Airplane etiquette: 10 Rules of Flying

Making grandiose plans for an exotic summer vacation? You should be booking your plane tickets already! And if you want the journey to be as enjoyable as the destination itself, there are certain airplane etiquette rules that you should follow.

No one wants their dream holiday to start with an argument with the flight attendants or smelly feet and elbow fights over the armrest. So to guarantee a flying start to your magical vacation, simply follow these unwritten rules for flying.

1. Be all set for security screening

Your journey starts even before you board the plane. Once you have freed yourself from your checked baggage, you are ready for the next step of your air travel - the security screening before the boarding process.

And although security checks may seem like a bore, you don’t want to be the person holding up the line or provoking the stern stares and anger of the TS agents or your fellow passengers.

  • Ready all your documents. Keep your passport or ID and your boarding pass handy, security guards and passengers behind you will appreciate it. You can get one of these travel wallets or keep your documents in a front pocket for easy access.
  • Take everything out of your pockets. Once you are close to the bins on the security check queue, your keys, coins, etc. must go in the bin along with your sunglasses, the watch, the wallet, and your belt, shoes and jacket.
  • Drink the water in your bottle. You want to stay hydrated throughout your flight but make sure your bottle is empty for the screening (you can fill it up later).
  • Follow the 3-1-1 rule. Put all your 3-1-1 liquids in a transparent quart sized bag (remember all liquids, gels, aerosols, and creams you can bring are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 ml) per item). If you’re not sure what you can’t take on a plane, read our post!
  • Place your laptop in a separate bin. It is best to have your laptop in an easily accessible place - either in its own laptop bag or in a separate pocket in your carry on with an external zipper for easy access. Here are some tips on how to pack your carry on.
  • Collect all your things quickly after scanning. You can take the bin and move away, you don’t want to block anyone while putting your watch, shoes, belt, etc. back on.

2. Don’t block the aisle

Once you’ve greeted the smiling flight attendants and have boarded the plane try not to block the aisle. Don’t be that passenger who keeps everyone else waiting while they are rummaging in their bags in the overhead bin.

middle aisle of an airplane

Try to prepare everything you may need for the flight in advance. Your cardigan, laptop, reading materials or snack should be in your carry on bag which goes under the seat in front of you. Now you can have easy access to all your work, entertainment or food, and you are ready for a pleasant journey.

3. Armrest wars

One of the unwritten flying rules states: If you are the unlucky person in the middle seat, you get to use both armrests. After all, the person in the window seat gets to enjoy the view, the one in the aisle seat gets easy access to the lavatory, the two armrests are the only privilege you’ve got!
Hopefully, your fellow travellers know about this rule and you will not have to wage wars for your armrest territory.

4. Put your phone on silent mode

Sometimes, the only way to survive a long flight is to sleep. Which is not always easy with the engines humming, kids gently (or not quite gently) kicking your seat or a nearby couple incessantly chatting. And once you’ve finally managed to doze off, someone’s phone starts ringing (don’t you love hardcore ringtones!).

I’m sure you don’t want to be that hated passenger, so keep your phone on silent mode (especially on red-eye flights). The Japanese call it ‘manner mode’ since it’s simply good manners to be considerate and respect the peace and quiet of everyone else on board.

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5. Use headphones

Continueing the hardcore note, you are free to like and listen to any kind of music as long as you use your headphones. Can you imagine all 500 passengers on a long-haul A380 plane playing their favourite music at the same time. That would definitely be hell in the skies.

Make sure your kids follow this travel tip too. Children’s shows tend to be voiced by these overly energetic shrill voices that seem to drill holes in your head while you’re trying to get some sleep. So buy special pink headphones if you need to but make sure they love them and use them.

6. Be considerate and swap seats with a family

Some airlines charge extra fees for adjacent seats or block out some of the seats, and as a result families can’t buy seats together. If you see that someone is travelling with a child or an elderly or sick person, be kind and offer to swap seats.

If you feel it would be inconvenient to switch seats while everyone is still boarding the plane, you can simply wait until the plane has reached cruising altitude and the seatbelt sign is off.

7. Reclining airplane etiquette

Most passengers say they try to avoid reclining their seat on short flights. With airplane seat space shrinking all the time it would be a real inconvenience for the passenger behind (they will have to look straight down your snoring face). What is more they will probably have no access to their under seat carry on bag.

woman looking through an airplane window

On the other hand, on long-hauls, if you want to get some sleep, you can’t really feel comfortable with your seat upright. So follow airplane etiquette and simply look back and signal to the person behind you before you recline your seat. They may have their laptop or some food on the seat back tray table and you don’t want to cause an accident by suddenly reclining your seat.

8. No smelly food

Planes are not famous for their delicious meals so if you are keen on eating a healthy snack, bring food you’ve prepared yourself, by all means.

Yet be considerate - after all a plane is a limited space with a limited air supply, cramped with 300 to 500 passengers. Therefore, it is probably a good idea to leave behind your favourite garlic bread, anchovy pizza, kimchi, natto or stinky cheese.

9. Don’t be a bore

A friendly chat with your neighbour may make time fly. Plane journeys can be a great way to make new friends and get some tips for your destination from experienced travellers, especially if you are travelling solo for the first time. Yet even if you two hit it off, your chummy conversation may seem too energetic or too long to the people around. They may be trying to put their poor babies to sleep so that they can finally get some rest too.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to chat and your neighbor seems too friendly, you can politely say you’ve got work to do and open your laptop. You can also start reading, gently put your headphones on or even doze off.

10. Keep your socks on

Most experts would say: Keep your shoes on. After all, smelly feet and body odours make stuffy airplanes unbearable. Even if it’s too hot, and your feet get swollen or you have the perfect pedicure, no one wants to look at your bare feet.


What is more, if you’re planning on going to the loo in your bare feet, think about it again! The floor in most planes is really dirty, and lavatories are not the cleanest place on a plane either. Often plane turnaround time ( the time between landing and next takeoff) is so short that crew members clean the aircraft very quickly and simply spray and wipe off surfaces in the lavatory. And the liquid you see on the floor in the loo, well, it’s probably not water.

Also, try not to take too long in the lavatory, your 45-minute bathroom routine will not be appreciated by the rest of the passengers waiting in line.

And, there you are, after a smooth and pleasant journey.
An extra final tip: get off politely. Be patient. Everyone is eager to get off but try not to crowd the aisle or rush from the back of the plane to the front where your carry on is stored in the overhead bin. If you are in a hurry for a connecting flight, politely ask, I’m sure your fellow travellers will understand.

Wishing you a safe journey and a relaxing vacation when you arrive!
Bon voyage!