Unwritten rules for flying: Travel etiquette to make everyone’s experience better (Part 1)

Air travel has come back in a big way, with airfares much higher than pre-2020. With high demand and diminished supply, due to a lack of planes and airline employees, it’s becoming increasingly common to hear about adult passengers having meltdowns mid-air. Not only will this result in jail time, but it also causes delays for hundreds of fellow travelers. Taking small steps to respect other passengers can go a long way in an increasingly stressful and cramped environment. This week we highlight part 1 of our etiquette tips when flying to make everyone’s experience just a little more stress-free.

Tip 1: Armrests. Few people like being relegated to the middle seat, but they should get one perk: ownership of both of the armrests. The window seat gets the view and control of the window, and the person in the aisle gets an easier exit and more breathing room. Hogging the armrest for the middle seat passenger makes it an even more uncomfortable experience for them.

Tip 2: Bringing food on board. With limited or no meal service offered on most domestic flights, it is perfectly acceptable to bring food on board the aircraft. However, be aware of unpleasant aromas that can bother nearby passengers. Anything with onions, garlic, or fish can really spread; so leave the fish tacos or gyros for another time.

Tip 3: Be aware of your abilities. Carrying on bags and placing them in the overhead bin can be convenient because you don’t have to wait at baggage claim when arriving in your destination, but be cognizant of your abilities. If you’re unable to lift your bag into the bin, definitely check it. Don’t rely on fellow passengers to risk pulling a muscle to lift it for you. 

Tip 4: Reclining the seat. This seems to be a cause of many arguments, with already cramped spaces. If seats recline, passengers should be allowed to recline them without argument. However, it’s rude and against the rules to recline during take-off and landing. During meals, it’s also advised to lift your seat back to its normal position. If you’re compelled to recline, it’s polite to take a look behind you to make sure you won’t break someone’s knees or laptop. While someone reclining their seat is never a reason for altercation, consider the length of the flight and how tight the seats are before determining whether to recline all the way. A little courtesy and empathy here goes a long way for everyone.

Tip 5: Talking. Take social cues when flying. Polite, quick small talk is nearly always acceptable. But if someone has headphones in or is working on a laptop, that generally means “do not disturb.” If someone chooses to engage in conversation, keep voices low to not annoy fellow passengers. Others don’t care to hear. 

Tip 6: Lavatory etiquette. When using the lavatory, don’t treat it like your own personal restroom. When finished, wipe down the area including the sink, make sure the water is drained, and leave the area cleaner than the way you found it. And pee in the toilet!  Nobody likes walking into a dirty lavatory and this small courtesy helps everyone.

Tip 7: Swapping seats. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask someone to swap a seat so you can sit next to a loved one. However, if their answer is “no” be prepared to accept that without any hard feelings. Also, make sure the seat you’re proposing to swap is of similar quality; don’t assume you’re entitled to an upgrade just because you want to sit with a family member in a more expensive seat. 

Tip 8: Hygiene. Don’t treat the plane like your personal living room. We’ve all seen pictures of folks putting their dirty feet on the row in front of them. This isn’t only gross, it’s unsanitary. For long flights it’s acceptable to take shoes off but keep socks on or wear slippers. And when visiting the lavatory, put shoes back on. See Tip #6. 

Tip 9: Respect personal space. Sometimes you won’t even notice doing it, but avoid grabbing someone’s seat back when you sit down, get up, or walk down the aisle. The seats are not there to help you balance and it’s jarring to fellow passengers when their head is sling-shot-ed forward when you release. 

Tip 10: Respect the flight attendants. They’re on board for your safety, not just to bring snacks and beverages. If requested to do something follow the instructions; not abiding is not only illegal, but it’s rude. Plus, being kind and considerate can garner favor with the flight attendant – you might be able to snag an extra beverage or perhaps even an upgrade.

Air travel is increasingly stressful, but being aware of some simple etiquette tips can avoid meltdowns and make everyone’s experience just a little bit better. Next time we’ll feature Part 2 on our top tips. 

About Denise

My goal is to simplify travel-planning through an equal exchange process where I acquire your ideas and expectations for your trip relieving you of the worry, hassle, stress and time that accompanies Do-It-Yourself planning.

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