Airplane Etiquette​

Let's talk about the the proper way (and the wrong way) to behave when using air travel. A perfect travel tips guide for those new to air travel - from Always Wander.

So you're going on an airplane!

OK, now what? Well, besides all the packing, excitement of going where ever it is that you're going, and thinking about how much fun it's going to be when you get there - you should definitely be prepared to act respectfully while you are on your way. Now, I want to be clear that this isn't an "old man yelling at clouds" kind of thing. It's not, trust me. And the "snarky" comments are really just for comedy. It's ultimately a list of things to think about and consider before you go and while you're flying. Or, if this your first time flying you can learn before you go. This list is more about being a human being that is about to get into a situation which is pretty much a challenge for everyone, and helping make that enjoyable for you, and for others. I think we tend to forget that too much.

You might say, "But Always Wander! Those people do this annoying thing all the time!" or, "What about all these other people doing this thing?". Well as your parents might have said, you can't worry about other people. Changes have to start with us! And when it comes down to it, when you're on a plane you're trapped inside a metal tube 30K feet in the air. That's the truth. People can't just move to the area a bit further away or change seats. It's tough. We're all from different cultures, and we all do things that don't make sense to each other. But, I think these items are things that can make sense to us all as humans!

Let's get into the things you should think about. And hopefully, the behavior spreads! (I know, it probably won't. But we can try!). Some pictures on this page are published through royalty free usage and are not taken by me  though the first one is mine!

PreBoarding Airplane Etiquette

How about we break this up into sections? Need to start somewhere, so I think this is a great spot to start. I've been in plenty of different countries, and frankly the boarding process tends to vary from structured nicely (the US, most of the time, looking at you Southwest for that disaster you designed), to queuing up all in one line (Europe), to general chaos (many countries lacking very developed travel infrastructures or heavy, home-grown travel culture). Because of that, you're mileage may vary on this stuff (travel metaphor alert). But in a LOT of situations, you can help contribute to a better process.

  • Stop milling about in the boarding area prior to the opening of boarding, or before your group being called. It's just not great for anyone (particularly the people in the airport trying to just get to their flights while having to work through the herd of people waiting. This is mainly for US travel, but if there are boarding zones, please listen to the nice boarding agents and just wait at your seats or out of the way until your group is called. It's better for everyone, including the people ahead of you. My best recommendation here is to go up and wait only when the group BEFORE you is called. It helps prevent congestion. Unless you have status, boarding groups can be bad luck. But we all need to do the best with what we have. You won't get on ahead of your group, so kindly be polite and remain out of the way.

  • If you miss your boarding group due to a late plane, or staying too long in the McDonalds, you've missed it. You cannot start jumping ahead of people simply because you had a better group before. You are now part of the most up to date group, and that's that. Please don't try and claim that you can move ahead of these people who did their turn waiting too. Just join in with them, you'll get on fine.

  • Try to consider what you're packing and the size of the bag. Airline regulations are bad enough, so please be kind to others and don't try and "game" the system by packing two pretty-much-too-big bags fully as much as they can fit - and then using TWO spots in the overhead. Over size bags and this kind of thing is why so many people have to gate check. Yes, some of the reason is the small space in planes now. But, the other part of it is that people just don't play by the rules, and the airline staff really just aren't equipped to enforce that stuff. Think of everyone else when you consider this. Just because something is POSSIBLE, doesn't mean it's APPROPRIATE.

Airplane Boarding Etiquette

Ok now we're onto the next phase of the adventure that is modern air travel. And after many, many, many times going through this process for both personal travel and work travel (all over the world) - these are the ways I think we can be a more conscientious traveler to others while boarding the plane.

  • I know this will sound crazy, but don't be surprised that you're boarding  a plane! Haha. Try to have your stuff organized before you head to the gate agent and down the jet way. This should be easy, you've known this was coming. Plus, it will make it easier once you get to your seat. I've seen it a thousand times. People get on a plane, and they just aren't prepared at all to sit down. This slows the entire process down, and there are upwards of 300 people waiting to get to their seats, too.

