Passenger Etiquette – The Basics Of Being A Courteous Flyer

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14/05/2008 – Passenger Etiquette – The Basics Of Being A Courteous Flyer

Is there such as a thing as airline passenger etiquette? There is a grey area when we board a cramped flight, departing late, and squeeze ourselves into a narrow seat. We jockey for position at the boarding gate; there is the sprint to board first, even when our seats are aisle or middle seats (my preferred seat is the A-side window); there is the race to place our items in the overhead bins first, and all of this happens in a confined space we cannot escape (no matter how much we may want to) until we land at our destination.

There is no “Emily Post Etiquette” book to guide us through being a courteous flyer, but there are some basic rules, that if followed, might make the journey more pleasant from start to finish. With this in mind, my etiquette basics are in the chronological order of flying.

-When waiting for your flight to board, if the airline you are traveling with uses “boarding zones,” please wait for your zone to be called. If you are in Zone 3 and the gate agent is calling Zone 1, you will slow down the boarding process and simply be turned away by the gate agent. I know we’re all anxious to get on the plane, but if you’re waiting at the gate with a boarding pass you have a seat waiting for you once you get on board.

-Once on-board we all have a tendency to shove as much of our “stuff” in the overhead bins as we can. No one likes having their legs cramped on a flight, especially smaller regional jets, but if you can place your larger bag in the overhead and your smaller bag under the seat in front of you then everyone should have some space in the overhead. The bag under the seat in front of you can be removed from under the seat in front of you and generally positioned behind your legs to increase your legroom while in flight. I know there are always exceptions to this rule, but it generally works for most backpacks and briefcases.

-When placing your bags in the overhead compartment use common sense. Nearly all overhead bins are designed to accommodate a “legal” sized roll-aboard bag. These bags should be placed in the overhead wheels first, not sideways which takes up considerably more space. When placing an item such as a brief case in the overhead try and stand it up so it takes up as little space as possible in the overhead. If you have a coat that needs to go up, wait until the bags have been loaded into the overhead then lay your coat over the top, a coat will often be able to slip in-between some of the gaps allowing more of the overhead bin space to be used. Being a space hog can lead to ‘bad flyer karma.’

-Once settled in your seat and the “turn off your phone” announcement comes on when the main cabin door shuts, please turn off your phone. I have been on more than one flight that was delayed pushing back from the gate because a passenger would not hang up the phone. Not only is using a phone while in-flight illegal, but it is really annoying to your fellow passengers. If you are on a flight that has in-flight phones and you really want to speak with someone pull out your credit card and be prepared to pay the $10 connect fee and the exorbitant per-minute usage fees.

-When reclining in your seat be mindful of the person behind you. You should not push the recline button and slam your seat back as quickly as possible. You are welcome to adjust your seat, but watch the speed of your recline. Getting hit in the knees (or in some limited cases the head) with a seat coming back and full speed is not comfortable!

-If the seat in front you is reclined and you have your knees up don’t kick the seat in front of you. I often keep my knees in a position that touches the seat in front of me, but I pay attention to not kick my fellow flyer in the seat in front of me. If you are flying with kids please do not let them kick the seat in front of them, no matter how entertaining it is to them.

-When getting up from your seat pay attention to the person in front of you. No one likes having their hair pulled or their seat jerked backwards behind them. This rule of etiquette is especially important on overnight flights when the person in front of you is likely sleeping or completely zoning out.

-If the person in the middle or window seat needs to get up and use the bathroom or walk around don’t get angry with them. On a long flight people need to get up and move for comfort and health reasons, as well as lavatory runs. If you are in the middle or window seat try and use the lavatory at the same time as your seatmates on long flights. By ‘going before you have to go’ you cut down on making your seatmates get up and down repeatedly.

-On an overnight flight if you are in the middle or window seat and need to use the lavatory…….make sure you really need to go. It is not easy to get comfortable and sleep on planes so make sure you really need to get up before you wake up your seat mate from their sound slumber. If you are able to get up and maneuver around your seatmate without waking them it is advisable to do so.

