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The Airline Passenger Guide to Proper Etiquette

Air travel used to be a special occasion and people felt privileged to board an airplane. Even as a child I was always excited to fly and had (still have) better manners than the majority of passengers onboard. Many travelers today have become selfish, rude, and think it is their right to be on that plane simply because they purchased a ticket. Rights and privileges have been turned upside down and its making air travel less enjoyable for everyone. Following basic common sense and being polite to strangers will go along way to make flights an enjoyable experience again.

Airline Etiquette

Airline Etiquette


I try not to side with the airlines but there are some things that are simply out of their control and it is up to us to become well-informed flyers. We can all become the perfect passenger and it starts with respecting your fellow flyers. These are the guidelines I always follow and expect from others from other passengers when I fly.

  1. Efficient at security checkpoints
  2. Boarding the plane quickly
  3. One armrest per passenger (two for middle seat)
  4. Reclining your seat (there are exceptions)
  5. A quiet flight
  6. Food/Beverage etiquette
  7. Deplaning in an orderly manner

1. Security Checkpoints

We all have the right to a smooth and efficient checkpoint experience

Become a security checkpoint pro. Nobody wants to watch the person who has to go though the metal detector 3 times because they can’t remove their belt, watch, or the contents of their pockets. My three favorite security checkpoint timesavers are:

  • Place phone, wallets, and contents of pockets into carry-on before you get to the front of the line
  • Wear shoes that are easily slipped on/off
  • Collect your belongings away from the conveyer belt on the other side so other traveler’s can collect their things as well.

2. Boarding the Plane

We all have the right to boarding in a timely manner.

This seemingly simple process has become complicated with priority status easier for frequent flyers to earn, boarding zones/groups, and checked baggage fees clogging up overhead bins. Perhaps some of that is the airlines fault but many passengers hold up the boarding process for others.

Here is how we can improve it:

  • Only board in your zone/group/row
  • Have your ticket ready and if you are using your smartphone you should have it open to the right screen before you get to the front of the line.
  • Don’t bring roller bags on the plane that won’t fit wheels or handle-side out. This takes up valuable space in the overhead bins for fellow passenger’s who follow the rules.
  • Get out of the aisle as quickly as possible once luggage is stowed.


Economy seats are already uncomfortable for most of us and we have to make the best of it but it shouldn’t be at another passengers expense. Once onboard we are all in it together.

3. We Are All Entitled to the Armrest

Window Seat- 1 armrest

Middle Seat- 2 armrests

Aisle Seat- 1 armrest

Only the passenger in the middle seat should have access to two armrests and this is completely fair. The window seat has the side of the cabin that doubles as head rest. The Aisle seat has the additional legroom and overhand for your body if needed. The middle seat is the worst spot on the plane and that passenger needs all the additional comfort they can get.

“The folks in the aisle seat can lean toward the aisle, and the window-seat passenger has the window to lean on. The poor middle-seat passengers are suffering enough-they get both armrests as the consolation prize.” -Anne Lowe, veteran flight attendant (WSJ)

Do not spill over into your neighboring passenger’s space. They paid for a seat as well and probably got a better deal if they are travel hackers 🙂

4. Reclining Your Seat

Often the most debated passenger right on the plane is over reclining your seat. I believe this is the passenger’s right but there are exceptions and methods to this right to maintain a comfortable cabin for all passengers.

I am 6’2” which is taller than average but I often fly without reclining my seat. I understand how uncomfortable it is when the person in front of me leans back into my knees without asking or turning around first to see who is seated behind them.

Here is how I approach reclining my seat:

Check who is seated behind you. Is it a child, short, or tall passenger? If it is a small child I lean back with no second thoughts. If it is an adult or a tall passenger I will ask them if they mind or simply recline half way.

Politely asking the passenger behind you will show them that you care about their comfort. Not only that but asking someone behind you is a rare act of kindness on a plane. Most likely they will say yes (they always do for me) and pass along a good message about caring for fellow travelers.

I also recline my seat on long-haul flights and any flight where the majority of passengers are sleeping. This is accepted as the norm for these flights. Reclining your seat is your right but always ask first and be mindful of others on the plane.

