Travel Etiquette and Common Courtesy … Get Some!

Long gone are the days of refined airline travel. Passengers no longer put on a tie to fly, children are no longer in their Sunday best for flights and the refined cabin environment has largely gone the way of the dodo bird.


Despite the changes in airline travel, the need for common courtesy and etiquette in flight should not be jettisoned like dirty blue lavatory water.  There are so many twists and turns in travel courtesy, quite a few I have written about over the years, and tonight two things reminded me that maybe travelers need a reminder.


While standing at Gate 6, at New York’s JFK International Airport Terminal 1, waiting to board my flight tonight I spent a few minutes flipping through Facebook and found a post from a flight attendant friend that horrified me. No, there was no headless passenger bleeding all over a seat, but in this photo, which is posted at the end of this post, is an airliner window covered in children’s stickers.


As the father of three kids, I know how hard it can be to entertain kids, especially when they are in a confined space … but a parent allowing their child to cover the wall of an aircraft in stickers is beyond unacceptable.   I’d love to know what the parent watching this child was thinking. Do these parents allow their kids to cover the inside of their car, or living room wall, in stickers?  Even worse, if you look at the bottom of the photo, the family has left trash all over the seating area.


Flight attendants have a very hard job. Dealing with passengers isn’t so easy and the glamour of being a Pan Am Stewardess in the 1960s has vanished just like the airline has. Worse than that, from an economic stand point, flight attendants are not paid for their time on the ground. The time a flight attendant spends cleaning up an aircraft on the ground with the door open is not time they are paid for. The time spent standing in the door welcome passengers, that is not paid time, they are paid when that door shuts, so whatever unlucky flight attendant ended up with this mess, had to clean it up off the clock. You think the parent who allowed their child to do this would spend the time cleaning the mess up off the clock?


Probably not.


As annoyed as the photo below made me, my annoyance meter went through the roof as I sat in seat 29A, the seat I am sitting in right now as I type this on board Air France Flight 009, as my seatmate took her seat. A seatmate did not bother me, nor was I even really bothered by being whacked by her bag twice as she swung around to put it in the overhead bin.


What annoyed me is this; she took her shoes and socks off.


Passengers taking their shoes off on flights doesn’t bother me. On this six hour and fifty minute flight my shoes are off, but socks?  A passenger should never take their socks off. For starters, her feet legitimately do have an odor, not to mention that there are sanitary considerations. Who knows what is on this floor?


Adding insult to foul odor injury, 45 minutes after we lifted off from JFK on the midnight flight to Paris. I was leaning against the wall, hoping to get a few hours of rest when I felt a few solid taps on my arm.  The woman, whom I do not know, woke me up for the beverage service. By the time I woke up the cart was two rows past us and now here I am wide awake, with 2 hours left in my flight unable to go back to sleep,


So here I sit, awake, over tired, pressed up against a wall with a stranger slumped over on my right shoulder.  Adding further insult to injury, the woman in seat 29B tucked her pillow behind my shoulder and has fallen asleep on me. I have tried to move her, but no such luck.


If I was lacking the courtesy that I seem to see around me all the time, I’d probably elbow the woman in seat 29B in the head and say ‘oops,’ but what good would that do?


… see photo below for how thrilled I am with my seatmate (WARNING : IT IS A TERRIBLY  UNFLATTERING PHOTO OF ME)


Maybe it is the lack of sleep and the uncomfortable seat that is making me into the grumpy guy who originally started this blog post with “Dear @$$hole, What are you thinking,” but somehow travelers need to remember that airports and airplanes are not their private do-as-you-will spaces and return to the common sense we should have all had instilled in us as children …


… unless your parents let you slap stickers all over the inside of an airport as a kid.


Happy Flying!







  1. You should have elbowed her! The stickers on the walls are disgusting. As a flight attendant from the 70’s I am appalled at what happens on flights now. I still dress nicely, never put my feet up on the seat in front of me, or on the bulkhead. I am respectful to FA’s, and I always seem to be the passenger people feel they can fall on to sleep. And I keep my socks on-and never go barefoot or in sockfeet to the restroom.

  2. Nothing could have prepared me for that first picture of the stickers on the wall. That’s just inhuman.

  3. I agree!
    Children don’t bother me on the plane, noisy, crying etc, its usually the parents who are misbehaved! The parents that let their children deface the plane certainly were. No respect for private property, you see it in restaurants and hotels as well.
    I would have poked your seat-mate as well!

