15 Tips on Becoming a Better Coach Passenger

by on April 11, 2011 · 44 comments

in Points Guy Pointers

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Over the past three weeks, I’ve flown over 23,000 miles in coach and 24+ hours in cramped metal tubes reminded me that the rules of engagement in coach are much different than business or first class. Somewhere over Greenland yesterday I thought I’d jot down my thoughts to help others become better economy class citizens.

Coach on a Delta transatlantic 757. A small space for 8+ hour flights, like ARN-JFK

 1) Try to figure out your seating situation before boarding the plane. On each flight I saw people scrambling to change seats once they were on-board and I even faced my prime exit row seats being taken by others. In fact on the flight yesterday, a woman was complaining loudly to the flight attendant that “because she had a urinary tract infection” she couldn’t sit in a middle seat for 8 hours. No lie. My advice is to select seats at the time of booking and if you can’t get a preferred seat, get to the gate early and talk to the gate agent when they open up the flight. There are a number of seats that are blocked for gate assignment, so changes can usually be accommodated. You are going to have a hard time trying to get someone to switch into a middle seat in the last row, so be proactive and there may be no need to annoy your fellow passengers with your sob story.
2) Don’t steal other people’s seats. When I boarded my flight to Stockholm on Friday, I had switched my exit row seat to the row 16 bulkhead (using the method in tip #1 since those seats are always assigned at the gate). When I boarded the plane, a man was in my seat, stretched out with an eye mask and blanket draped over himself with Bose headphones. Seriously? After a couple strong nudges he “awoke” and admitted he was in row 17 and that the extra legroom was “too good to be true”. If you want to switch seats, either use tip #1 or wait until boarding is completely over before snatching up an open seat.
3) Be mindful of your carry-on bags when walking down the aisle. When I’m seated in aisle seats, I generally get whacked with a purse or duffel bag at least once during boarding. I recommend carrying your bag with your hands and holding it in front of you, so you are aware of it’s path. When you sling a bag over your shoulder, you have no idea how many people you are smacking in your wake.
4) Reclining your seat is a right, but you should be reasonable with it. We all know coach seats are cramped, so I personally recommend following the following guidelines:
-Don’t recline during boarding. It’s hard enough getting in and out over people, reclined seats just make it harder.
- Don’t recline during meal service, if possible. Trying to eat a meal with someones scalp close to your face isn’t cool. I understand some people sleep through meal service and you’d want your seat reclined, but try to give a little bit of space when possible
- Don’t slam your seat back. Ease into your recline.
5) Don’t jostle the seat in front of you when exiting your row. I know that climbing over your seatmate can require a bit of acrobatics and core strength, but try not to yank back on the seat in front of you for obvious reasons.
6) If you have in-flight entertainment screens, don’t tap strongly on the screens because the person in front of you can feel it. I once had a JFK-LAX flight where the person behind me enthusiastically played Delta Trivia for 4 hours and even though I asked them to tap lightly, their excitement overcame them and they still poked at the screen.
7) Be nice to flight attendants. While I agree that some flight attendants can be rude, it’s not worth it to engage with them. I saw so many people being rude to flight attendants, you can see why so many become snappy. Just be nice – it goes a long way – this past year alone I’ve gotten a bottle of wine and other assorted goodies from the flight attendants for being a nice passenger.
8 ) Help others with their overhead luggage. If you are an able bodied person and see someone struggling to get their luggage into/from the bin, offer them a hand.
9) When you do put your luggage in the overhead bin, make sure the bin will be able to shut. I saw so many people put bags in wheels out and the flight attendants had to do major reshuffling to get the bins to close.
10) Keep your small personal items in your lap or under your seat until all bags are in overhead bins.
11) Don’t bring stinky food on-board. Smells are enhanced in the dry, cramped cabin, so eat your onion rings in the terminal. I once had to sit on the runway at LGA in sweltering heat on a Dash 8 propeller jet as the man next to me opened up a super cheesy Caesar salad. I nearly vomited from the smell.
12) The shared armrests belong to the person in the middle seat. It’s bad enough they have to sit in between people, so at least give them the armrests.
13) Don’t sleep on other people’s shoulders. This sounds silly, but I’ve had people sleep on my shoulder on more than one occasion. If you have a hard time resting your head on the seat, buy a head/shoulder pillow instead of canoodling with a stranger.
14) Allow the row in front of you to deplane before you rush the alley. I hate pushy people who can’t wait their turn.
15) When possible, get your overhead bag down before it’s time to leave your row. It drives me crazy when people clearly see that deplaning is approaching their row and only at that point do they start to collect their belongings. If you need more time to deplane, that’s fine – just get the heck out of the aisle.

