seat. It is common and expected courtesy for the person in the middle seat to be able to claim both armrests. Also, respect your space with your luggage. Do not stuff every item you brought with you into the overhead bin on a packed flight. On a crowded flight, keep one of your bags at your feet. Yes, you’ll lose some leg room under the seat in front of you, but you won’t be hogging all the overhead space.

When Nature Calls

If you feel nature calling but you’re stuck by the window, don’t invade people’s personal space by touching them to tell them. Instead, try to grab their attention by waving a hand by the seat in front of them (not in their face), undoing your seat belt, or trying to talk to them if the plane is not too loud or they’re not wearing headphones. If you’re in the aisle seat, stand up and leave the row if a person closer to the window needs to get up. Don’t make them climb over you. Once you are up, avoid pulling on people’s headrests as you walk down the aisle. If you have to wait in the aisle for a restroom to open, try to stand in a way that does not invade the space of the people seated by the restroom. Airplane travel is always cramped, but that’s no excuse to invade someone’s space unnecessarily. Always wear shoes to the bathroom, not just socks (or worse, bare feet). A normal public bathroom floor is not a sanitary place to be barefoot, and an airplane bathroom is even worse. Carpets are only spot cleaned to remove stains, there are no Federal Aviation Administration regulations on airplane cleanliness, and the liquid on the floor of the plane bathroom is not water. Just wear shoes. Trust me.

What (Not) to Wear for Airplane Travel

When you’re flying, it’s important to be comfortable. Wear clothes that allow you to stretch and move quickly if you need to catch a last-minute connection. Planes can be cold, so make sure to layer. And please follow current mask mandates for airplane travel. They will protect yourself, your fellow passengers, and the flight attendants. With perfumes and scented lotions, it is important to be courteous of your seatmates. Avoid wearing strong perfume and do not apply any scented lotions, hand sanitizers, and sprays while on the plane. Some people have serious sensitivities to scents that cause them severe headaches and sinus issues.

How to Get On and Get Off

Even if you’re so excited about your trip that you can barely contain yourself, make sure you are courteous to your fellow passengers while boarding and deplaning. In the airport, get to your gate about 20 minutes before boarding time to make sure you are ready to board when they need you to. Go directly to your seat, put your carryon in the overhead compartment right away, and sit down. Do not stand in the aisle going through your bag trying to find your headphones, making everyone behind you wait. Instead, have everything you’ll need in a small bag that will go under the seat in front of you. After a smooth landing, you might be itching to jump up, stretch your legs, and get to your final destination. While you are free to stand up in the seat row to stretch your legs, wait your turn to exit the row, grab your bags, and exit the plane. Do not try to force your way to the front of the plane. It just makes everything slower for everybody.

Eat and Sleep

On flights, especially long flights, you are free to eat and sleep as much as you desire. However, avoid eating smelly foods like fish. Also, while some airlines still give out peanuts, avoid bringing your own just in case your seatmate is allergic. Try pretzels, hummus and vegetables, and a sandwich! As for dozing off, have sweet dreams in the air, but be aware if you’re starting to drift off into your neighbor’s seat. You are allowed to recline your seat back, but make sure to pull it back up during meal times so the person behind you can eat comfortably. The best way to have good in-flight etiquette is by thinking of how you want your seatmate and fellow passengers to act. Remember that you and your fellow passengers are all in the same boat (well, plane), so be respectful, courteous, and quiet and you will have no issues!
Megan Lemon
Megan Lemon
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Megan is a community educator, focusing on project design and management training for nonprofit groups. She’s passionate about protecting the outdoors, going out of her comfort zone, and learning new things. She’s currently building her own house in Fiji, so her dogs, Reggie and Scooter, have a nice place to live.

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