How to: airplane etiquette

Right, let’s do this once and for all: there are certain rules when travelling intimately packed together with other people, most notably on airplanes. It might not be laws or even written rules, but every serious, frequent traveller knows them – for good reasons – and we get extremely annoyed when they are broken.

So, for all our benefit, here’s a short-list of five essential do’s and don’ts, in case you are yet to learn about the noble art of travelling by air:

1. Keep your feet on the floor
This might seem like an easy one, but surprisingly often people end up putting their feet on their seat, the seat next to them, or worse: on the armrest of the seat in front of them. This, my friends, is one of airplane travelling’s biggest no-no’s. That, and the fact that you should never ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, take off your socks on a plane (unless you fly first class and have your own cabin with a duvet and a complimentary pyjama of course – but then you’re probably not reading this in the first place). Should you, for some incomprehensible reason, travel barefoot in your shoes: do bring socks for the plane. Or make use of the complementary socks often found in the long-haul travel kit provided. No fellow passenger should have to look at your bare feet, and that is regardless of their condition.

2. Do not annoy the cabin crew
Demanding things onboard a plane and insisting on whatever “rights” you think you might have, is not a sign that you’re a seasoned globetrotter. In fact, it’s the opposite; it’s a sign that you are rude and don’t know a first thing about inflight etiquette. Space is limited and everyone will feel much better if the general spirit in the cabin is positive. Annoying the cabin crew does not help. Sure, they might have a bad day and contribute to the irritation, but face it: they are in charge and you can’t do anything about that. Generally speaking, cabin crew do their outmost to assist you despite having one hell of a tough job. So, smile and stop acting like you own the plane (especially since you’re most likely in the cheapest seat you could get your hands on). Also: you’d be surprised how much extra attention and service crew members are willing to give to kind and polite passengers, as opposed to their rowdy counterparts.

3. Take note of seatback position
This is arguably the single most conflict-causing issue on a plane. The basic rule is simple: with a bit of respect and common-sense most conflicts can be avoided. The thing is that since the seatbacks do recline, you are of course allowed to do that. And yes, it will be a bit of a squeeze if you’re in economy class and the person in front of you decides to fold back the seat. But since you didn’t pay for a better seat (i.e. business class) or had the luck nor skills to snatch an emergency exit seat, you will have to accept it (perhaps you should have been nicer to the gate crew and check-in staff). And please, whatever you do: don’t be one of those stupid tossers trying to block the seat in front of you from coming back. (If you end up behind me, you might get hurt trying.) Having said this: the fact that you can and are allowed to recline your seat doesn’t give you the right to be stupid about it. Don’t adjust your seatback suddenly and without warning, and make sure the person behind you isn’t going to spill his/her drink or break a leg (this doesn’t apply if you encounter a seatback-blocker). And one more thing: when the meal is served there is only one seatback position allowed: fully upright – regardless of whether you are planning to eat or not. Pretending to sleep doesn’t change anything.

4. Do not bring your entire home into the cabin
Certain airlines have rather generous allowances for cabin luggage these days. One reason is that they are trying to get you to do the job for them, diverting luggage from hold to cabin. Being a photographer, I am generally positive to this trend. However, nothing will tell the experienced traveller from the average tourist or first-timer like the size, shape, and weight of their hand luggage. So, here’s a friendly advice for you not to annoy other people, or yourself, when boarding the plane: make sure you know the exact weight of all your bags before arriving at the airport. Do not pack more than you can easily lift yourself to place in the overhead bin. Also, make sure your bag will fit and easily slide into the bin. Not sure if it will? There are websites where you can check the carrier type and cabin configuration of your flight.

5. Be careful with fellow passengers’ luggage
If you board a full flight late (which you shouldn’t have to do, but things happen), you might panic over the lack of space for your carry-on. Don’t! There will be a solution. And whatever you do, don’t start shuffling other passengers’ bags around, trying to force your bag in. There might be fragile stuff in there and it’s just bad manner. If your bag fits under the seat in front of you, put it there, or else notify the cabin crew (remembering to be polite) and they will find a solution for you.

Finally, for all our benefit: spread the word. And see you in the air.

Andreas Karlsson

Journalist, author, photographer and safari guide. Read more about Andreas here.