Basic Rules of Air Travel Etiquette

Airplane passengers

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Have you ever been on a plane with rude travelers? It can be a miserable experience, but there's not much you can do about it without making matters worse. When you're in a crowded airport or on a plane with a bunch of strangers, you're likely to encounter people who don't know proper etiquette.

Decades ago, flying was an enjoyable experience that involved dressing up in your finest attire, joyfully boarding the plane, and being served full meals. You may even remember the smiles on the faces of flight attendants as they invited you into what felt more like a party than simply transportation to your destination.

Flying has become more challenging than ever with the regulations, security, and extra seats crammed into the planes with other surly passengers. After standing in line to have your bags checked, your body frisked, and your ID inspected, you’re not in the mood to deal with rude passengers. Make your trip more enjoyable by learning and applying some good manners during the experience.

Respect the Space of Those Around You

No one likes the person who uses the space under all three seats, has a carry-on bag that doesn’t quite fit in the overhead bin, takes over both armrests, and reclines as far back as the chair allows. Limit what you take on board the plane to a small bag that fits in the bin and one other item you can easily fit under the seat in front of yours.

The armrests are narrow, so show some respect for the people on either side of you and stay out of their personal space. It’s not that difficult to work out a solution if you are both agreeable. Reclining your chair all the way back can diminish the legroom of the person behind you.

Don’t Be a Chatterbox

Many people enjoy flying in silence, so before you start running your mouth to the person in the neighboring seat, learn to take a hint. You might want to introduce yourself when you sit down to get a feel for the other person’s mood. If he or she quickly dismisses you by opening a book or plugging in headphones, be respectful and stop talking.

Moving Around the Cabin

Constant up-and-down movement can annoy your fellow passengers, particularly those in your row whose feet you just trampled. Use the restroom before you board your flight and avoid drinking so much that you’ll have to go again. If you know you are one of those people who cannot hold it for the duration of the flight, choose an aisle seat and let someone else have the window.


Don’t be one of those people who quickly drinks an alcoholic beverage in order to max out on what is allowed. If you happen to sit next to one of those people, and the person starts to annoy you, don’t get into a discussion with the boozer. Instead, ask the flight attendant if there is a vacant seat somewhere else. If you have no other options, do whatever it takes to avoid communicating with the drunk person.

Jostled Seats

Show respect by not jostling the seats around you. When you need to stand after a long flight, try not to pull too hard on the seat in front of you. If you are traveling with a small child, make sure he or she doesn’t kick someone else’s seat. If that happens, apologize to the person and keep an eye on the child. A pre-flight lecture and a bribe for good behavior can solve that in many cases.

Communication with Airline Personnel

Always be polite when communicating with airline personnel. They have quite a bit of responsibility to make sure you arrive at your destination safely and on time. Don’t chitchat with them too long and avoid taking up too much of their time. Chances are, there are other people who need their attention. When someone from the airline or the airport asks you a question, give a direct answer with respect. Don’t forget to say thank you.

Smells and Sounds

Show respect for others by not inflicting odors and noise on your fellow passengers. Avoid the temptation to douse yourself with perfume. If you carry food onto the plane, make sure it doesn’t have a strong aroma that might offend someone who is squeamish. Listening to your music on a device is fine, but wear earbuds and keep the volume down so you don’t inflict it on someone who doesn’t have the same taste in music. Don’t be one of those people who chats on a cell phone during the entire process of going through security and boarding.


If you are sick, don’t fly. The small space in the plane practically ensures that your germs will spread, even during a short flight. If you cough or sneeze on the plane, do so in the crook of your elbow and away from others. Carry a small container of fragrance-free hand sanitizer and use it whenever you touch a common area to prevent the spread of germs.

Don't Forget

Even if you are on a flight with rude people, remember that the time is relatively short. Do your best to focus on your destination and refrain from saying or doing anything that can make the situation worse.

Article Sources
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  1. Hertzberg, Vicki Stover, and Weiss, Howard. On the Two-Row Rule for Infectious Disease Transmission on Aircraft. Annals of Global Health, vol. 82, no. 5, 2017, p. 819., doi:10.1016/j.aogh.2016.06.003