The Aeroplane Etiquette Rules To Follow

Long, cramped flights can turn the most seasoned traveller from reasonable adult to seething ball of rage. From the child using your seat back as a drum to the holidaymaker conked out in your lap; the neighbour who won’t shut up to the one sprawled, snoring, between you and the toilet, aircraft etiquette throws up a veritable minefield of dilemmas. We tackle your five most pressing quandaries, from both sides of the tray table…

What can I do about seat kickers?

We’ve all been there: you’ve just returned your tray table to the upright position and settled down to catch forty winks when you’re jolted awake by a volley of blows to your lumbar region, delivered by a three-year-old on a sugar high. Keep a clear head and make a polite appeal to the parent, not the child. Still going strong? Grit your teeth and ask the parent (nicely) whether they would be willing to swap seats with their little angel. If all else fails, have a (quiet) word with a member of the cabin crew.

And if you doubt your ability to control your own little darlings? Remove the targets by booking bulkhead seats in advance – it could save you countless hours spent fielding icy glares and tutted recriminations.

Try to avoid using other people’s headrests as handles when moving around the aircraft, too – make like the cabin crew and steady yourself on the overhead lockers instead.

If I recline my seat, do I risk kicking off World War Three?

Probably not, but you might just get yourself kicked off. Ask the 48-year-old United Airlines passengers who were ejected following a fracas involving one’s use of a ‘Knee Defender’ device to jam the other’s seat reclining mechanism. The response? An airborne glass of water.

If you plan to recline, it’s polite to glance behind you first – not simply to check that you’re not going to knock out or upend the laptop/hot beverage of your fellow passenger, but to give them a little advance warning, too. Don’t automatically recline your seat to its limit, and keep it upright during mealtimes.

If it’s your personal space being invaded? A polite request can go a long way. A genuine-sounding exclamation of alarm can go even further. Passive aggressive tutting, though? Not so much. Avoid the pitfalls entirely by picking a bulkhead seat in advance – but remember, you won’t get any under-seat storage space, and legroom can vary – check Seat Guru for facts and figures which may help you figure out the best place to sit in a plane flown by your airline.

Should I talk to my neighbour?

A 2015 Expedia survey found that 16% of travellers use flights “as an opportunity to meet and talk to new people”. If you are one of these travellers, though, be aware that 66% of your fellow passengers “dread” being sat next to you.

If you want to talk, be alert to your neighbour’s signals – monosyllabic responses, diggings out of headphones and openings of magazines are not encouraging ones.

And if you’re the one who wants to be left in peace? Headphones, magazines and monosyllables could come in very handy… If they still don’t get the hint, there’s nothing for it: feign sleep.

Who gets the arm rests?

Four out of five frequent flyers agree: the person in the middle gets first dibs. It’s a sort of consolation prize to compensate for the lack of either window or aisle. If you’re sandwiched between two travellers of the less magnanimous persuasion, though? Prepare to engage in some complex non-verbal negotiations – sharpen those elbows now.

How do I negotiate loo breaks?

If you’re in an aisle or middle seat and planning to catch some shuteye, it’s a good idea to ask your rowmates if they’d like to get up first. Don’t bother, and you risk being woken by, at best, a polite tap on the shoulder and, at worst, a stranger straddling you in an abortive attempt to clamber past.

And if you’re the weak-bladdered Wendy in the window seat? A tap on the shoulder always beats an awkward lap dance. Minimise unneccessary interruptions by ensuring you stow everything you think you might need for the flight under the seat in front, too.

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