  4. Yikes. I agree. Socks should not be off on a flight.

    I’m a firm believer in embracing common courtesy, but sadly, that seems to become less and less common these days with some of the stories out there.

  5. Some parents let their child misbehave so badly when it comes to travel…be it at the gate area or on the plane. I remember my husband and I were flying to FL 2 yrs ago and a child of about 7 kept KICKING my seat…After 30 mins of it, yes 30…I turned around to the parent and asked for his child to please stop kicking my seat! If that was my child….I would of told them right away to stop it and behave themselves….but some of these parents todays…just let them run wild. Uggggh.
    I have also noticed though when it comes to common courtesy and FA’s…some of them lost the courtesy and friendliness…some of them these days are rude! Delta and SAS comes to mind.

  6. If you think that’s bad, I woke up to a kid sitting in the middle seat (I was in aisle) with his bare feet on my tray table. His mom was passed out in the window seat and had no clue what he was up to. Also, he made it a point to go to the restroom or for a walk every 15 mins..after the first few times, I decided to ignore hi, and he very conveniently jumped over me, hitting and waking me up every time. Worst flight ever!

  7. Isn’t there some type of law, or at least a rule of the airline that would require the passenger to pay the cleaning of an aircraft that they defaced? This is absolutely disgusting. Although, both examples are a sad commentary on the “it’s all about me culture” that it so prevalent in today’s society.

  8. I used to fly in the 60’s as a kid and people were way more drunk then. The stewardesses were waitresses and got tips. Drunk passengers were very happy to be flying but pretty obnoxious.

  9. I am a larger individual. I know this and try to make sure that my bulk does not intrude on my fellow passenger’s space. On longer flights I request the aisle because I like to be able to get up and stretch without annoying my seat mates. I make sure to listen to the flight attendants for handy little hints, like putting my wheeled bag in wheels first. I also hold onto my jacket as they suggest until everyone has had a chance to put their carry-on items in the overhead bin first. I turn off and stow electronic devices when asked so that if I’m on a flight that has to ditch, the cabin crew (there primarily for my safety, not to serve me drinks) has my undivided attention. It would be nice, and likely make our flight together more enjoyable, if everyone thought about a little common courtesy before they got on their next flight. Great thoughts Fish, thanks for sharing and starting the discussion.

  10. Hey now with the stickers. Yes, I did allow my toddlers to put stickers on the car, walls, etc, REMOVABLE stickers that they then removed (themselves). The crime in that picture is using non removable stickers and not cleaning up after themselves.

  11. I once had to ride a flight from Hawaii to Dallas after our whole flight had been stuck with no return plane for 3 days. We were offered hotels to nap and shower in during that time. We were also offered for them to keep our luggage or tote it with us. My husband and I chose to tote and in saying that we had fresh clothes and toiletries. My seatmate however did not take his bag and didn’t even bother with hotel ammenities like soap. 🙁 I spent the whole flight with my nose in my husband’s armpit which smelled way better than my seat mate.

  12. In just the past week, I’ve seen onboard:

    –a man get wasted on three back-to-back whiskeys, then spill beer all over his seat neighbor, and finally pass out
    –a mother let her child get up and go to the bathroom during final descent, the kid ignored the flight attendants who told him to go back to his seat, we touched down with the kid still in the bathroom, much to the consternation of the flight attendants
    –two men loudly arguing over cars and complaining about wives on a tiny ERJ145 red-eye flight, keeping most of the passengers awake, everyone was sending them eye-daggers but they didn’t seem to notice or care (possibly drunk too)

    In the executive lounge clearly-marked no cell phone area, I saw a guy repeatedly answer his cell phone just to tell people he was in the no cell phone area and would need to call them back.

  13. I’m surprised that (a) the parents didn’t clear the stickers and (b) they were not asked to by a flight attendant.

    Yes, little kids will put stickers on anything and everything – including all over the inside of your car.

    It is surprisingly easy to not notice what your kids are doing when you know they’re safe. I’ve had my own kids kicking the seat in front of them without my notice. No need to put up with it for a half hour – just tell the parent and it should get handled.