  • Try to give the people in front of you a reasonable amount of time to get seated. Everyone needs to grab a thing or two, put their bags in the overhead, and it's not really nice to be bull-rushing past them so you can continue on your way. If it's taking a long time because they did not consider our first point, then politely ask if you can pass by them.

  • If you have a backpack, please remove it and carry it in front of you down the aisle of the plane. Trust me. Just because you can't feel it, it doesn't mean that every person in every aisle seat you walked past that you hit with your backpack, enjoys it any more. It's an easy thing to do, that honestly people just don't think about. No one does this on purpose, but almost everyone with a large backpack hits people on the way to their seat. Be nice. Take it off and carry it in front if at all possible.

  • If you are in a later boarding group, or towards the back of the line, and see an open overhead bin space before you get to your seat - TAKE IT. You'll thank me later. See all those closed bin-doors in front of you and above your seat up there? That usually means "No more space". And you will be out of luck, causing all sorts of chaos at your seat as you panic a little and get confused about what to do. If you take the open space you see further in the front, well then you can just calmly leave your seat to deplane, and grab it when you go by!

  • Assuming there is in fact space above your seat, quickly place your bag up there and be seated as soon as possible. Again, don't be surprised you have to do this, you knew you were getting on a plane! The longer you take, the more others are held up. So stay calm, and try not to take your time too much.

  • If unfortunately you get to your seat, haven't tried the trick I mentioned above, and there's no space - just accept this and try and solve it out of the way. No space is going to magically appear if it's all full - move out of the way and contact a flight attendant. They can move other people's stuff around, or help you find another spot without holding up the rest of the plane. It stinks, but it's a fact of late boarding sometimes and small planes/large bags.

  • If you're not in the aisle, do your best to have all the items you need ready for when you sit down. A packing cube or "tech pouch" is great for this. You really don't want to have to get up 2-3 times to grab that extra item and make your row-mates stop whatever it is they are doing for you to do so. Have them ready, and you can pull them out of your bag and take them to your seat fast! I get this stuff ready while I'm in the terminal waiting to board.

On Board The Plane Etiquette

You made it! You're in your seat. Now comes all the excitement of knowing you're heading to that cool new destination or meeting up with your best friend in their city. Anything to keep in mind? Why, yes! There is! Let me offer some suggestions to help you be a good neighbor while flying.

  • I'm surprised I even need to say this, but based on observations and personal experience, shockingly I do. Don't put your feet up on the arm rest in front of you if there are people there. Just don't. No one wants to put their elbow down only to find someone's foot crammed in the space between the seats. I know it's hard to get comfortable on planes, but lets all agree that this is something you'll just have to accept about the tight spaces. No feet on arm rests, OK? OK.

  • When it's meal time on longer flights, try to be cognizant of  how far back you're reclining. Sadly, with how seats are now, if you recline all the way back you are basically removing all the space for the person behind you to eat. It's not fair to you, and not fair to them, but it's the way it is. Try to be aware of this, and wait til after meals are cleared to throw your seat all the way back. One person that I know feels that seats should not even recline on planes. I see the point, but for long hauls you need it. Try and think about that person next time.

  • That touch screen in front of you? Yeah shockingly it's NOT an iPad. Most times, it's not even the same screen tech. The majority are "resistive touch screens". Your iPad is a "capacitive touch screen" and works much better and detects your touch. TLDR here is that a resistive touch screen needs a slight "press" to work. That doesn't mean it's not working when you tap it, you're just doing it wrong. So, don't start slamming on it because you think it's not working. Just try a soft press on the icon you want to interact with - problem solved! The key here, like anything to do with that seat in front of you - ANYTHING you do to that seat back, you are essentially doing to the person in front of you. Every time you mash on that screen in anger, you're just thrusting your finger into the persons brain in front of you. It's an awful experience for them. 

  • If you're not in the aisle seat, try and plan for this. Try to minimize the amount of times you get up. If you're someone that likes to get up a bit and move around, try your best to get an aisle seat. Otherwise every time you get up, so do your row-mates. And hey sometimes it can't be avoided! We all need the bathroom! But, just try and minimize it if you can.