I’m sure I could go on forever, but if you feel that I’ve made any glaring omissions, please comment below!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Sean

    Great post. I wish this was mandatory reading. Unfortunately many people do not consider their fellow passengers at all. Jostling seat backs is my pet peeve. How about those people during flight that jostle every single aisle seat when walking back and forth? Arghhh!

    So which did you prefer the 757 transcon between Exit row and Bulkhead? We’re flying on coach awards JFK-ARN in July, holding down second row exit seats currently.

  • The Points Guy

    Sean- People are so sloppy walking down the aisle! I know its tight, but some people don’t even try to avoid hitting people.

    As for exit row vs. bulkhead- I personally enjoyed 16C, which had unlimited legroom because the bulkhead ends in front of seat B, so I could stretch out and I felt comfortable because there was lots of open space. People do congregate in the area to use the restroom, but that was nothing noise cancelling headphones, eye mask and Lunesta couldn’t drone out.

    Also, the armrests don’t recline in the bulkhead, so take that into account. I don’t mind that, but some traveling couples like to be able to combine space.

    The exit row in 22 can feel cramped, though legroom is pretty good. I’m torn on this one, but I think I enjoyed bulkhead better, just because it felt less claustrophobic.

    However, if I could have row 22 with an open seat in between, I’d definitely go that route.

  • StilettoEyelashes

    Great post. I thought these tips were spot on and I hope more people become aware of these so it makes flying better for all of us. Another tip I’d like to add: If you are sick or are not feeling well, use sound judgment when deciding to fly. I took advantage of the amazing Delta fares that many on here purchased and I went to Stockholm this weekend. I actually think you were on my flight, points guy, and I was going to go say hi to you (unless it was some other 6’7″ gentleman on the flight), but decided not to when some idiot decided to fly while still drunk and threw up all over himself, the person next to him and even into the aisle. If you do not feel well, don’t get others sick. That’s tip #16. Sick doesn’t just mean throwing up (though that is the most obvious/blatant and disgusting of these types of party fouls), but sick means anything contagious that could spread to other passengers. Wear a mask if necessary and try to reduce contamination to a minimum (which means don’t throw up all over anything and everything).

    Keep up the good work!

  • StilettoEyelashes

    In retrospect, you may have already covered my proposed #16 in #11 — Don’t bring stinky food on-board.

  • Guillaume

    These tips should be reminded after the safety demonstration on long-haul flights!

  • Brad Benner

    Great tips! I also get super annoyed when people yank my seat to get up and down. It’s like people have become feeble and can’t get themselves up from a seated position without making a big deal about it.

  • Mark

    Yes, very good tips. It is such bad form to stow little bags and coats in the overhead while people are still trying to stow their rollers. Once the rollers are stowed, there typically is little amounts of space here and there that can accommodate coats, etc.

  • Philip

    16) NEVER FLY COACH *lol*

    Agree on 14 but 15 sounds like it’s contradicting it. It’s not easy to get out into the aisle to get your bags when you are in the window or even middle seat.

    14 is a problem throughout the cabin not just coach. Really annoys me that folks thing that they have the divine right to be ahead of everyone else

  • Claire

    Also about reclining — look back first! The person behind you could be using a laptop and hurling your seat down w/o looking could break it.

  • Alex

    One thing to do is have fun!! I’m sure most of us TPG readers and fans, obtain tickets at a super low price(at least we try to), why not enjoy the flight and have a sense of humor for crying out loud: ). I bet if you make any flight attendant laugh they will in turn have an enjoyable time doing their job serving the passengers. :) great tips everyone!

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  • Sam Jones

    For all the beautiful women out there, please disregard #13.

