Let’s start with this: airport travel brings out the worst in people. Put groups of strangers in unorganized lines, test their patience with flight delays and missing baggage, embarrass them with sometimes invasive security screenings, and deprive them of sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition, and people will be crankier and act more entitled than they would normally.
Navigating airports, customs, and baggage claims is stressful enough, so I like to treat my time on the actual airplane as a time to relax. This can be difficult when you’ve sacrificed your personal bubble to be elbow-to-elbow with strangers. Therefore, I’ve compiled the unwritten list of conduct for when our patience is stretched thin. Some of these rules are common sense, but for some rules I’ve taken the liberty of settling debates. Here are the newly official rules of airplane etiquette from a very frequent flyer.
- Anticipate what you’ll need and keep it by your seat. Avoid climbing over the person in the aisle seat to keep selecting a different book or to get more snacks from the overhead compartment.
- Come prepared. Bring entertainment for you and any young passengers you’re watching. And then bring more than you think you need. If you get motion sickness while reading the book you brought, pull out your headphones and listen to the podcasts you downloaded. If you’re not interested in the in-flight movie, start a knitting project. Nobody likes a Nosy Nancy who is trying to read your book over your shoulder because she can’t sleep. And while chatting with strangers may be your favorite way to pass the time, understand that not everybody is on the same sleep schedule as you and may be depending on this flight for 40 winks.
- Stay in your own seat as best as you can. Don’t prop your feet on a nearby armrest. One time I was guilty of resting the pillow on the wall of a window seat, and when I nodded off the pillow would slide into the seat in front of me. I kept waking up to my own pillow flying over the seat into my face.
- Let the person in the middle seat have both armrests. I don’t care how comfortable your second arm needs to be. If you’re not in the middle seat, you can lean into the window or into the aisle (within reason). The middle seat traveler has nothing but strangers leaning into him on both sides. Give him that one perk.
- Plan your bathroom/leg-stretching breaks as best as you can. Obviously, you can’t help how your body behaves sometimes, especially with factors like nausea and unsettling airplane food. But if you can hold it, wait until all the meal trays have been collected so you’re not stuck behind the cart. That way, the person in the aisle seat isn’t waiting too long for you to come back. And only wake up the aisle seat traveler if you absolutely must go. (Personally, I’ve masted the art of Ninja Armrest Hopping, where I parkour across the armrests of sleeping travelers to land in the aisle without disturbing their naps.)
- Bring stinky, hot food that everyone else has to smell onto the airplane. And if you ate some stinky food during your layover, it couldn’t hurt to bring a pack of gum or a toothbrush.
- Hog the overhead space. Just one of your bags should be up there. If the flight is full, your winter coat can stay with your seat instead of taking valuable space away from baggage.
- Accept your neighbor’s meal or drinks if they’re sleeping. It’s a kind gesture, especially for long flights with limited meal times, but there’s nowhere to store the tray if your neighbor wants to sleep. I made the unfortunate mistake of placing a dinner tray under my seat so I could go back to sleep only to wake up with ankles cover in mashed potatoes. Just let your neighbor know that the food came by already when he wakes up, and if he’s hungry, he can press the button to call for a flight attendant.
- Take your shoes off. If your feet swell, loosen your shoelaces or invest in compression socks.
- Tilt your seat back. Trust me, the increase in comfort for you is negligible, whereas the inconvenience for the person behind you increases noticeably. If you absolutely need that 110-degree angle, be mindful if the person behind you has a child or pet on their lap. Pop it back into its original position during meal times so the tray isn’t digging into that person’s ribs. And for the love of travel day gods, at least stay consistent. Don’t change your position every few minutes or bounce it around.
- Exit before anyone seated in front of you. I don’t care if your connecting flight has already started boarding; you don’t know what everyone else’s flight itinerary is like. Don’t muscle your way to the front of the line. And if you know you need to fumble with an overhead bag, offer to let the person in the aisle next to you leave first.