Travel Tip – Flight Etiquette

Flight Etiquette

I’m the furthest thing from  a modern-day Miss Manners (I leave that to the lovely Annie Dean), but I’ve been horrified by the recent news of flights being grounded due to fights over reclining.

This is no minor disagreement.  We’re talking about battles resembling those of a Real Housewives reunion – drinks in your face, profanity, the works.

And it has to stop.  Because those who suffer are the poor souls who behave politely and appropriately, both at sea level and up in the air.

These tips are nothing more than common sense advice that you already know.  However, a little brush-up never hurt.

After all, I’d hate to find myself flipping my tray table in retaliation to an aggressive recline.  Stranger things have happened.

In-Flight Etiquette

Additional travel etiquette tips here and here.

Story time!  What’s the most horrifying behavior you’ve ever witnessed on a flight – a person getting knocked in the head by a wayward suitcase, a verbal battle over an armrest, or something even worse?  While this wasn’t horrifying, I was mistaken for a flight attendant once.  I was happy to get an actual attendant to assist the passenger (the poor thing looked ill), and I never wore my navy blazer on a long-haul United flight ever again.  COMMENT below and share your tale.  I can’t wait to read them.

  • Worst in-flight ever: I sat next to a couple with their lap child from Boston to Iceland. This wouldn’t be a problem if 1) my tv worked and 2) the child wasn’t changed in the seat. I was so disgusted by the smell of changing diapers that I even got up and suggested they get up and use the restroom. They declined my suggestion. Gross!

    • hithaonthego

      Not okay. So not okay.

  • houseofearnest

    I’ve had some doozies! Most recently the man beside me was doing work on his tray table, so he used my tray table for his drinks and snacks! I got my computer out to do some work and asked him if we could relocate his things and he said, “where you you like me to put them?”. Really?

    • You have GOT to be kidding me haha

    • hithaonthego

      What an asshole!

    • Misch

      Ha! I’d be like “I don’t really care where you put them, just get them off my tray.”

  • Once I was hit in the head with someones falling luggage. After he apologized had to suffer through his crotch and then butt in my face, literally in my face, while he fetched his family’s luggage as well.

  • Bryn Miyahara

    I’d call this horrifying/entertaining. On our way to China we sat by a man who decided it would be more comfortable to lounge in his seat with his button and zipper undone. I get it, but that’s why I wear leggings :) We thought it was super weird, and then the same thing happened on our return flight (different guy!). Thankfully, this has not happened since, but we were beginning to think it was becoming a trend.

  • Jessica

    I can’t help but think of the in-flight scene from Bridesmaids – ha! But the worst I have seen just involves a few too many cocktails. I’m all for kicking back on a flight but when you are actually cut off by a flight attendant, you’ve gone too far! A question – what’s the etiquette when you’re in the window seat and need to get up but others in your row are sleeping? Wake them or try to climb over?

    • hithaonthego

      A gentle tap on the shoulder and being as polite as possible is the way to go. It’s far less obtrusive than climbing over them and waking them up with your ass or crotch in their face.

  • Hahaha reading through these are great! I’m thankful that most of my flight experiences have been rather calm. But there’s always the one person trying to push their way to the front as if that will make the line move faster.

    26 and Not Counting

  • kat

    Great tips. I agree – middle seat gets the right to choose arm rests HOWEVER, if everyone would lean toward the window, the person on the aisle won’t always get stuck leaning INTO the aisle or getting hit by the cart/touching everyone who walks by too. Mind your space, people, we’re all stuck on the plane. Period. …..and for the LOVE OF ALL THINGS, please stop packing tuna as a snack for children OR for yourself. EVERYONE HATES YOU.

  • Katie

    Haha, I love this post! The best thing I witnessed was a group of girls flying from Phoenix to Vegas in the morning for a bachelorette party. One of them flat out refused to get off her phone (she was already hammered and talking REALLY loudly), and blatantly ignored the flight attendant every time she came over and asked her to turn it off. They wouldn’t take off until she did, and they finally told her she was going to be removed from the flight by air marshals if she didn’t turn off the phone. Crazy!

  • Cait

    I’ve had some bad seatmates.The #1 worst was the man who brought several porn mags as reading material. He was in the middle seat of a fully occupied row and it was really awkward. Why do they sell nudie mags at airports?! If it has to have a special wrapper for display in the shops, you should not ‘read’ it in the close confines of an airplane!

