Airplane Etiquette – Rules for Seat Reclining, Armrests, Overhead Bin Space, Eating & Other Potentially Rude Behavior
Some people have no idea how to behave on an airplane. Between eating smelly food, stealing the armrest, and rapidly reclining their seat, your seatmate could make your flight a living hell. Here are my airplane etiquette rules for just about every situation. Additionally, I offer tips on what to do if your seatmate breaks these rules.
Table of Contents
1. I Think Reclining Your Seat is Rude, But You Are Entitled to Do It
Unless it’s a redeye flight or I’m in a seat with extra legroom, I never recline my seat. The pitch between seats in economy is shrinking every year, and I do not want to make it smaller for the person behind me. Regardless, you’re entitled to recline if your seat has the option. It’s included in the cost, in my opinion. Here are my rules.
- If you recline, warn the person behind you. Do not ask for permission, but make sure they are aware you are reclining.
- Avoid reclining if the person behind you has their tray table down and is eating or working on a computer
- Recline as far back as necessary. The further back you go, the less room the person behind you has.
- Decide if you really need to recline. Short, domestic flight? You probably do not need to. Red eye or International flight? Reclining may be necessary to stay comfortable.
I blame airlines for the problem. There is not enough room between seats in economy, which creates an awkward situation. If the seat reclines, the flyer should be able to recline. But then the person being reclined into is uncomfortable.
Airlines have two options.
- Increase the pitch between economy seats (unlikely to happen)
- Remove the reclining feature for seats with limited pitch between them (the more realistic option
Your Options if Someone Reclines Their Seat Into You
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do. Everyone who purchases a ticket has the right to recline their site. Numerous TikTok and other social media fights have started over the issue, but the person being reclined into has no case.
If you want to avoid the issue, purchase a seat with extra legroom, such as in the exit row, premium economy, or first class.
- Survey Data: 38.25% are annoyed when the person in front of them fully reclines their seat. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
- Survey Data: 77%+ think it is rude to fully recline your seat. (see our Controversial Airplane Behavior Survey)
- Further Reading: Airplane Seat Reclining Etiquette & Survey Data – Is it Rude or is it Your Right?
2. Use Overhead Bin Space Closest to Your Seat
Surprisingly, most airplanes do not have enough overhead space for everyone to store a carry-on bag. With expensive checked bag fees, more people than ever are opting to carry-on, which makes overhead bin space a commodity. It is community space, so the bin above your seat is not yours. Here are my rules.
- Store your bag in the open bin closest to your seat. Ideally, it is right above your seat. If the bin above your seat is taken, try to find an open bin slightly in front of yours.
- Do not just drop your bag off in the closest open bin towards the front of the plane. That includes first class and premium economy.
- Only store what your ticket allows. Typically, this is one carry-on bag. That means no additional carry-on bags or backpacks, no jackets, and no purses. Everything else should be checked or go under your seat.
- To avoid a gatecheck, get on the plane as early as possible. Ways to get on faster include a premium seat, purchasing priority boarding, or having complimentary priority boarding through airline status or your credit card.
- Do not move anyone else’s luggage. If you think something needs to be moved, ask a flight attendant. The exception is if someone’s bag needs to be turned on its side. I see no issue doing that as long as you do not move it.
Unfortunately, fights and arguments over overhead bin space are fairly common. It is not worth getting kicked off the plane over, so it is important going into the flight to understand the space above your seat may not be available.
- Survey Data: 18.12% are annoyed when someone uses an overhead bin many rows in front of their seat. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
- Survey Data: 57%+ are open to or regularly use overhead bins many rows in front of their seat. (see our Controversial Airplane Behavior Survey)
- Further Reading: Overhead Bin Space Rules, Etiquette, & Survey Data – Who Does it Belong To and How to Avoid Fights
3. Be Aware of How Much Space You Are Taking Up
Airplane seats are smaller than ever, which means less room for everyone. Regardless, your space is your space, and you should stay in it. Here are my rules.
- Armrests – Give the person sitting in the middle seat first dibs at the armrest. If it’s obvious they are not going to take it, feel free to use it. While using an armrest, do not let your arm hang over into your seatmate’s space.
- Your Legs – Do not spread your legs into the aisle or in your seatmate’s space. If you’re tall, buy a seat with more legroom.
- Your Hair – If you have long hair, do not let it hang behind your seat. Also, make sure it does not hang in your seatmate’s space.
If someone is seriously infringing on your space, politely let them know. In most cases, they probably do not even realize what they are doing.
- Survey Data: 39.07% of people are annoyed when someone hogs the armrest. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
- Survey Data: 7%+ never give the middle seat the armrest! (see our Controversial Airplane Behavior Survey)
4. Only Switch Seats if You Want To
This one really annoys me. Do not feel obligated to switch seats with someone else. That includes situations where a family or a couple want to sit together. You paid for your seat, so it is your seat! Here are my rules.
- Switch if the other seat is comparable. For example, an aisle for an aisle or a window for a window. Do not agree to go from an aisle to a middle seat in the back.
- It’s not your fault a family or couple did not pay to pick seats. Do not feel guilty saying no to a family or couple if they ask you to switch. By all means, switch, but only if you want to.
- If you want someone else to switch seats, ask politely. Do not sit in their seat before asking. Accept “no” for an answer.
The good news is airlines are doing a better job of seating families together. Ideally, that dilemma goes away within the next few years.
