User Reviewed

How to Practice Airplane Etiquette

Four Parts:Storing Your BelongingsSitting with RespectRespecting Personal SpaceMoving with Care

When traveling by air, you're sometimes forced to rub elbows (literally) with people you don't know. In close quarters and for extended periods of time, a little consideration can go a long way. To make a flight as smooth as possible for both yourself and others (and to avoid dirty looks) practice airplane etiquette as follows.

Part 1
Storing Your Belongings

  1. 1
    Carry your bag in front of you and low to the ground as you walk down the aisle in search of your seat. Holding it up and at your sides will inevitably knock seated passengers on their arms, shoulders, and heads. You can pull it along if it has wheels.
  2. 2
    Utilize the overhead space above your own seat row. Do not place your bags in the overhead at the front of the plane unless you are sitting in that row. Don't put your bag in a bin near the front of the plane for a quick exit -- it means someone else will have to wait until the entire plane has emptied to walk back to get their bag. Taking the storage space of other passengers is rude and can potentially delay departure as they search for storage.
  3. Image titled EasyJet A321 Cabin 1635
    Avoid hogging the aisle. Remember that space is limited on board. Always be swift and alert while putting things in the overhead lockers, as other people need the aisle space to get around you and to their seat. Place the items that you will frequently use in your seat back pocket or under the seat in front of you.
  4. 4
    Take care when retrieving luggage from the overhead compartment! It may be positioned to fall on you or someone else. If you have a lot of bulky, heavy luggage in the overhead bin, wait until others have left before standing and blocking other people from leaving the plane (they may have another flight to get to), or ask somebody to help you get your luggage down while everybody is waiting to leave the plane. This will help with traffic flow and allows all passengers to leave the plane as fast as possible.

Part 2
Sitting with Respect

  1. 1
    Keep your chair upright at least until you're told it can be reclined. Don't lean your chair back as soon as you get on. When you do recline your chair, do it slowly. Otherwise, you risk bumping the head of the unsuspecting passenger behind you who's getting something from the bag at her feet, or you could knock over the drink on his or her tray. Remember to return the seat back to the upright position during meal and drink servings, or if possible, wait until food and beverages are finished being served and cleaned up.
  2. 2
    Check behind you—is that person tall, or do they have a child on their lap? If so, consider keeping your seat upright out of consideration, especially if it's a short flight. By reclining, you're taking space away from the passenger behind you; you may be more comfortable, but at someone else's expense. You can also ask them if reclining your seat would be all right. If you're someone who can't make yourself comfortable without reclining, then do your best to choose an aisle, bulkhead, or exit row seat when booking the flight so the person behind you has extra space.
  3. Image titled Flight_884
    If you're a tall/big person or have a child on your lap and know that having the seat in front of you reclined will make you uncomfortable, choose a bulkhead or exit row seat (unless you have a child, in which case you should never choose an exit row seat). Not only will you have more space, but the person in front of you will also have more space and may decide not to recline their seat out of consideration for you. If you sit in the middle, however, the person in front of you is cramped, as well, and will probably want to recline their seat, whether you like it or not.
  4. 4
    If you are traveling with one or more children, keep a close eye on them. Children have a tendency to bump, kick, or yank the seat in front of them without realizing it throughout the flight, which can make the person in front of them very uncomfortable. It's difficult enough to control some children on a long flight, but it's even more difficult to deal with an angry passenger in front of you.
    • If your child(ren) has difficulty flying, do everything you can to relax the child so you do not disturb other passengers near by. Bring plenty of books, games, snacks and other things to keep your child quietly occupied.
    • You can also try walking to the galley area of the plane to stretch your child's legs.
    • Change diapers in the restroom on the plane. In most restrooms there are changing tables and trash bins for diaper disposal.
    • When breastfeeding, use a drape, both for your own privacy and for the comfort of other passengers.
  5. 5
    If another passenger breaches etiquette by, for example, constantly thumping or yanking your seat back, and refuses your polite request not to do so, don't get any further involved. Ask a flight attendant to handle the situation, and if they can't or even won't (this does happen), ask politely but insistently for the chief flight attendant (purser) to handle it.
  6. 6
    Avoid grabbing the back of the seat in front of you. Grabbing the seat back as you walk in the aisle or in your row can be unpleasantly jarring to the person sitting in it. Copy the flight attendants who balance themselves in the aisle by grabbing the luggage compartments above their heads, rather than the seat backs.

