You know those people … the ones who just irk you when you’re on a plane … the loud talkers, the recliners, the person next to you who is not only taking up your armrest but is fully in your space. Travelling can be hectic, rushed, rude and messy at times. But there are ways to make your transit a bit more enjoyable, especially on airplanes. Etiquette expert Lisa Orr dishes out her top plane etiquette tips and biggest no-nos, and guides us on how to maneuver around a not-so-pleasant fellow passenger. And just remember, the journey is always worth it once you get to your destination!
The Biggest Airplane Etiquette Mistakes
I’m always amazed at the behaviour I see on flights these days. A couple of weeks ago I was on a flight and I actually saw firsthand all three of the biggest in-flight etiquette no-nos I’ve listed below.
The rule for deplaning, unless instructed otherwise, is that the rows closest to the door deplane first and then the plane exits one row at a time, with the exception of passengers needing extra time, who should wait until the other passengers have disembarked for assistance. You should NEVER rush up to the front of the plane as the fasten seat belt sign is being turned off.
2. Carry-On Luggage
The biggest faux pas are bringing too much and putting it in the wrong location. Carry-on luggage should be small enough for you to carry – typically you get one piece as well as a personal item – and meet the size requirements, otherwise other passengers don’t have the room they are entitled to. Your luggage should go in the compartment above you or under the seat in front of you. DO NOT leave your carry-on in the overhead bins at the front of the plane if you’re in the back so you don’t have to take it to the back of the plane. It creates a domino effect of luggage space shortage for the entire plane and, in the end, inconveniences everyone.
3. In-Flight Behaviour
The last big etiquette no-no is treating an airplane like your own private hangout. Don’t get me wrong, you should be comfortable during the flight but no so comfortable that it makes other travellers uncomfortable; in the end, airplanes are a public space. The big no-nos are offensive smells (e.g. food smells, body odour), loudness or confrontation (e.g. music, yelling) and taking up too much space (e.g. using space beyond your own seat).
The Middle Seat/Armrest Debate
The rule is the middle seat gets both armrests. The middle seat is objectively a difficult spot to have and the reality is that if the passengers in the aisle and window seats used both of their armrests the middle seat would have none, which is just plain unfair.
Reclining Your Seat: Yes or No?
You may recline your seat but it should be done thoughtfully. Before you recline, look behind you to make sure the coast is clear – no laptops, spillable drinks or open tray tables. If there is nothing problematic, you may put your seat back slowly. If you do see anything in the way or if you encounter any resistance, turn and speak to the person behind you to let them know politely that you are about to put your seat back so they can prepare themselves.
Reading Light Etiquette
Reading lights are a balance of thoughtfulness for your neighbour and your own in-flight needs. Most reading lights allow you to illuminate your own space, not your neighbour’s, so should not cause a problem. But if you are on an overnight flight and you have a neighbour who seems particularly sensitive to light, I would reconsider whether you absolutely need your light on or not. If you must have it on, at least let them know that you’ll be turning it on so that they can choose to use a eye mask to avoid disturbance.
Dealing With Rude Passengers
The old saying “you’ll catch more bees with honey” is particularly relevant in-flight. Determine what the specific issue is, such as a child kicking your seat or bouncing around in their seat, and address it politely. For example, “Excuse me, I’m sure you didn’t realize but you’re child was kicking my seat. I’m sure it’s because these seats are so close together these days but would you mind asking her to be more careful?” And when they say they’re going to stop, say “thank you.” It’s rarely helpful to react to rudeness with more rudeness.
You Just Don’t Want To Talk, But They Do
This type of behaviour must be addressed quickly, otherwise it can be very hard to put an end to. My approach is to say hello, and if they seem to want to chat I’ll give them about a minute of pleasantries and then say, “I hope you don’t mind but I have quite a bit of work to do or I need to catch up on sleep, etc., so I’ll have my headphones on during the flight but it was very nice to meet you.” Headphones are definitely a must pack if you want to maintain personal space in-flight.
When The Flight Attendant Can Help
When in doubt, take it to the flight attendant. But there are two specific circumstances when you should definitely ask for help: first, when it’s too embarrassing to talk to your seat neighbour due to some taboo issue like body odour or extreme snoring; and second, when your seat neighbour makes it impossible to speak either through rudeness, drunkenness or aggression.
Show The Flight Attendants Some Love!
1. Always ask for help rather than taking a do-it-yourself approach. Flight attendants have “seen it all” and are guaranteed to have some kind of solution for whatever you’ve run into in-flight.
2. Flight attendants are not butlers, so be cautious with the call bell. It should only be used for important needs and for when getting up would be substantially more disruptive to them. It’s better in most cases to walk up to the galley.
3. Say please and thank you! No matter how tough your flight has been, your flight attendant has been working hard to keep you safe and comfortable on board so be sure to let them know how much you appreciated their efforts!