  • Katie B

    Nice reminder! I was recently on a flight in which all the overhead storage was full. There was one woman left with a rolling bag and a flight attendant was looking for spot to fit it. She found a small briefcase in a large spot and asked whose it was and if it could be place in an overhead compartment in the next row back on the other side (still very close).The man (who didn’t have anything under the seat in front of him) said no, he wanted his bag above him (and didn’t offer to put his bag under the seat in front of him). The woman said she had breakable things in her bag, so she didn’t want to check it and that was the only space left. The man still said no. It was only an hour and a half flight! She ended up checking it. I was horrified.

  • Lisa

    I’ve seen some generally bad behavior here and there, but nothing like these comments — people are crazy! I will say though, I firmly believe no one should be allowed to recline their seat on a domestic daytime flight. Especially if it’s less than 3 hours. I once sat next to a guy who was leaning on his tray table to sleep, and the guy in front of him kept whacking him in the head with his seat back! And he couldn’t recline his own seat because there was a woman with a newborn behind him.

    • kat

      yeah that’s my thing – i can actually sleep slouched over my tray, but not at all an option to accommodate the sleeper in front of me, who won’t lift their seat at meal time either. they get to sleep and i’m out a sleep option AND work space.

    • Guest

      Short flight doesn’t mean that the person flying doesn’t need sleep though! It may just be a leg from an overseas journey. Maybe seat configurarion could be different to allow those who prefer leaning back to get some zzzs and those who like to lean forward too.

  • The worst etiquette I witnessed was a couple who was listening to music on their ipad, with external speakers plugged in! While I’m sure a lot of people like classic rock, I don’t think the entire plane wants to listen to it! They were even shocked and surprised when the flight attendant asked them to turn it off.

    • Lauren

      That happened to me on my most recent flight, but it was kids playing some shooting game on an iPad! I got to listen to the sounds of machine guns at 8am…

  • – Ramya

    Overhead storage is the worst. 2 yrs ago I was travelling with my barely 1 yr old daughter by myself from Newark to India. I had one backpack with all of her stuff and 1 small carry on. On the second leg from London to India I placed the backpack in the area above my seat so that I could access it easily. A lone Indian man gets on the flight, has a seat in the row behind me. He tries to find a spot for his carry on. He looks at my backpack and says “whose bag is this, I will move it behind” .. and this was to a spot about 5 rows behind where I was. I politely tell him no can do since it has my kids stuff in it …. he goes on to convince me it’s just 5 rows behind and not that far off. That’s when I lost my politeness and told him “I am travelling alone with my child, her stuff is in this bag, I cannot walk up and down the aisle” And if it is that close, why can’t you go put your bag there!! He was not too happy about it but he did go away. Why are people so rude, I don’t get it. I’ve been accommodating on flights whenever I can .. it’s not that hard people!

  • Can this article be a prerequisite prior to people boarding a flight? This would make everyone’s life easier. I can’t think of a specific story, probably because I block them out of my mind after a flight, but I usually have elbow wars with my seatmates. My husband and I travel together, a lot and he gets the aisle seat and I get stuck in the middle (cuz I’m a small person). The person near the window always has elbow wars with me. Claiming the arm rest. HELLO! I’m stuck in the middle. Can you just lean over a tad…please???

    As your friend Hitha, I feel compelled to confess I’m sometimes guilty of #5. I’m that person getting electronics, tea bags or lotion out of my bags. For those seated around me on flights in the past, please accept my apology. I’ll be better about this on the next flight.

    Another AMAZING article by Hitha on the Go! xo

  • M_Feldman

    On a recent 9AM EST flight to LA from DC the man sitting next to me ate two hardboiled eggs and a packet of tuna, and then proceeded to lick his fingers after eating. SO GROSS.

    • G

      I’d swear we were both traumatized by the same guy. On an IAD-SFO flight, the gentleman in the middle seat couldn’t pull down his tray due to his… girth. He couldn’t buckle his seat belt and the extension wasn’t long enough so I had to sit in a first class seat during take off and landing so the guy could use my seat belt PLUS the extension PLUS his own belt. Halfway through the flight, my dear neighbor whipped out a warm tuna sandwich, and then used the foil to collect his fingernails as he clipped then. Then he swept the nail clippings into a small prescription bottle and stuck the bottle in his shirt pocket. The entire flight was an exercise in gag reflex suppression.