  • John

    Great list, and I agree that they should be included in the safety information demonstration every time you get on the plane! One of the worst that I didn’t see here is jackets and purses in the overhead bin where roller boards can be. If the bins are getting full and there’s jackets there, people should be considerate enough to keep small items and jackets on their lap or under the seat in front until boarding is completed. If I’m boarding toward the end (usually because I’m late for the flight!) I’ll calmly ask anyone around if a jacket is theirs and if not, I will mash it behind my roller board. Not many things infuriate me more on a flight than having to check my bag at the gate because people put all kinds of stuff in the overhead bin. I have had some Delta flight attendants that are diligent about it but it’s tough for them to monitor too.

  • Bob D.

    This is one of my pet peeves, and my nomination for #16.

    When flight attendants say the overhead compartments are shared space and you should put one item beneath the seat in front of you, and one in the overhead bin, they really mean it. But with charges for checking luggage, people are bringing more and more as carry-ons. Far too often I see a passenger place two bags in the overhead, and then put their overcoat up there too. So as the FA says, put only one item above.

    I fly on American Airlines, group 1 boards after FC and elites, and people in the group sit in the back of the plane. I have on several occasions seen Group 1 people get onto the almost empty plane and put their carry-on in the overhead bin above row 8, then go back to row 34 where they are sitting. When group 5 finally boards, there is no room for the people actually sitting in row to place their bags overhead.

    I know the FA’s have a lot to deal with, but I’d love to see them catch some people doing these things and actually tell them not to.

  • Sunny

    I recently was on a flight in the middle seat between two very tall men. (I, myself am a rather petite woman). The aisle seated gent decided that not only was he going to use the middle armrest the entire 5 hour journey, he was going to stick his knees/legs in my “airspace” as well!

    I’d say, as an addendum to rule #12 and #13… keep your arms and legs to yourself!

  • Matt A

    #4 is not a right. I am 6’1″ – not as tall as you — but still like having my space especially if I need to work on my laptop. If the person in front of me leans back their seat — I aim my air vent at the back of their head. Cruel — but effective. (I never lean back my seat)

  • Cindy

    Love your list! (If any of your readers owns a magazine or media-related website they need to get this info out to the masses.)

    I’d like to add that people who need two seats should always buy two seats. There is nothing worse to me on a l-o-n-g coach flight that being seated next to someone who is in my personal space since they cannot fit into their seat alone, or they have an “infant in arms” that is clearly no longer an infant.

  • The Points Guy

    @Stiletto- you should have said hi! Yes, I was behind the sick passenger. While it was a nasty situation, I can’t imagine how he felt. The last place I’d want to get sick is on a packed plane at 40,000 feet 20 minutes into an 8 hour flight!

    @Phillip- I know its hard to get your bags when you are in the aisle- my point was that people dawdle and don’t start collecting their stuff until they are in the aisle and blocking everyone else. When its your time to deplane, be ready (as much as possible) or wait until everyone is off. PS I agree about never flying coach- it’s grueling!

    @Sam LOL.. but how often do you actually get seated next to a beautiful woman?

    @Sunny- as a tall traveler, that man’s actions are uncalled for! As much as I advocate for tall travelers rights, we have to understand there are rules and we shouldn’t have a pity party for ourselves and take away other passenger’s limited space! I apologize for his behavior :-)

    @Matt- I don’t recline on short flights, but I absolutely have to on international in order to get any sleep- I just can’t sleep upright. From my perspective, a tall traveler needs to look out for themself and do whats necessary to secure a roomy seat. I personally will not fly longhaul in coach unless I’m in prime exit row/ bulkhead. Anyone can get in those seats, it just takes initiative and research. I don’t feel bad for lazy tall people who don’t know how to look out for themselves (and thus try to make other people miserable by not allowing seat reclines, for example).

    @Cindy- this blog is widely read, but I encourage you to email publications and tell them to get this information out :-) I agree, more people need to be aware of acceptable airplane behavior (like not violating the small amount of personal space we have!)

  • Erica

    Reading #2… are bulkhead seats always assigned at the gate or is this a per airline/per plane type situation. Flying to Riga in June and trying to get all the info possible. Thanks!

  • The Points Guy

    @Erica- definitely depends on the airline, but most reserve them for gate assignment, so they can be given to people with disabilities or families since theres often a bassinet latch there for babies. Not sure what airline you are flying to Riga, but try doing some Google. research or search forum for that airline to get realtime information (if there already isn’t a post about it, theres bound to be someone who knows the answer). Good luck!

