Let’s be honest, being strapped into a tiny seat in a cramped airplane—along with dozens of strangers—35,000 feet above sea level, is nobody’s idea of fun. The Internet is filled with stories of air rage, reclining seat standoffs, and articles with titles like “The Most Annoying Type of Airline Passenger is…”
In Expedia’s 2014 Airplane Etiquette Study, the travel company named rear seat kickers as the top airline etiquette violators—with inattentive parents coming in at a close second. Other offenders called out as irritating to passengers included the “Aromatic Passenger,” the “Chatty Cathy,” and the “Audio Insensitive.”
And yet we fly the not-so-friendly skies — often.
Many people love to fly—to explore new places and new cultures—and there are few things more annoying than a travel experience sullied by fellow passengers.
Here are some air travel etiquette tips to pack with you to make sure you’re not the one doing the annoying the next time you board a plane.
Be patient: It is always surprising to watch the crowds of people who hover around the gate when the first call for boarding is announced. The minute the attendant calls the first boarding zone, everyone seems to pop up and head for the gate—clogging the walkways and blocking access to the desk. Everyone is going to get on the plane. Wait for your zone to be called before lining up. And board with your zone!
Carry it carefully and make room: The rows on the plane are very narrow. As you make your way to your seat, carry your bag in front of you. Turn your rolling suitcase sideways and carry it in front of you to your seat. When it comes time to place your belongings in the overhead bin, ensure that it’s in such a way that allows room for others. If you have two bags, place the smaller one under the seat in front of you.
Think about the stink: This is where the term “Aromatic Passenger” comes into play. This seems like an obvious tip as you’ll be sitting next to someone for hours, shower before you head to the airport. And dousing yourself with a ton of perfume or cologne doesn’t count! Some people are very sensitive to smells, and it can even make them sick.
Leave out the liquid: Mind the contents of your bags—especially liquids. Carry-ons stuffed into crowded luggage bins have been known to shuffle: potentially leading to a mess or spill on your fellow passengers.
Respect the recline: It’s obvious that airlines have been cramming more seats into planes in recent years. Where there was once 33 – 34 inches of leg space, now there is 31 inches—hence the uptick in air rage. People are uncomfortable already, and when you fling your seat back all the way, you’re minimizing leg space for the passenger behind you.
The best—and most courteous—practice is to look behind you, and ask permission of the passenger before you recline. And then recline just a little, leaving them with a comfortable amount of legroom.
Note: Some airlines are now offering the option to “purchase” those three inches of legroom. For an additional fee, round trip, you can have more wiggle room.
Keep your feet to yourself: Seat Kickers were listed as the top onboard etiquette offenders in Expedia’s survey. Again, with such a limited amount of space in front of you, be careful not to kick the seat in front of you. And speaking of feet – keep your shoes and socks on!
Balance yourself: This headlines many passengers’ list of pet peeves: While sitting quietly in their seat, eyes closed, relaxed—and wham, their head is pulled back as the person behind them uses the top of the seat to pull themselves up! Use the armrest to balance yourself when getting up from your seat.
Tone it down: Listening to music or watching a movie on your computer to pass the time is great, but make sure you have good earphones! The same is true for talking too loud. If you’re carrying on a conversation with someone in an airplane, be discreet.
Keep your children in check: Adults get cranky when confined to the tight quarters of an airplane for a long period of time, so it’s no surprise that children unravel in flight. Parents need to prepare for the flight as much as they can, depending on the child’s age—so that everyone, including the child, is as comfortable as possible while in the air. Games, movies, books and a bag of tiny gifts to open every hour during long flights go a long way in distracting children from the fact that they can’t run free!
If there is disruptive behavior, talk to the parents—never scold another person’s child. That will not go over well in the air or on the ground.
Don’t be disruptive: Speaking of disruptive behavior: Adults, this should also go without saying, but profanity, excessive drinking, arguing with flight attendants and other behavior that disrupts others will not go over well onboard.
Leave your inner linebacker at home: When it’s time to deplane, allow people in front of you to get their bag from the overhead compartment and make their way out first. The “hurry up and wait” doesn’t work anyway.
If you have a connecting flight, and there was a delay on your original flight, let the flight attendant know you don’t have a lot of time between flights. Typically, others have the same issue and they will make an announcement asking passengers to let those with connecting flights exit first. This is not an open invitation for you to jump the line, however. Be courteous.
There are certainly a slew of high-flying “violators” out there, but how you handle them says a lot about you, as well. In the Expedia study, when asked how they would react if a fellow passenger behaved badly on a flight, nearly 50 percent said they would remain silent and ignore the issue.
Just 22 percent of those surveyed said they would confront a misbehaving passenger and 12 percent admitted that they would record the bad behavior using their mobile phone or a camera.
This is the practice of “shaming” those passengers who are committing the etiquette violation in the sky. They are snapping pictures and posting the unflattering—and often pretty disgusting—photos to Facebook and Instagram – for entertainment purposes. How rude!
The next time you board a plane, keep these etiquette tips in mind. Common sense, and a little courtesy, goes a long way in making others feel comfortable.
Margaret Page is a recognized etiquette expert, speaker and coach, who helps people and organizations be more professional. She is the author of The Power of Polite, Blueprint for Success and Cognito Cards — Wisdom for Dining & Social Etiquette. She is the founder and CEO of Etiquette Page Enterprises, a leading Western Canadian training organization.