      Airlines should really install plane etiquette tips on the backs on trays. There is no such thing as civil society in the sky anymore.

  • I was solo on a Seattle-to Paris-flight, and I was seated in a row of 4 with a young couple and their 4-year old. Instead of putting the child in a seat between them, they put him next to me, and then both of them slept on-and-off for over half of the 10-hour flight. I kept having to re-start movies for the kid so I wouldn’t find him staring at me in the dark or climbing over the armrest. I should have gotten paid for babysitting.

    • hithaonthego

      I had this happen to me too, on a flight from India to Newark! The parents and grandmother of this two year old girl were passed out, and she was running up and down the aisle screeching. I had to sit her in her seat, queue up a movie, and give her the Mama Palepu death glare to stay quiet and in the seat. Parents need to actually PARENT on the flight.

    • instantphoebe

      Haha, I’m picturing this kid creepily staring at you in the dark!! I’m also surprised, just from a safety perspective, that they would put their child next to a stranger while they’re passed out. Maybe I watch too much Law and Order SVU.

  • instantphoebe

    On an international flight from the U.S. to Asia, I saw this business man and a business woman (don’t think they were actually together) doing some majorly gross PDA. She also took off her shoes and he kept rubbing her feet and kissing her legs.

    First, gross.
    Second, her feet smelled.

    Thank God I was diagonal across the aisle instead of in front/behind of them.

    • hithaonthego

      The only way you take your shoes off in a flight is when you PUT ON SOCKS. Also, FOOT CREAM.

      Gross gross gross gross gross.

  • Great tips Hitha! I think I’ve logged enough flight miles in my lifetime to write a novel on this topic :-(

    The worst route in my consulting career was YYZ-YYC … full of oil execs (men) who were so unbelievably rude. Always a packed flight– I had priority boarding due to my elite status card and they would bud and push me out of the way, because I didn’t ‘look’ like I belonged in the line (probably b/c I was female!). On the plane, I was hit in the face/head often with suitcases, elbows, subjected to drunk men, farting…omg. The list goes on!

    Just last week on my NYC route, a child threw a sprite all over my fav purse and travel bag (a vintage-y leather). The children’s parents instead of apologizing said, “It’s just sprite”. Purse was ruined.

    Third example also happened a few weeks ago on the NYC route, I was in business class sitting next to an older, professional-looking woman, totally put together with amazing style! After the flight took off, she starting biting the nailpolish off her nails and spitting it on the floor. After 10 minutes of that, she started filing her nails and the surrounding skin and dropping it on the floor. Then, she used the hot towel to swab inside her nose, then wiped the tray table with it. I almost threw up.

    Last, and a fav is an older lady who took over her shoes and crossed her legs in her seat so her bare feet were touching me the whole flight, for 5 hours. They were dry, scaly and smelly. Shudder.

    That is all. I feel so much better getting that out into the internet universe!

  • I was on a flight from Calcutta with a layover in Dubai to return back to the US with a couple and their two children. One was around 6 and the other couldn’t have been older than 2. I totally understand that young children (newborns to about 4 years old) have little to no control over some things like ear popping and it’s difficult for parents to keep their kids entertained. It was about a four hour flight to Dubai. I was surprised that it was the 6 year old running up and down the aisles screaming while the mother was trying to get both children settled down. What really made me angry was that during the entire time that this kid was disturbing the other passengers, disobeying the flight attendants and his own mother, was the fact that the father was encouraging him to continue screaming, hitting, and running up and down the aisles. THE.WHOLE.FLIGHT.

    Also, they ended up being on the same 15 hour flight back to the US. That definitely made it worse.

  • Bernadette

    I flew from London to San Francisco few years ago. I was very fortunate to use my frequent fliers miles and fly first class (yay) but at the same time I was VERY sick and was looking to a quiet flight back home. Some a$$ was talking to his companion almost all flight long. His voice was like nails on a blackboard. I got it that he was excited to be upgraded but it was so annoying to hear him talk all flight long. He was not from US nor UK, I will not mention his origin. Rude can be international.

