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9 ways to not be an annoying airline passenger

Nov. 15, 2022
8 min read
people sitting in economy
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information.


This probably comes as no surprise to you, but some people aren't exactly easy to travel with. Or next to.

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, flying on a plane doesn't give us all an excuse to throw our manners out the window. So, we figured it was high time to put together a definitive guide to air travel etiquette.

Keep your socks on

We don't really know why this needs to be said again, but alas: Feet can be pretty gross. We totally get why you might want to take your shoes off, especially during a long-haul flight or even for cultural reasons, but please at least keep your socks (or slippers) on! If your feet have any kind of odor, keep your shoes on.

Not only are bare feet off-putting to many travelers around you, but think about where your shoes have been and what is actually on the airplane floor. Have you ever noticed mystery liquids on the airplane bathroom floor? That probably isn't water.

Read more: The unbreakable rules for going shoeless on a plane

Keep your seat up during mealtimes

You have the right to recline your seat to get some rest. If you weren't supposed to recline a seat, it would not have that function available.

For overnight flights when the lights are dimmed it's perfectly acceptable to recline, even if the seat has a deep recline like in some premium economy sections. If the passenger behind you is struggling to work on their laptop at 3 a.m. because your seat is reclined, I would argue that time is for sleeping, not working.

That said, when the lights are on for mealtimes — especially shortly after takeoff or shortly before landing — you should put your seat up out of courtesy to the person behind you. It's difficult to eat your meal in economy if the person in front has reclined. Some cabin crew members will instruct passengers to raise their seats for mealtimes; if they don't, you may wish to ask the crew to announce this when they hand you your tray.

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Related: Why the best inflight service on short flights for me is no service at all

BEN SMITHSON/THE POINTS GUY

Grooming on planes is gross

This should go without saying, but please save your plucking, picking and trimming for the hotel bathroom. Yes, you’re likely spending more than a few hours in this flying metal tube, but this isn’t Sephora. This is a plane.

Moisturizing is fine, as those fancy mini toiletries in your amenity kit are there to be used. If your skin is dry in the recycled air in the cabin there's no issue with addressing that. However, if you're thinking of trimming your nails or shaving, please think again.

Don't bring smelly food onboard

We know airplane food (usually) isn’t known for being gourmet, especially if you’re flying in economy — so many travelers opt to pack their own snacks and meals. We fully encourage you to bring whatever you need — whether for dietary restrictions, health reasons or just plain dissatisfaction with what’s served on board — but please keep these words in mind: recycled air.

Don’t carry on anything that your neighbors wouldn't want to smell for the next handful of hours (read: anything with seafood or hard-boiled eggs), for your own sake and for the sake of your fellow passengers.

Some Asian airlines have even banned passengers from bringing durian fruit on flights because of its pungent smell.

Read more: These are the TSA-approved foods you can — and can't — bring with you on an airplane

CHERYL CHAN/GETTY IMAGES

Your neighbor might not want to chat

It’s more than fine to be nice and approachable to your seatmate — as we said, you definitely don’t want them on your bad side. You may need to ask them for a small favor during the flight, such as borrowing their pen to fill in a landing card, retrieving a dropped phone or discussing window shade preferences.

That said, don’t talk their ear off if they’ve clearly demonstrated they’re more interested in watching a movie than learning your life story. It’s a delicate line, for sure, but when in doubt, err on the side of caution and zip it.

If they put headphones on, it is probably an indication that they don't want to keep the conversation flowing.

Read more: How to avoid a Chatty Cathy seatmate

It’s a plane, not a hotel

Please save the PDA for when you get to your final destination. Holding hands is fine, but keep it at that. Even if it is your honeymoon, the complete strangers sitting around you will not want to watch you consummating the marriage at your seat.

As for joining the Mile High Club in the aircraft bathrooms, most bathrooms are tiny and not very clean — is it really worth it?

Related: How much PDA is too much for the airplane?

ALBERTO RIVA/THE POINTS GUY

Be nice to the staff

Be nice to the gate agents. They’re just trying to do their job and get you on the plane as quickly as possible. It's rarely their fault if your flight is delayed or canceled, and taking your anger out on them won't get you to your destination any faster. As for upgrades, gate agents have little power to upgrade people, unless you have cash or miles to spend. If the check-in agent didn't upgrade you after you mentioned your birthday or honeymoon, it's very unlikely the gate agent will.

Related: Flying in style: The best programs for booking Emirates awards

The same thing goes for flight attendants. They are there for your comfort and safety; they are not there to wait on you hand and foot every 15 minutes. If you want a cup of water, there's no issue using the call bell, but if you want a second glass shortly afterward, consider stretching your legs to wander down the back of the plane to get it yourself. There may be a snack basket that makes the walk worth your while.

Read more: Travel etiquette: How much is too much to drink on a plane?

BEN SMITHSON/THE POINTS GUY

Don't go to war over who gets the armrest

Deciding once and for all who really owns the right to the armrest may be the final frontier of aviation. It’s plagued travelers since the dawn of time … or, at least, since the dawn of modern-day commercial aviation. No matter what side of the armrest issue you’re on, remember to always be courteous.

But yes, experts agree that the poor soul in the middle seat deserves both armrests as they have what is considered to be the worst seat in the row.

Related: The unwritten rules of flying in the middle seat

No one else wants to hear what you are watching

Headphones exist for a reason. Use them. Ideally, bring your own so you know that they will have good-quality sound and will be comfortable. If you happen to forget them, ask the crew for a pair to use during the flight.

Do not video chat with a relative while you're waiting at the gate, and do not watch a movie or TV show without headphones. Your fellow passengers don't want to listen to the tinny sound of your favorite movie blasting through the built-in speakers in your phone, tablet or laptop.

If your kid is playing a game on any device that makes noise, either give the child headphones or turn the sound off completely. Repetitive beeps, bangs or jingles will annoy your fellow passengers.

Related: After 10,000 miles, Apple's latest AirPods Pro are my new go-to for travel

TETRA IMAGES/GETTY

Bottom line

Being stuck in a metal tube with 400 strangers for more than 12 hours isn't the most pleasant way to spend an evening. Beyond selecting seats in advance with traveling friends or family, there's no way of knowing exactly who you will end up next to. The pandemic seemed to bring out the worst in some travelers, but some common courtesy and consideration can ensure that you enjoy the flight — and that the people sitting next to you do too.

Featured image by BEN SMITHSON/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

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  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
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  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023