How to Be a Nicer Traveler – Keys to Better Airplane Etiquette

July 6, 2019

Mural with Be Kind sticker

I consider myself to be a pretty nice person.  I say thank you and hold doors open for people and I’m sure there are other things that would place me in the nice column.  But when you travel regularly you can become a bit arrogant.  I know I’m certainly guilty of being impatient with people when I’m traveling and am always working on how to be a nicer traveler.

Practicing good airplane etiquette should be fairly simple. We’re all in the same boat (or airplane). Everyone that is flying is probably experiencing some level of stress, is somewhat uncomfortable, and just wants to get to where they are going already.

But it’s those very things that we are all experiencing that make it difficult to always be as nice as should be. Here are some common sources of passenger angst and ways that I try (emphasis on try) to practice good travel and airplane etiquette.

Before we get started, check out the Instagram account Passenger Shaming. Some funny and some truly horrifying examples of the worst airplane behavior!

At Security

travelers walking through airport

Often, my frustration with other travelers occurs before we set foot on a plane.  Traveling is a stressful business, and even more so for those inexperienced travelers.  That is one reason I wrote the article First Time Flying? What to Expect Step by Step.  There are times I want to tell (or yell at) someone “you don’t have to take your shoes off!” or  “that bag will never fit.”  I don’t but it is really hard not to offer unsolicited advice to other passengers.

Instead, I try to be friendly and smile instead of rolling my eyes or stomping my foot.  With this approach, I  find that people will then ask me questions about what they are supposed to do.  Just a tiny shift in my attitude improves my experience and the experience of those around me. And also gives me the opportunity to help others which I genuinely love to do and one of the reasons I write this blog!

Flight Changes

I was recently seated next to a flight attendant and she told me that business travelers are easier because they know that itineraries will get off schedule.  It’s the people that don’t fly regularly that struggle when flights are delayed /canceled.  Often, their anger and frustration are because the change may result in them missing an important event like a funeral.  Itinerary changes are always challenging but there are things you can do as outlined in my article 8 Things You Should Do If You Miss a Flight.

I witnessed this recently when my flight was diverted due to weather and the diversion resulted in a six-hour delay.  Frustrated, I still kept my calm (at least outwardly) and shared updates with several of the elderly passengers that weren’t sure what to do or what was going on. 

Another flight I was on was late arriving and the flight attendant asked passengers that did not have tight connections to please stay seated to allow others to exit the plane more quickly.  This is an announcement that attendants make fairly regularly, but passengers rarely comply. 

Seated in the first row, I could have easily jumped off but I stayed in my seat and I watched just about the entire plane empty.  The attendant thanked me and said most people don’t do it.  My response – I’ve been in that situation before and will probably be there again.  Being a thoughtful traveler only cost me about five minutes and may have allowed another passenger to make their connection.

On the Plane

Feet

bare feet on a wooden floor

Wear socks.  And if you’re wearing socks, keep them on when you leave your seat.  Oh, and don’t put your feet, bare or otherwise, on the seat in front of you or on an armrest or window.  I don’t have a problem with feet, but a LOT of people do. 

The only exception I make for my feet not being on the floor is if by some miracle the seats next to me are open. If I have an aisle to myself and it’s an overnight flight, then I’m lying across the seats! But I promise I will have socks on my feet! Keep in mind, this has never happened to me.

Smells

Keep smells, good or bad, to a minimum.  Save your favorite cologne for a night with your significant other. I’m very sensitive to cologne and perfume and sitting next to someone that is wearing a lot is uncomfortable.  My nose itches and I sneeze.  And I sneeze loudly which leads me to the next rude airplane behavior.

Sounds

Airplane etiquette 101 – keep it down!

Loud conversations and volumes are not polite.  There is a lot of background noise on an airplane which means you have to talk more loudly than you normal but be aware of the volume of your voice.  I love having someone to chat with on a long flight but I try and keep the sound level to a minimum as not to interrupt others around me.  Same goes for those pre-takeoff and post-landing phone calls.  Only you and the person on the other end of the line needs to hear what you are saying.

earbuds

And while we’re on the subject of noise, I beg you, wear earbuds when listening to anything on your device(s).  Not using personal listening devices is something I see all the time.  Literally, almost every time I fly. 

Oh, and if you are using headphones, yay!  But turn down the volume so that I can’t hear it too.  Please and thank you!  And for my part, I’ve started carrying an extra set of airline issued earbuds to offer passengers that may not have any. 

The Seat

people sitting on airplane

Airplane seats are crazy small and we all want to take up as much personal space as we can so we don’t feel so closed in.  But everyone around you is in the same situation so we all have to be considerate of one another’s space.  

Some basic airplane etiquette when in your seat. Try not to spill into the seat next to you. Also, please don’t grab the headrest of the seat in front of you to get up.  I’ve had people do this and pull my hair and that’s just not fun.  Instead, use the armrests to help you get up. If someone needs to exit the row, please stand up so they can pass without stepping on your feet or falling into your lap.

If there is a monitor in the seat in front of you, please don’t jab at the screen.  They are usually touch screens which means you can just touch an icon on the screen.  No physical force needed.  By finger punching the screen you are basically poking the head of the person in the seat in front of you.

Carry-On Bags

I am a huge advocate for carry-on luggage and almost always have a carry-on suitcase and a laptop bag with me.  I’m also a big believer that if you are carrying two bags, the smaller one should be under your seat.

man on airplane with laptop bag

I don’t put my laptop bag under the seat in front of me if I’m sitting in a bulkhead row.  And I’m fine with passengers putting their laptop bag or coat in the overhead bins. But if you see that overhead space is filling up, be considerate and either put your smaller item under the seat or get up and offer to help rearrange items to see if everything can fit.  This is not only a nice thing to do, but it speeds up boarding. Which is a win-win!

In Summary

This list doesn’t cover all of the areas where passengers can be less than kind or considerate. I’ve avoided the hot button topics of reclining seats and crying babies.  But the adage to treat others as you want to be treated applies to all situations.  And by being more considerate of others and practicing some simple airplane etiquette, we can all be nicer when traveling.

More about Candy Wafford

Candy Wafford is a US-based travel blogger and while she travels frequently for her job, she is happiest when traveling for pleasure. Preferably strolling along a cobblestoned street with an ice cream cone in her hand.

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