Editor’s note: It’s funny to be writing about this at  35,000 feet and it just happened! The passenger in front of me just jolted their seat back which dumped my laptop into my lap. No turnaround, no polite ask, or warning. I would’ve said yes but this is exactly what I mean and it is not proper plane etiquette. At the very least you should gradually recline the seat. Contents on tray tables can easily slide around and a gentle warning or an ask will prevent that from happening.

5. Noise Level

Keep conversations to a low volume. Listening to two passengers yap across the aisle for hours on end is horrible. These people are not being mindful of anything but themselves and if they are bothering you simply ask them to please lower their voices.

The same goes for portable video games and movies on phones, laptops, and other portables. You do not have the right to listen to it without headphones. When parents allow their kids to do this I will be the first person to say something. Wear headphones and keep the cabin peaceful.

Children on planes are simply part of life. Crying babies are certainly my least favorite thing but put yourself in the parents shoes. Flying with a baby looks like it sucks and is birth control in its clearest form for me. When I see the crying baby I put in the headphones or ear plugs. Just don’t give the parents dirty looks unless they are letting their kid run loose in the cabin.

6. Food and Beverage

I am not talking about the airlines here. We can expect a drink and a little snack from them but this is directed at the passengers on the plane.

Under no circumstance should you ever bring hot food on the plane. Nobody wants to smell your McDonalds or Chiles-to-go. A cold sandwich, salad, fruit, and drinks are fine but no hot food –EVER. The air in the cabin is circulating and being blown around in tight quarters. This may seem like an innocent move but resist this urge at all costs.

Besides, bringing food from home will save you money, be healthier, and improve the cabin atmosphere.

7. Deplaning

This should be straight forward. Row by row people get out of their seats and get off the plane but somehow this is rarely a smooth process.

  • Have your belongings ready to go when your row is up to get off the plane.
  • Help others get their bags down instead of watching others struggle
  • Never jump in front of others or run up the aisle to pass others. If you have a connection (like most of us do) let the other passengers know if your connection is tight and ask to move past them.

This guide to airline passenger etiquette may seem like more of a rant about clueless and rude passengers but it is something we have all witnessed or been guilty of doing. Flying would be wonderful if everything looked out for each other instead of just themselves.

This goes for the crew as well. Be kind to them and say thank you when you get off the plane. They have a tough job and it is not their fault you are going to miss your connection and your bags got lost last time you flew with them.

Be kind to your fellow passengers and improve air travel for the future. Restore it to glory days where people treated others with respect. Together I think we can all make air travel a better experience. Remember we all want to maximize comfort on a plane just don’t let it be at someone else’s expense.

 Photo via WSJ

I have been traveling to over 100 countries by using the methods I share on this site. My goal is to maximize every trip and make the most of my adventures. Join me on Instagram.

  • Great list. I have a couple of things to add.
    1. When boarding the plane do not roll your bag behind you. It will bump into everyone already sitting down. Pick it up and carry it in front of you.
    2. Do not bring any kind of salad sandwich (egg, tuna, etc.) The smell does not go away.

    • Great additions, Jeff. Drives me crazy when people roll their bags on behind them because they either hit somebody or get stuck in the aisle. And good call on those types of foods. I always notice the McDonalds but I guess even cold foods can linger all flight.

  • Linda

    Love this list! Should be mandatory reading prior to boarding. Can we get it laminated to every airlines tray table?

    • Haha that’s a great idea, Linda. I think they should add an etiquette guide right next to the safety information.

  • jessica

    I shall keep this in mind when I travel on Christmas 🙂

  • Mons

    The hot food comment gets me every time. I recently returned from a business trip and sat in the window seat. The guy in the middle brought on a styrofoam container of Chinese food and proceeded to chow down on the 55 minute flight. Fried rice falling everywhere. I understand your hungry, as an adult you have the right to eat what you want. But what about my right to arrive to my business meeting not smelling like Chinese takeout. Or maybe all of the aforementioned was punishment because he had the middle seat. The food issue is so offensive to me because it lasts long after we get off the plane.