- Survey Data: 25%+ would not switch to a worse seat under any circumstance. (see our Controversial Airplane Behavior Survey)
- Further Reading: Airplane Seat Switch Etiquette & Survey Data — Can You (and Should You) Change Seats With Someone Else on a Flight?
5. Do Not Be Disgusting (Smelly Food, Stinky Feet, Etc)
There is nothing worse than being stuck next to an obnoxious or oblivious person on a long flight. Here are behaviors to avoid.
- Never Remove Your Socks – In reality, you should keep your shoes on the entire flight. If you do happen to take them off, keep your socks on. Nobody wants to see or potentially smell your feet.
- Do Not Bring Smelly or Messy Food on the Flight – Only bring food that is not messy and does not smell. Examples of smelly food include fish, certain cheeses, tofu, and hard boiled eggs. Additionally, do not bring something ridiculous and messy on the flight like a full rack of ribs.
- Do Not Groom Yourself – That includes clipping your nails, applying nail polish, brushing your hair, and brushing your teeth. If you must, do any personal grooming in the bathroom.
- Avoid Strong Odors – Always shower before a flight and put on deodorant. Additionally, do not overdue perfume or cologne.
Less is more. Do not create any disgusting odors for fellow passengers.
- Survey Data: 9.56% admit to removing both their shoes and their socks when flying. (see our Controversial Airplane Behavior Survey)
- Survey Data: 48% of American adults find it annoying when a co-passenger smells due to poor hygiene or too much cologne or perfume. Nearly 40% are irritated when a fellow traveler eats pungent or foul-smelling foods onboard. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
6. Do Not Be Annoying (Talking Too Much, Loud Speaker Sounds, Too Drunk, Etc)
Be as quiet as possible and read the room. Here are my tips for not annoying your fellow seatmates and the rest of the plane.
- Do Not Force Conversation – Saying hello to your seatmates is fine. It’s even acceptable to have a conversation. But read the room. Is the conversation one-way only? Are you forcing it? I recently took a flight where the man in front of me would not shut up for five hours despite the woman next to him only giving one-word responses. It annoyed the hell out of me, but I can’t imagine how it must have felt for her.
- Turn Your Speaker Off – Only listen to music or watch video through your phone or laptop with headphones. There is nothing more obnoxious than playing music or watching a movie where the entire plane can hear it.
- Do Not Flirt With Others – This includes flight attendants and other passengers. It makes everyone uncomfortable.
- Do Not Get Obnoxiously Drunk – Nobody likes an annoying drunk. That is especially true having to sit next to them on a plane. Keep your alcoholic drinks to a minimum. If the person next to you is angry, drunk or not, discretely alert a flight attendant.
Additionally, do not be overly affectionate with your significant other. Nobody wants to see PDAs on an airplane
- Survey Data: 59.11% think it’s annoying when someone gets too drunk. 29.87% think it’s annoying when someone talks too much. 28.96% think it’s annoying when someone listens to music or a movie too loudly. 21.89% think flirts are annoying. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
7. Do Not Cut in Line When Deplaning Unless You Have a Tight Connection. Do Not Board Before Your Group is Called
Everybody wants to get off the plane as quickly as possible. While cutting in line is never a good thing, it is sometimes necessary. Here are my rules.
- If you are at your final destination or have a long layover, wait until the row in front of you clears before moving forward.
- If you have a tight connection, let the flight attendants know. In many cases, they’ll make an announcement so everyone is aware. Otherwise, you just look like someone attempting to cut the line.
- Do not board earlier than your group. People pay extra for earlier boarding for various reasons. Wait until your group is called. Unfortunately, many gate agents still let early boarders get on the plane.
Nothing annoys me more than someone who thinks their time is more valuable than someone else’s. While I always want to say something if someone from the back of the plane buts in before me, I just tell myself they have a tight connection.
- Survey Data: 29.60% think it is rude when someone boards or deplanes out of turn. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
8. Parent Your Children
Your children are your responsibility. Do not make the rest of the plane watch them. Here are my rules.
- If your child can’t get through a flight without constant crying, they are not ready to fly.
- If you’re child can’t sit still for an entire flight, they are not ready to fly.
- Pay extra to guarantee you’ll be seated with your child. Do not put it on someone else to switch seats. Additionally, do not force someone else to watch your child because you did not pay for seat selection.
- Make sure your child is not kicking the seat in front of them.
Unfortunately, disruptive children can ruin a flight for the entire plane. Those near crying children can ask the flight attendant if there is a quieter seat available, but the odds aren’t usually great.
- Survey Data: 46.81% are annoyed by poor and inattentive parents. (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
9. Do Not Kick the Seat in Front of You
This one is obvious, yet people still do it. Do not kick the seat in front of you. Do not let your children kick the seat in front of them. If the person behind you kicks your seat more than a few times in a row, politely ask them to stop. If someone’s child behind you constantly kicks your seat, ask their parent or guardian to tell them to stop.
- Survey Data: 59.11% are annoyed by seat kickers. How isn’t this percentage higher? (see our Airplane Etiquette Violations Survey)
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
Just use common sense when flying. Nobody wants to hear your life story or listen to you movie or music. Nobody wants to be abruptly reclined into without warning. Nobody wants to babysit your crying children or deal with you being obnoxiously drunk.
Featured Image: Eric Jones / The Vacationer
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