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Airplane Etiquette

The do's and don'ts of air travel

While some people mind their manners mid-air, others leave their airplane etiquette on the ground. While you can’t change the person sitting next to you on your flight, you can lead by example. We’ve compiled a list of common airplane etiquette faux pas that if avoided, could help make your next trip more enjoyable.

The rapid recliner: With the limited space available on airplanes, a reclined seat is sometimes the only way to get a few inches of extra leg room. The Rapid Recliner is the one who immediately leans back as soon as the wheels are off the ground. This creates a residual effect and soon everyone is falling back into each other’s laps. Do your backseat neighbor favor though, and wait just a few minutes before reclining. Keep the following mantra in mind: Give it some time and we’ll all recline. Need some help in avoiding the rapid recliner? Take tips from our very own Institute of Aeronautical Wellness on how to handle them.

Incessant talker: For some travelers, the few hours on an airplane provide the perfect amount of alone time. That is, until your neighbor strikes up a conversation and just won’t stop. Incessant talking is a common airline crime, but it’s easily stopped. Start by introducing yourself when you sit down. If your introduction is met by a quick opening of a book or an immediate grab for the headphones, it’s safe to assume your neighbor is not in a social mood. Unfortunately, some incessant talkers can’t be stopped. If your neighbor continues on about the random facts of life, take some hints from our Institute of Aeronautical Wellness video on avoiding the incessant talker.

Arm rest bandit: Airplane space is limited so when it comes to sharing the two inches of arm rest space remember the simple rule: the arm rest is split 50/50. If your neighbor is stealing the arm rest there, are a few things you can do. First, gently nudge the elbow and attempt to reclaim your 50 percent stake in the arm rest space. If that doesn’t work, wait until your neighbor gets up to use the lavatory and comfortably add your arm to its rightful resting space.

Multi-bag mayhem: There’s a reason why carry-on luggage is limited: there’s only so much space to go around. Stuffing your bags into overhead compartments means crushing the items inside other bags. This can result in Big Jim taking a beating on your bag when you’re not looking, or Aunt Sophie accidentally dropping your belongings while reaching for her cane during the flight. And while you may have a hard time believing it, the space underneath the seat in front of you is not going to expand to fit your oversized carry-on. Pay attention to the rules. The simple fact is: if you forget to pack something, it’s likely you can pick it up in your destination.

Seat grabber: You’re on a long flight and it’s time to get up and move around. Thanks to the limited space on airplanes this can be a tricky situation. Your immediate thought is to grab the seat in front of you as leverage to lift yourself up. But doing so will give the patron in that seat a slight case of whiplash. Instead, try this approach to getting up: engage your core and lift. You’ll get a mini-abs workout and you won’t injure the person seated in front of you. You can practice this at the airport before boarding the flight. While you’re seated in the boarding area, tighten your tummy and stand up from your seat without using the armrests for support. If you’re the victim of a relentless seat grabber, the Institute of Aeronautical Wellness has some tips to help you stop the seat grabber.

The kicking child: You’re enjoying the in-flight movie and minuscule bag of peanuts and you’ve finally found that comfortable spot to rest your head (the little nook right between the edge of your seat and the window). As you slowly close your eyes for what you hope will be a good solid hour of rest, a massive jolt pierces right through the middle of your back. Before you can turn around, it happens again. And again. It’s the child; the restless, sleepless, bored child seated behind you. Kindly stand up (without grabbing the seat in front of you) and ask the adult to please control the kicking. If that doesn’t work, a good evil eye from in between the seats will likely scare the child long enough to keep him or her from kicking your seat.

In-flight DJ: The new Jay-Z CD is out and you had enough time to download the tracks to your iPod before leaving for the airport. As soon as the captain gives the all-clear to use portable electronic devices, you snatch your device and hit play. As you start grooving you turn the volume up…and up…until your neighbor can hear Beyonce’s duet debut through your iPod. Keep it down, music lover. We realize airplanes tend to be loud, but it is possible to listen to tunes without holding a karaoke contest on the plane.

Boozer: Some people have a fascination with mini wine bottles. So much so that they buy as many as they can during the flight and create their own mini wine bottle wine bar. Of course, what most people forget is that the amount of oxygen is slightly less at 36,000 feet and the booze hits fast and hard. If you’re seated next to a boozer, politely remove yourself for a quick walk around the plane. Seek out an alternative seat or ask the flight attendant to find another seating option for you. After a few drinks, the boozer is going to want to pass out and it’s likely his head winds up in your lap if you don’t move fast.

Mad bladder: When you gotta go, you gotta go. But before boarding the plane we suggest to try to go at the airport. It’s one thing to get up during the flight for a potty break; it’s another thing to get up every 30 minutes for the bathroom. If you have a window seat and a small bladder, you risk finding yourself in the awkward position of straddling your neighbor as you attempt to get out of the row to use the bathroom. This is especially awkward if your neighbor is sleeping and wakes up mid-straddle. If you know you’re a mad bladder, request an aisle seat on your flight. If you find yourself the victim of the bladder-straddler, kindly suggest the two of you change seats.

Diva behavior: Airline delays are inevitable. Bad weather, mechanical issues and congested skies can create a delay in your flight leaving or landing. And if you’re like most travelers, you’ve got somewhere to be – pronto! When a delay happens, it’s natural to want to unleash your inner diva and demand some reimbursement for this unfortunate setback. However, the “do you know who I am!” conversation will only work if you’re the president of the airline. Take a deep breath and try to remember that everyone else is in the same situation. It’s likely the airline will offer you some sort of compensation once they get you to where you’re supposed to be.

Don't forget that basic rules apply, too. Proper airplane etiquette dictates that you follow airlines rules before arriving at the airport. Recent reports note flights being delayed because of half-dressed passengers, barefoot travelers and foul-smelling fliers. Remember: no shoes, no shirt, no service. Don't forget to bathe and if you're running out of time, don't use cologne as a cover-up.

Now that you have some tips on how to handle bad behavior and avoid being labeled a bad etiquette airplane flier, sit back and enjoy your flight. The airlines really do want you to have a pleasant flight, even if the person sitting next to you doesn’t.

Melisse Hinkle
A New England native but explorer at heart, Melisse has lived in four U.S. cities, spent a summer in Hawaii, made her way through wine-producing regions in Australia and New Zealand, and traveled around Europe while studying abroad in London. She is the Content Manager for the U.S. and Canada at Cheapflights.