  • Neal

    GREAT list! I too wish they reviewed these after the safety video AND dedicated a page in the magazine to these tips. And many of these do apply to First/Business as well.

  • Marc

    How about buy two seats if you can’t fit into one?

  • meggers

    Good Call Points Guy. I have a complaint…what’s up with those peeps who forget to shower before they arrive at the airport? Hello bodywash and deodorant!

  • Greg Q

    I’m the #14 guy who blew right past 10 rows once the plane stopped. Why? Because the #15 jerks just piss me off (and because I have 1/2 an hour to catch a shuttle).

    I wish the airlines would have a “quick exit” period for those of us who don’t have anything in an overhead bin, THEN let the people with all the crap get up and block the aisles.

    Oh, and you left out #16:

    If you are mobility impaired, let everyone else get off the plane FIRST. You have no right to slow other people down.

  • Greg Q

    “most reserve them for gate assignment, so they can be given to people with disabilities or families”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong. Exit rows are for people who A: Are physically ABLE to help people out the exit, and B: Don’t have other obligations (pets or small children) to deal with.

    You can often get an exit row seat on Delta the day of the flight, after the person with the exit row seat has been given a free upgrade to first class. :-)

  • The Points Guy

    @Greg- I wasn’t talking about exit rows- I was talking about bulkheads, which are indeed for people with disabilities, including seeing eye dogs. Right, right, right ;-)

  • FlyBalletGuy

    Your own attitude can help save – or wreck – a flight. Recognize that especially on a plane with a full load, there will be inexperienced fliers or people who can’t help what’s irritating you. Small children are far more sensitive to changes in cabin pressure; they’re going to cry – they can’t help it. Face it in good humor and be proactive about what might bother you. Bring headphones or earplugs; organize your own inflight needs so that you have what will make your flight easier handy. (My trick is to bring a bag inside a bag – my carryon has a smaller bag that’s pre-loaded with what I need at the seat proper. I just pull it out when I get to my seat and the rest goes up.)


    Great Travel tips all should read!

  • Sean

    one more candidate for #16…

    Don’t go into the overhead bin during the flight.

    Those of us that travel frequently know how to prepare. But how about that guy standing on the armrest five times during flight while he repacks his laundry? So annoying! I especially feel bad for the person in the aisle seat under the bin. Safety risk! I would like to see an airline lock the bins the entire time the plane is moving.

    This is fun, seeing everyone vent their pet peeves about flying coach. We should do this regularly.

  • Kanoelani

    What astute observations! I’m new to your blog, and this post raises my opinion of you as a person by… 15 notches. Question about #4: What would you do if the guy behind you would not let you recline your seat? I’ve had this happen to me quite a few times, even in First Class.

  • Heff

    #13 is so right!

    Once on a trip for my former employer that ALWAYS flew me coach, I had a seat next to a scantily clad little 13 year old girl. She was very friendly and told me that she was going for a pageant and was a model, blah, blah. Well, at some point, she pretty much just cuddled up against me and went to sleep. I kept trying to nudge her as I felt extremely awkward. Her parents were in the row behind us too! I would get up and go “to the bathroom” and put the armrest down. She’d put it back up.

    Very uncomfortable.

    #16. Don’t bring your kids! (especially the kind that kick seats continually on a 12-hr flight)

  • Dick

    You may call me what you like but I live in economy class and do many long distance flights (5 to 16 hrs) per year for work. (9 countries so far this year)

    I always check a bag (and pay to have it checked). Therefore I feel that I can put my smallish backpack and coat in the overhead locker – try telling me to take it out, never going to happen unless the captain tells me to. If you want my space for your big roller bag, tough, check it like I do. I need the leg room so will not put them under my seat.

    I am 6″ and will always recline my seat when sleeping – never during meals and I also make sure that no-one is going to have a laptop broken. I also recline slowly. Once again, try and stop me. If airlines did not want people to recline their seats, they would make sure the seats would not recline.

    I always try for an aisle seat and will pay extra for an exit,bulkhead seat if they are available for flights over 5 hrs.