-When watching a moving on a flight make sure the content of your movie is appropriate for those who may be able to view your screen. Watching a movie like Boogie Nights may not be the best choice with kids sitting behind you who can look through the seats. I have been shocked at times while walking a plane at night to see what some people are watching on their screens in an open public area! I am all for making your seat your personal and private space on a plane, but there are limits to this. Use common sense when making your viewing selection.

-Upon arriving at the gate if the flight attendants announce that you should remain seated to let delayed passengers making a tight connection off the plane first please sit down. Let these people who need to make a connection get off the flight first; they will appreciate it, even if you don’t know it. The ‘good flyer karma’ may come back to help you when you need to make a tight connection in the future.

-When taking your items out of the overhead bin upon arrival never take someone else’s items out. If someone asks you to help that is one thing, but taking someone else’s bag and leaving it out is just flat out rude. I have heard of a number of passengers thinking someone had walked off with their bag only to find out another passenger had removed their bag and tossed it on a seat or placed it on the floor between seats. Keep in mind how you would feel if you went to the overhead bin to find your bag trampled or missing!

-When the plane arrives at the gate and you hear the “ping” that signals it is OK to get up feel free to get up and collect your belongings, but don’t trample people. Your fellow passengers have been seated in their seats just as long as you have, they are just as eager to get off the plane. If you are in the back of the plane standing swaying back and forth in the aisle nervously twitching isn’t going to get you off the plane any faster. The airline wants you off the plane just as much as you want to get off the plane.

With these simple common sense etiquette rules you can safely consider yourself a courteous flyer.

Happy Flying!


  1. Terrific observations. May I add…

    – When you are boarding a plane be aware of your backpack or the bags you are carrying. I prefer to sit in the aisle seat but can’t count the number of times I’ve been hit in the head or face but someone coming down the aisle not payint attendion.
    – When deboarding, wait for the people in front of you to clear before you jump up and grab your belongings. Planes generally board from the back and empty from the front, it just makes sense.
    – When you sit down, if the arm rest was up so make it easier to sit, put it down afer sitting. You paid for one seat, not 1 1/2. If you are oversized, buy 2 seats, don’t impost on your fellow passenger.

  2. I have two additions…

    1. If you board early, please expect the overhead compartment to be very full. Load your bags appropriately, especially if you have a roll-aboard, load it end-in.

    2. If you’re traveling with little ones who are acting up, please be considerate of your neighbors. One suggestion is to buy a round of drinks so your neighbors are more understanding of your circumstance.

  3. 1. The airplane is NOT YOUR MOBILE OFFICE. Just because you have REALLY IMPORTANT spreadsheets to look at please don’t be a jerk and talk loudly on your cell until the flight attendant practically forces you to stop then spread out your laptop and piles of paper half into my seat. Just because I am not working myself does not mean you have the right to half of my seating space with your over-sprawl of crap.

    2. If you try to make small talk and your seatmate doesn’t want to, stop. Also, please refrain from such phrases as : “Traveling alone today, honey?”, “Where you going all alone?” and stuff like that. Actually, please don’t ever call your seatmate “honey” unless they are your spouse, significant other, pet, or child.

    3. If you’re going to watch a movie on a portable DVD player for god’s sweet sake please bring earphones.

  4. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Fish!

    To add to the list, when the FA’s announce they are coming thru to pick up trash, etc., this is the time to hand over all the crap you’ve stuffed in the seatback pocket & dumped on the floor around you. Don’t pretend you didn’t hear the announcement(s) or think that because you’re SuperDuperPremiumPlatinumPreferred you don’t have to pick up the mess you made.

    For those traveling w/children who have their own seats, use every inch of floor space in front of the kid for their carryons as well as yours. A 5 year old doesn’t need the legroom & this will free up space in the overhead compartment, not to mention, negate the need for you to spend the flight jumping up & down for junior’s crackers/juice/crayons, etc.

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