Part 3
Respecting Personal Space

  1. 1
    No matter how much you love to make new friends on the plane, the person next to you might rather get some work done, or simply may not feel like being chatty. If a friendly comment gets a minimal answer, take the hint and leave them be. If you're traveling with children, try to avoid letting them think of passengers as playmates. Some passengers will smile to be polite, but may not be interested in playing "peek a boo" with the child.
  2. 2
    If you want to watch a movie on your personal DVD player, keep in mind your screen is visible to those behind you. If your movie has nudity, graphic violence, etc. it may offend the more sensitive viewers (e.g. children) looking on. Using a smaller, handheld device to view movies, such as on an iPod Touch, may be more practical in this situation.
  3. 3
    Watch your elbows. If you're reading a newspaper or using a laptop, try not to let your elbows "spill over" onto someone else's personal space. Do your best not to hog the arm rests, especially if the person next to you is in the middle and has limited space to begin with.
    • Make use of your own arm rest and headphone plug outlet. Don't use someone else's because it's more convenient for you.
  4. 4
    Keep your stuff close. If you put a bag or a jacket at your feet, don't let it spill over onto the legs or feet of the person sitting next to you.
  5. 5
    Get your own reading material—don't read theirs. They'll notice, and it's nosy and rude.
    • If you're stuck in an aisle seat but still want to enjoy the view, don't lean over the person next to you to look out the window.
  6. 6
    Pack headphones for any portable electronics, especially games and DVD players. Hearing someone else's music and sounds can be very irritating.
  7. 7
    Don't get drunk during (or before) the flight. You may be having the time of your life, but your fellow passengers may not think so (there are airlines which don't allow any passengers on board suspected of being over the limit on alcohol consumption).

Part 4
Moving with Care

  1. Image titled Flight_209
    Be considerate of other passengers when you exit the plane. Resist the urge to push your way out first; let those nearest the exit disembark the plane first. When your turn comes, move quickly so people with connecting flights can make it in time.
  2. 2
    If you know you'll need a connecting flight, think ahead and book your flight early so you can get a seat up front and exit quickly.
  3. 3
    Get up to use the lavatory or to walk around only when necessary. Go through your carry-on luggage at intervals. If you need something, think ahead and retrieve items you might need later on during the flight.
  4. 4
    When you get up, don't yank on the seat in front of you for support; use the seat armrests. If you want to get up but there is one or more passengers between you and the aisle, politely request that they get up to let you pass. Don't try to clamber over them; apart from the discomfort this will inevitably cause, you might injure yourself/them if you lose your balance and fall.


  • Keep your conversations to a low whisper if you're traveling with someone. If you speak too loudly, you'll interrupt someone's sleep or annoy your fellow passengers.
  • If you have a habit of removing your shoes because you're flying a long distance, make sure you don't have foot odor.
  • At the baggage claim, stand back from the carousel until you see your bag approaching, then step forward to retrieve it.
  • Clean up after yourself. Don't leave your trash stuffed in the seat pocket, blankets and pillows thrown about, crackers littered all over the seat and floor, etc. An airplane seat should be left as close as possible to how it was found. This will make "flipping the airplane" much faster for the maintenance crew and keep flights on time.
  • If you plan on taking a sleeping pill, opt for a window seat so passengers aren't required to climb over you in order to access the restroom.
  • At security, the fewer "things" you are carrying, the better. Leave all your jewelry, keys, spare change, iPod, phone, newspaper etc, in your bag. If you think your belt might set off the metal detector, take it off before security, put it in your bag, so you can put it back on afterward.
  • Remember that babies and children don't understand airplanes and pressure differences in their ears. Even the best behaved baby will cry during the takeoff and descent portion of the flight. Feeding a baby or giving him a pacifier can help; the sucking motion can help equalize pressure.
  • When movies start, ask the passenger next to you if they'd prefer to have the window shade down. The sun's rays can create an annoying glare on the television monitor, making it harder to see a view from a specific seat in the airplane. The person next to you may or may not be bothered by this; sometimes they'd prefer to have the light from the window.
  • Make sure you are aware of the new security rules (amount of allowable liquids in a small plastic ziplock bag etc). Security checks are delayed every time somebody tries to get through with items which are not allowed.
  • Do not put your feet up on the bulkhead if you are sitting by it. It's ill-mannered. If you must raise your feet, put your bag on the floor and put your feet on that.
  • Always bring a tissue or handkerchief with you in case you sneeze or cough. In close quarters, it's especially important that you don't spread germs.
  • If you snore, don't fall asleep on the plane, or at least try not to. No one wants to hear snoring during the flight. This is especially important if you are an extremely loud snorer.
  • Listen to the instructions of the flight attendants. The rules regarding no head phones during take off and landing, no cell phones, luggage stored in bins or under the seats, tables stored seat upright are not only for the other passengers, they are for you as well.
  • If you have an empty seat next to you and there is an adult traveling with a baby in lap, it is nice to offer them your seat so they can spread out a little.
  • When meals are being served, use your basic table manners. Use your fork and knife, wipe your mouth with the napkin, and excuse yourself if you burp. Also, although the food may be bland and under-seasoned, take time to savor the flavor.
  • Make sure that you don't smell overpowering. Wear deodorant, but do not wear a strong perfume or cologne. If you're a smoker, try not to smoke too much the day of the flight and take a mint. The smell of cigarette smoke can be unpleasant for some people.


  • Remember that even if you wear headphones while you listen to loud music, your direct neighbor can hear it, and will likely be less than pleased about it. Turn your music player to a more moderate level for the flight.
  • Do not pack strong smelling foods (e.g. tuna sandwiches, anything with onions, deli, etc.) to eat on the plane. Your fellow passengers may be sensitive to the smell.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Air Travel | Etiquette