    I apologise to anyone that may be bumped in the back by my legs, blame by parents for such long legs and the airlines for the small seat pitch, not me. I am not paying for Business class to make some one in front of me comfortable.

    My main gripes, airlines reducing the pitch of seats year by year to fit more rows in, screaming kids (No one really to blame as kids have to fly at times, just bugs me), having my meal tray in front of me an hour after I have finished eating, extra wide people (once again, not really their fault, same as me being tall), waiting for ages for my checked bag, bumpy flights, people that hog the toilets for ages, you know the type, have a full washdown, makeup plus all the bodily functions, wet floors in the toilets – flights from Asia are the worst, airline people saying enjoy or did you enjoy the flight (no way are you ever going to enjoy a 16hr flight in economy), etc, etc


  • JoJo

    Great list! Number 3 and number 6 are high on my list.

    I fly almost every week on delta and sometimes I am relieved when there is no AVOD. It’s a touch screen not a tap screen. Makes me want to cry or scream.

  • nomaadic

    Great list. I have one more, which applies to biz and first passengers as well. At the baggage carousel, it is not necessary to crowd around the machine, 2 inches from the luggages – you are blocking the view for everyone else, and you don’t need to be so close unless you are actually in the process of physically collecting your bag.

    I wish airports could paint a red zone with a three foot perimeter that instructed people to not stand in that space – it is for loading and unloading only. Then everyone could see the bags and move forward one by one as they saw their bags coming.

  • susan m baker

    All GREAT advice…but you forgot one…

    when you board the plane – step INTO the aisle and let others pass while you get organized…DO NOT HOLD UP BOARDING AND TAKE YOUR TIME…no matter how many times they announce this, there are so many either rude or ignorant people who STILL do it…be prepared when you enter the aircraft to quickly stow your carry ons – or put them in the aisle with you – wait for a few people to pass and then step out and quickly stow them…but I repeat – DO NOT hold up boarding.

  • Sassy Stew

    You, my friend are a HERO!!

    If you check out my blog, you will totally see where I am coming from (Rants of a Sassy Stew).

    Thank you for this great article. I will most definitely be passing it on to MANY!


  • The Points Guy

    @All- thanks for so many good additions. I may have to rework this into a top 25 or even 50 list :-)

    @Sassy Stew- Hysterical site- I imagine we’d have a blast if you are ever my stew!

  • Courtney

    Found your twitter feed after the Frugal Traveler mentioned you, and think your blog is great. But give the poor woman with a urinary tract infection a break! I flew a very brief flight with an almost cured UTI and it was still miserable. There are so many lines associated with flying, plus the long waits on the tarmac nowadays that you can’t use the bathroom as much as you need to. Plus, I had to keep waking up the passenger with the aisle seat. Eight hours probably involved more than 15 bathroom breaks- I hope she got her aisle seat in the end. All these tips involve consideration for others, and she is as worthy as anyone else.

  • The Points Guy

    @Courteney- my point for the woman with the UTI is that she should have taken personal responsibility for her situation before boarding the plane. I personally think it’s uncouth to shout your medical condition on a plane and expect others to “figure it out”. If she would have followed my advice, she probably could have gotten a bulkhead seat right near the front lavatory, which would have been a win-win for all.

  • vineeta

    Hi Brian, I’d like to echo the comments of others. This is a terrific list. I’d like to add a few points, which may be particularly useful to others who travel in the cattle car like me.
    I always carry a shawl, a bean pillow, a folding toothbrush and, if my husband and I are flying together, a travel version of Scrabble. One more thing. Airlines are particularly unfriendly toward vegetarians like me. While the rest of the planet has come to accept–and accommodate us–airlines are still hoping we will go away. Requests for vegetarian meals are invariably ignored. I’ve had airlines give me some unappetizing boiled vegetables and raw fruit and a few crackers, and nothing else for long-haul international flights. So even though I request a vegetarian meal when I reserve a flight, I must call two or three days ahead of travel and remind them of my request, every single time I fly.

  • Sassy Stew

    Hero Points Guy,

    I think what I will do is make a million copies of this, laminate them — & hand them out to every passenger as they board, or somehow sneak them into the seat back pocket. ;)


    P.S. Glad you liked my blog!

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  • 2Queens

    These are great tips.
    Should be published in travel section of all newspapers.

    thanks donna

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