  14. I’ve worked for an airline for 33 years, and unfortunately nothing surprises me anymore. I constantly see aircraft arrive with unbelievable messes left behind. Not just stickers on windows or wherever, but chair tables covered with crayon or marker,bags of crackers strewn about and ground into the carpet, dirty diapers left under seats or in seatpockets, the list goes on. Back when we still had first class, we had leather seats covers, and they would have ink written on them or holes poked in them. I used to joke that they should give the passengers an IQ test before selling them a ticket. It makes you wonder how these people live at home. And, don’t forget the poor groomers, who have to clean this up and get the aircraft ready in a very short time.

  15. Was she French? Not to be mean, but I’ve had similar problems with French people slumping onto me mid flight. This must be a normal occurrence?

    On another Air France flight there was an older French gentleman sitting in the seat in front of me (window seats). His pillow kept slipping through the crack between the window and headrest. Well, he thought I kept “stealing” it from him…So after the 4th time it fell down he got up, screamed at me, grabbed my pillow and blanket, and threw them down the isle. Sorry Frenchies, but from my experience American’s aren’t the rude ones (believe it or not!).

  16. Mike,

    No, she was very much an American. US Passport and accent from New Jersey.

    Dude loses his pillow and thinks you’re stealing it … sheesh!

    Happy Flying!


  17. John Kosak and me could be twins. I too try not to let my bulk intrude on others (much easier since Gastric Bypass helped me lose 130 pounds), and actually *listen to* the flight attendant. If people just took a little time and considered others we wouldn’t have stories like this. Unfortunately now that everyone is a special snowflake that doesn’t have to take the feelings of others into consideration, I fear this problem will only get worse.

  18. Is this rude, or just weird: A gentleman had issues with his airline-provided headset. After pressing the call button and waiting briefly for the attendant, he proceeded to disassemble the seat arm, cut the wires for the channel/audio controls, followed by using various MacGuyver methods to connect his laptop battery to the airplane’s wiring system. Throughout this, the passenger’s seat neighbors attempted to get the attendants’’ attention (via the button, and getting out of our seats) to no avail. The flight landed safely, but unfortunately his headset didn’t work despite his mad science efforts.

  19. I travel a lot but this took the cake for me. On a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong a Chinese mainland family of 2 parents, a grand parent and an approx 3-4yo child sat across from me in the centre row of 4 seats. As we taxied ( the cabin crew had already been seated) I hear Angry Birds start up. I look across to see the parents had given the child their ipad to play on. I of course lean over and advise them that they can’t have that on for take off. Initially they ignored me but I insisted and eventually took the ipad from the child who began kicking up a stink. Their response to him… Rather than be firm their child… They tell him he can’t play it because the mean white guy won’t let him (my wife translated).

    But it gets worse… A few minutes later we are still taxing/holding at the holding point and I look across to see the child standing on his seat. His parents are holding him and have laid their blankets on the carpeted floor. A look of disgust crosses my wife’s face as she translates for me that the parents are encouraging him TO URINATE ON THE FLOOR! In disbelief I tell her she must be wrong… And then a moment later he starts peeing. I was too speechless to say anything. I’m sure that was a nice discovery for the cabin crew who come along later to pick up the blankets left on the floor. Some people are little better than farm yard animals.

  20. As a regular 125k miles/year flier the stuff I see is horrendous. It blows my mind, frankly. People seem to have forgotten that they are in a *public place*. They are not at home on the couch. The fact that they’ve paid “good money” for a seat does not entitle them to act as though anything goes, behaviorally speaking.

    I fly a lot and as a result I tend to be very . . . shall we say “forthright” with my fellow passengers about unacceptable behavior. I have, on occasion, had to deal with people who take their socks off and in some case, even more ridiculous behavior. My path is always the same: step 1 – ask politely yet firmly for your passenger to stop or remedy the behavior; step 2 – wait 1-2 minutes for compliance; step 3 – ring flight attendant call button and ask for either the passenger’s behavior to be remedied, or ask to be re-seated in a similar seat (i.e., business class) away from this person. I’d say 7 times out of 10, as soon as you demonstrate a ‘direct request’ most passengers comply with it. The remaining 3 times out of 10 require intervention, but I’ve yet to have a request denied by the flight attendant . . . then again, I am not ever asking for anything extraordinary (I wouldn’t call asking a co-passenger to put his/her socks back on because I can smell their feet extraordinary by any stretch of the imagination, btw).

    I will add, that in my opinion, airlines are somewhat culpable for some of these situations — as passenger seats have shrunk and loads increased, it has become increasingly unpleasant to fly. Airlines bear, at least in part, some of the blame for how they’ve managed their respective businesses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.