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Flight Etiquette: Restoring Manners at 37,000 Feet


plane etiquetteIf it’s not the guy showered in cologne in seat 33D, the lady airing out her bare feet in seat 31A, or the child eating a tuna sandwich in seat 32D, it’s something. Sadly, my etiquette expectations are low when surrounded by rows of strangers at 37,000 feet. I know classy flying departed with the Jet Age, but can’t we hold on to part – even a smidgen – of Pan Am glam?

Just because airlines no longer serve steak frites and sautéed vegetables accompanied by free-flowing goblets of Malbec in economy class doesn’t mean that we should resort to wearing Crocs and velour tracksuits, stuff three bags, a coat, and duty-free purchases into the overhead bin, and recline our seat at jet speed in an act of defiance. At least North American airlines haven’t hinted at charging for trips to the bathroom like Ireland-based budget airline Ryanair.

Instead, let’s focus on the positive. We can circumnavigate the world in hours, we can drink a plastic cup of Coke, we can apply complimentary lotion in Cathay Pacific’s lavatories, and together, we can channel our inner Emily Post with this air travel etiquette.

Bin There Done That

  • Slot suitcases straight into the overhead bins; sideways suitcase’ers need not apply. If you’re having trouble with fit, try different configurations like wheels out and down. If your bag still won’t fit, admit defeat – and retire that bag after your trip – rather than take up someone else’s suitcase space.
  • Place one item in the overhead bin and your personal item below you. If there’s still room once everyone is seated, sure, put something extra up top.
  • Help passengers who may require extra assistance.

Seat Savvy

  • Reclining suddenly can cause spills and havoc behind you. Simple solution: check first, and recline slowly.
  • Make sure your knees don’t pierce the seat in front of you (we know this is hard when airlines continue to shrink legroom).
  • Share the armrest.
  • During sleep or movie time lower your window shade – that one crack of light can be bright.
  • Wait until you’ve exited the aircraft to make a phone call. The entire plane doesn’t want to hear you whispering sweet nothings to your boo while preparing to deplane.

The Loo

  • Men, kindly put the toilet seat down (I’m as shocked as you are that this basic manner is on the list).
  • Empty the drain once you’ve washed your hands. That sloshing swamp water is disgusting.
  • Refrain from walking to the bathroom barefoot or in socks (unless you’re on a flight with farm animals).

Body and Sole

  • Shower before the flight and don freshly washed garments. I was once stuck on the tarmac for five hours beside a man who had quite possibly worn the same shirt repeatedly for a week.
  • If you’re on a long flight and feel the need to take off your shoes, make sure you have a clean pair of socks covered by washable slippers.
  • Go easy on scents and lotions.

Food for Thought

Finally, know when to escalate. I’m often tempted to say something when I spot a faux-pas – like to the lady who opened 15 overhead bins during an intense period of turbulence almost causing serious injury to those around her – but in these situations, it’s best to quietly defer to the flight attendants.

Do you have any plane pointers that you’d add to this list? Disagree with this list? Voice your opinions in the comments!

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  • Jerehaco says:

    None of the following:
    Exposed armpits
    Head scarves (not including those that are fashionable, ethnic, religious, etc.)
    Hair rollers
    Sports gear

  • David says:

    How about “If your girth spills into the seat(s) next to you, buy two tickets instead of taking 1/3 of your neighbor’s seat from them.”

  • S.J. says:

    Believe it or not, many of us are very sensitive to strong, sweet smells, not just perfume, but gums and mints too. Just try to be aware that you’re sharing a cramped space with many people, and try to be nice.

  • Genevieve Tiller says:

    Note to the female in the seat in front of me – please refrain from lifting your long hair and swishing it over the back of your seat in an attempt to capture it within an elastic band!

  • Jerry Lilley says:

    On a lot of Delta flights they have the touch screen TV/computer on the backs of head rest. Many people do not understand “touch” and are stabbing this screen while the person sitting in the seats head is bouncing back and forth. Very annoying when trying to sleep especially on long flights.

  • Sherry says:

    If you’re in the back of the plane, don’t put your carry-on in an overhead bin near the front. Its irritating when those seated up front have to stash bags near the back. Upon exiting the plane, it requires waiting until every last person is off the plane so they can walk to the back and get their bag.

  • Pat Simons says:

    I am not sure which category this might fall under but….I think that keeping your nasty comments to yourself about parents who are having trouble with crying babies/toddlers should also be included in this list. ANYONE who has children and has been out of the house they live in knows the hideous feeling of embarrassment and panic that comes with your baby or toddler being the one to cause havoc. Instead of making comment, (or staring because that will surely stop the child from crying)why not try distracting the child or asking if you can be of assistance to help calm the child. I am now a grandmother of two beautiful granddaughters and can still remember the horror of MY child of 18 months being the one to cause a scene on a plane. Thank God for the lovely couple next to me who helped me amuse her until she fell asleep on my lap.

