The Only Primer on Airplane Etiquette You’ll Ever Need

Most travelers can tell horror stories about passengers who defied common courtesy on a plane. Perhaps your neighbor whipped off their shoes and socks and clipped their toenails on the tray table beside you. Or maybe they yacked your ear off for the entirety of a 12+ hour flight to Sydney.

Then there are the more nebulous interactions that leave you wondering who’s in the right (and who’s in the wrong): Should you share the armrest, or is it first come, first served? Is it okay to recline your seat even though we all know it will inconvenience the person behind you?

While you will never be able to control the behavior of the people with whom you share a plane, you can make sure that you’re never the one causing the problem by practicing proper airplane etiquette during flights. Here’s how to make sure you’re part of the solution.

Pack Correctly

The general rule of thumb for carry-on luggage is that if you can’t lift it yourself, thengo ahead and check it. (Or learn how to pack light so this never becomes an issue.) On a similar note, if you know your bag is too big to fit in the oversized bin, don’t waste everyone’s time by trying to carry it on. If you are loading a bag into the overhead bin, try not to hog the space. Keep small bags, briefcases, and purses at your feet, and load larger suitcases into the bin horizontally.

Respect the Armrest

The general rule of thumb is that the person in the middle seat should have first dibson the armrests, since they don’t have the perk of being near the aisle or window. If you’re sitting in a row with only two seats, then it’s fair to expect that you and your seat partner will each take half of the armrest. But even if the other person hogs the whole thing, this really isn’t something to get worked up over.

Mind the Recline

Even etiquette experts disagree on whether it’s reasonable to recline your seat into someone else’s lap, but this much is for sure: If you’re going to recline, do so respectfully. That means you should look behind you before tilting your seat back—this will allow you to make sure that you aren’t going to slam into someone’s face, shatter their laptop, or spill their food. If it’s mealtime, keep your seat upright until the flight attendants have collected everyone’s trays. If and when you do recline, try to recline only a little instead of pushing back as far as you can.

On a related note: If the person in front of you has reclined their seat and it’s making you seriously uncomfortable, go ahead and ask them (politely!) if they’d be willing to lift up a little. And speaking of the seat in front of you: Don’t kick, knee, or otherwise shake it.

Practice Basic Manners

These should be self-explanatory, but we all know that not everyone agrees on what constitutes common courtesy. Respect your neighbors by keeping the volume of your music/movies/videogames low, not blocking the aisle when flight attendants are trying to pass through with carts, and avoiding getting sloppily drunk—doing so puts everyone around you in an awkward position.

Handle Chatty Neighbors with Grace

If your seatmate simply won’t stop talking (and you’re no longer interested in maintaining the conversation), it’s okay to excuse yourself by saying “I have some work to attend to,” or “I’m going to try to sleep,” or “I have some reading to tackle.” Really, it’s okay—even Miss Manners says so.

Don’t Crawl Over a Sleeping Neighbor

While well-intentioned, this method of attempting to sneak off to the loo can have serious consequences in the form of spilled food, shattered eyeglasses, or bodily injuries. Avoid calamity by gently patting your neighbor’s arm and excusing yourself to the bathroom.

Respect the Flight Attendants

Flight attendants are not your personal servants, and they don’t make the airplane rules. They’re just doing their jobs as best they can. So cut them some slack if the in-flight entertainment doesn’t work or the “fasten seatbelts” sign is still on two hours into the trip, and try not to use the call button unless you truly can’t wait until they’re making their rounds. Bonus: Staying on your flight attendant’s good side will help ensure that you have a smooth flight.

Keep the Lav Clean

Tens and tens of people will be sharing the same bathroom as you—so try to leave the restroom as neat as you found it. That means wiping down the toilet seat (if need be), leaving trash in dedicated receptacles only, and wiping out the sink once you’re done.

Don’t Rush Off the Plane

You’ve already sat through the entire flight; you can wait the extra few minutes that it takes for the people in front of you to disembark first. This is especially true if your bag is located in an overhead bin that isn’t directly above you; instead of shoving your way up or down the aisle, wait until other passengers have disembarked and then go retrieve your bag. The only exception to this rule? If you’re worried about missing a connection, ask a flight attendant (before you touch down!) if they can help you disembark before the whole plane-full of passengers rushes for the exit.

Commit to each of these practices every time you fly, and you’ll be empowered to help create a pleasant flight for you and your neighbors. Plus, you’ll be setting a great example for other fliers—if enough people get on board, maybe rude passengers will someday become a thing of the past (although to be honest, we’re not holding our breath).


This post was posted by The Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind Blog on January 5, 2016.


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