  • Natasha

    It annoys me when people ask if I can switch seats with their wife/girlfriend as if they’re entitled to sit together. First of all, I find it a little off-putting that it’s always the man asking as if the woman is too embarrassed or shy and can’t handle speaking up for herself. Secondly, I think it’s fine if they ask nicely in a “would you HAPPEN to mind if you switched seats with my wife/girlfriend” tone and respect the customer’s answer even if that’s a no, rather than acting like they’re ENTITLED to sit together just because they’re a couple. If choose my particular seat for a reason (like needing to be next to the aisle or window, etc.), I am not switching unless your wife/girlfriend has a better seat. Not my problem.

    • mishypanic

      I too pick my seat for a reason! More often than not though, the airline moves them on me. :-( I always try to get them to switch for a better seat though.

  • Sway

    Ugh, I have so many…but two that stick out are-
    Story 1: My sister was stuck in a different seat behind us on an international flight, and the guy next to her was enormous and turned his entire body towards her while he napped and snored into her face. Yuck!
    Story 2: I was on a flight returning home from vacation and was very, very (grossly) sick. All I wanted to do was plug in my headphones and take a nice, long nap. The woman next to me wouldn’t stop talking! She kept telling me her life story and then asked me questions, to which I kept saying things like, “I’m sorry, but I am so sick I don’t feel like talking much. Just want to nap.” She took that to mean, “oh okay, I’ll just keep talking while you listen.” Some people just don’t get it!

  • Sway

    Oh my god, now I keep thinking of so many more… just last month, this lady sitting next to me was flossing. Actually flossing. And she did the nastiest thing- she picked off the gunk with her fingers and dropped it on the floor. Aghh!! I get seated next to real winners…

  • Margo Anderson

    I was on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco when two people behind me (a man and a woman) figured out they had both worked for Cirque du Soleil. No big deal, right? Wrong. First, the guy was one of those “natural” guys, and was wearing a tank top, so we all got to smell his natural aroma. Then, the woman could not speak a single sentence without dropping the f-bomb and only spoke at a decibel that suggested she was trying to communicate with the pilots. Plus, their whole conversation was like listening to two aging hipsters, about they are so much more sophisticated in movie/ al taste, and how Americans are so dumb to like popular culture. Oh, and bad mouthing artists and acrobats from other countries was also extremely classy.
    The number of backwards glances from other passengers made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

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  • Kate

    I once was lucky enough to get the middle seat inbetween an inveterate elbow-pusher and a badly lactose intolerant woman who (seemingly unaware) guzzled down 2 yoghurt drinks, 3 cartons of flavoured milk, and some small cheeses. The farts. Oh my god, the farts. I generally consider myself a polite and compassionate person, and would never dream of purposely embarrassing someone. But I had to cover my mouth and nose with my shirt after I started retching from the smell. It was the worst thing I’ve ever smelt. It was like every rotting dairy product she had ever eaten was still in her bowels.
    Meanwhile, the elbow-pusher was getting so aggressive that she was maintaining arm-wrestle-worthy pressure and had actually beaten me back past the armrest, until she was leaning about 10cm into my seat area. 10cm is a huge amount in an airline seat, particularly the middle seat. Particularly when the other direction is fart-land. At one point I politely asked if she would mind removing her elbow from my side, as she was hurting me and I was unable to move any further away from her. She outright ignored me, twice, and the pressure increased. When it came time to leave she barged past all the other passengers, and knocked a small toddler to the ground with her carry-on.
    I now wish I had complained to the flight attendant before she had a chance to do that!

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  • Sarah

    Older post, I know, but I will never forget the story of when my boyfriend and I took our first trip together, we flew to New York for a competition. I was in the middle seat and he was in the aisle seat. He had his laptop out for schoolwork and was working quietly when the woman in front of him slammed back her seat three or four times, slamming into his laptop. I tapped her lightly on the shoulder and asked her if she could scoot her seat up just a bit because it was smashing the laptop and she looked at me and told me to “F off! Not happening!” then she proceeded to do other rude things, both to me and my boyfriend and at one point a few minutes later, she got up out of her seat, left it reclined and walked back to the restroom and tried to push his laptop off the table while he was typing.

    That was when I stopped being nice. I started kicking her chair, coughing in her ear, and snickering every time, making little ‘oops!’ noises. I admit I wasn’t being very nice, but I was angry that this woman was intentionally being mean when we were trying to be nice. In the end, after an hour, she pulled her seat all the way back up and we got off the plane before she did because we only had small backpacks that fit under the seat, she was talking about how rude we were! I’m not proud of what I did, but I don’t take kindly to people not letting others get schoolwork done.

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