  • Christine says:

    Unfortunately, the airline indusrty has created another rude behavior by charging for assigned seats. I find that an increasing number of passengers are saving seats for others in their flight party, that have not paid for seats. Usually one person who has paid for assigned seating boards and saves seats for up to 5 others. I have seen entire rows and up to 2 rows being saved and the flight attendents do nothing. This needs to be addressed by the carriers that insist that you pay for assigned seating.

  • Rick says:

    I’m cabin crew for a major US airline, and definitely agree with all of these! A few more:

    If you think you’ll want to recline your seat, do it in the minute or two after takeoff–before the person behind you has put food, drink or electronics on the tray table.

    As the passenger by the window, please DO NOT automatically lower the windowshade the second you sit down, hence making the decision for the strangers seated next to you that they won’t be able to look out the window. It’s incredibly rude. If daylight is that unacceptable to you, buy and wear eyeshades.

    Regardless of your frequent flier status, or reason for tardiness to the plane (your fault or the airline’s), realize that if you show up in the final minutes of a full flight’s boarding, you will not have room for your bag. Please don’t huff, roll your eyes or show the crew your frequent flyer card–it’s not a magic wand that makes empty overhead bins appear out of thin air.

    Realize that if you are traveling as a group or family (especially with small children) AND you bought your deeply-discounted tickets from a bargain website, on a full flight you will amost certainly not be seated together, due to how the airlines sell their seats. Prepare for this, accept it, and brief your party–don’t expect hundreds of people to be delayed because you insist that your group can’t sit separately (this goes tenfold on short flights, and for space-available passengers).

    Finally…bravo that you can afford to fly your whole family in First or Business Class–we’re all terribly impressed. If you have infants or small children whose behavior is unpredictable, please be courteous and fly in economy. Nothing is more hideously unfair than watching obnoxious brats scream, kick and run around, ruining the premium cabin experience that the other passengers have paid for.

  • John says:

    When boarding with backpacks, purses, etc. slung over your shoulders please be aware of those already seated in the aisle seats. I can not count the number of times being hit in the head and shoulders by those with numerous carry on bags going to their seats with no “excuse me” thought to be mentioned.

  • Michelle says:

    I have to agree with David. I realize that planes are getting smaller and smaller by the second, however EVERY time I fly I am finding myself ‘sharing’ my seat with the larger sized passenger next me. Airlines need to crack down on this issue – the passenger is not going to willing pony up money for two seats. I don’t want to pay full price for the seat I’m NOT getting full use of though.

  • Madeline says:

    Sharing my seat with a large passenger – come on airlines – crack down on these folks, make them pay for two seats – why should I pay full fare for 1/2 seat. Babies, children who scream, cry and carry on are not appreciated by the majority especially on 11 PM departures and they do disturb everyone who arrives home after a relaxing holiday – dead tired. Wonderful that parents can take kids but be reasonable fly during the day – it should be manditory for children under 5 yrs. Fragrances, so many are allergic – why can’t airlines stipulate FRAGRENCE FREE. A woman doused herself with perfume on flight, both my husband & I are allergic and we sneezed and developed a tickle with annoying cough. Ms. Stinky remarked that we should not be flying with colds. I told her we were allergic to her fragrence – she shrugged like it was our problem – yet when she thought we had colds it was a different story – so please FRAGRANCE FREE. Ladies – just before landing you do not have to hog the bthrm to re-do your makeup – others need the washroom for what it was meant and some need it quickly.

  • Annette says:

    I travel weekly, my number 1 pet peeve is people pulling in the seat in from of them to get up. USE THE ARMREST!!! My hair has been pulled so many times I’ve lost count! Number 2 pet peeve, the people in the rows in the rows in front of you get off the plane before you, unless specifically asked by the flight attendant to let those with connection for first if the flight was delayed in arriving. Number 3, do not put your nasty feet on the furniture, bulkheads, armrests and for god sakes leave your shoes on!….I could go on and on and I agree with all the others!

  • joanna says:

    Having just boarded the plane, I prepared to sit in my aisle seat when the woman in the middle seat jumped up & blurted she had to get to the bathroom. She returned to her seat & informed me she had bad diarrhea (TMI) and may need to go again, quickly! Shortly after that she started on her lunch. Out came 4 slices of bread (so far, so good). Next, 2 hard boiled eggs in their shells in a plastic bag (now I knew this was going to be bad). She squeezed them to break the shells, opened the bag & de-shelled them in the bag (stink!). Took them out & laid them on the bread in order to slice them. By now the stench was unbearable! She assemble the 2 sandwiches, one for her & one for her companion. I could not believe how inconsiderate that was, could she not know how bad eggs smell!

  • Yvonne says:

    I have severe allergies and am sick to death of people who travel with their pets (literally). I now check with the airlines before booking to see if someone is bringing an animal, but that often doesn’t work anymore, as people with small animals simply carry them on. I have been sick for days after a flight because of allergic reactions that have occurred while flying.

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