  • The other side of that coin, is that if you're in an aisle seat, try to be understanding that people DO need to get up during flights. Don't be all grumbly about it. It's great that you have that aisle seat, but you signed up for the fact that someone might need to get up. Own that. If you're feeling really nice, AND you plan on sleeping, let the person next to you know they shouldn't feel bad about waking you up if they need to get out. No reason for them to feel guilty about it because you're a sleeper (like me) and like the aisle seat (like me). 

  • Flight attendants aren't your servants! They have a thousand other things to worry about besides getting you water. They also have bad days at their job, just like you. And, because they're stuck inside a plane with many non-understanding people, their bad days can be very bad. So cut them some slack and be respectful. Like anywhere else - be nice to them and they'll be nice to you. Be the good part of their day - not the bad part.

  • It's understandable that you and your companion want to sit with each other, but try not to be offended when someone doesn't want to give up their seat so you can make this happen. Often times they are in their preferred seat. Other times they might have paid extra to pick that seat. Or, hey just like you they are with their traveling companion! If this is something you want, don't pick that extra-super-budget ticket. Spend the $25.00 to choose your seats. Be polite when you ask, but don't be offended if they politely decline. Again, you don't know the backstory to THEIR seat - so remember that it could be because of one of these points.

  • As excited as your group is to be going on holiday - you're not the only people on this plane. Let's not be screaming across seats, rows, aisles etc. to each other for the whole time. There are 200+ other people on that plane, and they can't just move somewhere else to get away from you. You don't have to act like you're in a church - but be respectful of other people's space and their time on the plane. Remember that Twitter rant you posted that one time because of those Spring Breakers? Well, you don't want someone doing that for your group because you had too many mimosas or bloody mary's before getting on the plane.

Getting off the Plane

We're on the ground again! Great! The holiday/family visit/work trip can begin! Oh wait - there's still one thing left? De-planing? Ok - what should we think about during this process?

  • If you're in the aisle seat, start packing up before you park. Remain seated but grab your bag, round up your cables, put your Kindle away. It saves times, and means you're all set to go when you can hop up and grab your larger bag from the bin above you. That means it's also quicker for your row-mates.

  • That said, if you AREN'T in the aisle seat - be polite and wait. There just isn't enough room in the aisle for more than 1 or 2 people and their carry ons, and it's just something you'll have to deal with. Don't force your way in there. You'll be able to grab your bag as you get off just fine when the people in front of you have moved on.

  • Further, if you're one of the unlucky ones who's bag had to be put BEHIND your row - and I know this sounds mean - but it's just unfortunate and you should wait. There's no reason for you to climb over everyone in the aisle to get back to your bag because it's back there. Unless you're having a really tight connection, just wait 5 minutes and get it when people have cleared out. It really isn't that long of a wait and you won't be pushing people around.

  • Lastly, but MOST IMPORTANT in my book - is that the row in front of you goes first. Not only is this just plain polite to do - it makes much more sense systematically. They go, then you go. Clean. Easy. Logical. This is also the one I've see vary the most by a combination of cultures and also flying experience. It's very frustrating. But if we can get everyone to do this, then I promise getting off the plane will actually be quicker!!!

Final Thoughts on Airplane Etiquette and Behavior

Wow - that was a lot! Now I'm not expecting people to be stressing out about some random checklist that a travel site owner made. That's not the point here. It's more about thinking before you fly. Thinking before you act. Ultimately the golden rule here is that pretty much everything you do in a confined space like a plane, affects a whole bunch of other people. And the growth and spread of the entitled, "Whatever, they can deal with it" attitude just because you're preventing your own discomfort - is frankly a sad state of traveling. We can all be better than that. This isn't just a list of things I've had done to me, it's a list of things I've observed. I've been on many hundreds of flights in my life, so I've seen a lot of GREAT - and a lot of TERRIBLE. Be a good neighbor!

It sounds cheesy, but be the change you want to see. Most people don't mean to do things on planes to annoy others, they are just in an unfamiliar environment and have a lot on their mind. Us experienced travelers can try and be understanding of this too. But generally speaking, if we try to consider the items above, the entire process will be much smoother for all involved - most importantly, YOU!

Now get out there, and enjoy your flight.