Airplane Etiquette

A friend and Clise Etiquette Facebook fan asked me about airplane etiquette. She had just returned from a Thanksgiving trip overseas and had experienced some rude behavior on the plane.

It’s stressful traveling. We now have to submit to either a revealing x-ray or being intimately touched by TSA. We wait in line and wait some more, and upon boarding the plane we sit in a small space crammed next to strangers. So the more we can do to be courteous and helpful the better for all. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Help with bags

If you see someone struggling with putting their bag in the overhead compartment, help them. There have been a few times when I’ve had a hard time hefting my bag up into the overhead cabinet and I’m always grateful when someone helps me get it in or out.

Who gets the armrest?

I’m often asked who gets the armrests on either side of the middle seat. Those who get stuck in the dreaded middle seat will be happy to know that they get both armrests. The people who sit in the window seat and the aisle seat get the outside armrests. The middle seat person can decide if they want the armrests up or down, but it’s courteous to alert your seat mates that you are putting them up or down so you don’t pinch them or surprise them. And, if you do put the armrests up, be careful not to “invade” your seatmates’ space. You still need to sit within your alloted space.

Seatback grabbing

It is no fun getting whiplash as someone grabs your seat-back when they stand up or sit down. Be mindful of not yanking on the seat in front of you as you get in and out of your place.

Mealtime etiquette

When meals are served, it’s hard to eat when the person in front of you has their seat reclined. It is courteous to put your seat-back up when meals are served so that the person behind you can eat without having your chair-back in their face.

Disembarking

You may have been flying for hours, stuck in a small seat and you’re anxious to get off the plane as soon as possible. However, be mindful that there is a system to disembarking the plane – it’s row by row. As your fellow travelers get out of their seats and into the aisle, give them space and time to get their luggage out of the overhead compartment. Don’t push in front of them. Be patient and wait your turn to disembark. I know, I know, you’re just dying to get to the baggage claim so you can wait some more. I admit it, I’ve been guilty of it too.

That’s it for now. Are there other airplane etiquette questions or pet peeves you have? See if you can stump the etiquette consultant.

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10 thoughts on “Airplane Etiquette

  1. Beth Buelow, ACC, The Introvert Entrepreneur

    Great post, Arden! Your last point especially made me smile; Andy and I call this the “hurry up and wait” leg of the trip. 🙂

    Here’s another one: what do you do if the person (not your traveling companion) next to you is sleeping and food/beverage service comes around, or you have to go to the restroom, and doing so means tripping over said sleeping person?

    I’m reminded of that hilarious Seinfeld episode, when Jerry and Elaine are flying and Jerry’s in first class heaven and Elaine is in coach hell. I hope your tips help your readers not create a hell for themselves or others! 🙂

  2. Arden Clise

    I haven’t seen that Seinfeld episode, but I can only imagine it’s hilarious! My dad, who is 6’6″ will often purchase a first class seat to accommodate his long legs, while his wife, who is much shorter, will happily stay in coach. She is a patient, gracious woman. Someone we can all learn from.

    Yes, the hurry up and wait, we do a lot of that when we travel don’t we?!

  3. Arden Clise

    Oops Beth, I forgot to respond to your question about bothering a sleeping seatmate. It is exactly for this reason I avoid the middle or window seat. I like having the freedom of being able to come and go as needed without having to bother someone. But, sometimes those coveted aisle seats are taken. When seated on the inside and you need to get up, if your sleeping seatmate is blocking your passage it is perfectly fine to wake them up by gently touching their arm and saying “excuse me, I need to get out”

    If food service comes while your seatmate is sleeping, simply reach over him/her for the cup or tray, being careful not to spill on them. I let the flight attendants decide if they want to wake the person to ask if they want food/beverage service. Usually you just ordering the Chicken ala King will wake him/her up.

  4. Carole

    I was sleeping on the plane with my seat reclined when the food service began. The jerk–uh, mnan–behind me poked me on the head several times and asked me to upright my seat. He woke me from a sound sleep and I fairly jumped over the chair and socked him. Seriously. However, being somewhat dazed, I merely put my seat up without a word or any other action.

    What should he have done?

  5. Judy Dunn

    Arden,

    What a pleasure to meet you on Facebook through our mutual friend Beth! And to pop in and visit your blog.

    On the disembarking, Bob and I always relax as the masses try to make their exodus. Actually, it’s a great time to sit back and have a nice, undisturbed conversation. And getting to baggage claim so we can wait some more? That’s perfect.

    Actually, the one the bothers me most is when those rude people glare at people with babies or small children. Once on the way back from New York, a 6 year-old girl was traveling alone. We offered to have her sit by us and she stopped running around and settled into long chats and silly games we played.

    If people would just have a little compassion. She was the sweetest little girl and by the end of the flight, we had a new friend. (The flight attendant was so grateful that she gifted us with free beverages and headsets to watch the movie, which we didn’t end up watching. : )

  6. Arden Clise

    Welcome Judy. Well, you are the perfect seatmate. You’re not rushing to get out and instead see the wait as an opportunity to have a nice conversation with your husband. How lovely! And, I love that you helped with the little girl. I’m not so sure the parents were thinking when they put her on the plane by herself, but you did the right thing. Bless you!

    It’s true people, myself included, can be guilty of glaring at parents of crying or fussy children. But, you’re absolutely right, that’s a hard job and we all need to have a little more compassion for the parents.

    Thank you for your comment.

  7. Arden Clise

    You actually handled it just fine, although I’m sure you wanted to clobber him. It’s best not to point out people’s lack of manners. I may have shared this quote which explains this well. “Etiquette is knowing which fork to use, manners is not saying anything when your neighbor doesn’t.” I am forgetting who made that quote, maybe Emily Post, but it’s so perfect.

    The guy who hit you on the head was rude. He should have tried getting your attention by saying something nicely first. Then if he didn’t get a response, peak around to your row and upon seeing you were sleeping, let it go. Next time say “I know a great etiquette consultant you should meet.” 😉

  8. Lilly Foreman

    Oops Beth, I forgot to respond to your question about bothering a sleeping seatmate. It is exactly for this reason I avoid the middle or window seat. I like having the freedom of being able to come and go as needed without having to bother someone. But, sometimes those coveted aisle seats are taken. When seated on the inside and you need to get up, if your sleeping seatmate is blocking your passage it is perfectly fine to wake them up by gently touching their arm and saying “excuse me, I need to get out” If food service comes while your seatmate is sleeping, simply reach over him/her for the cup or tray, being careful not to spill on them. I let the flight attendants decide if they want to wake the person to ask if they want food/beverage service. Usually you just ordering the Chicken ala King will wake him/her up.

  9. Gary

    First I’d like to say that I enjoy reading your frequent emails and when I get to you posts such as this. I have taken an etiquette course with you in the past it just loved it. Thank you!

    Also thought you may want to know that I believe there may be typo in your last section. You stated “there is a system to embarking…” where I think you meant to say disembarking. Although there is a system to embarking, “Everybody rush the door…” (Regan, 2004) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFr3iQBALgQ The video also touches base with the middle seat and elbows, although more of a reality than what it should be sadly.

  10. Arden Post author

    Hi Gary,

    Thank you for saying hello. I’m so glad you enjoyed the course.

    Darn on the typo! I don’t know how I missed that but it’s fixed now. Very funny video about airplane annoyances! I think we can all relate to many of his pet peeves. Thanks for sharing it.

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