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Flight Etiquette: That’s Just Plane Rude

I once spent 5 hours of a trans-Atlantic flight stuck beside a child who spilt food over me, repeatedly asked how the TV worked and screamed because the cabin crew wouldn’t bring him the ‘big’ earphones.

He was supposed to be sitting in the row across from me with his family but his mum moved him to the empty seat beside me ‘as punishment’! Not sure what I did to deserve it but at least the parents had a nice quiet flight.

Having repeated the story to a few friends, it appears that passengers from hell are becoming more and more frequent on flights with no one really sure what’s acceptable anymore.

Despite being around for over 100 years, it appears no one has come up with any hard and fast rules for flight etiquette.

How many of us have had to climb over a passenger because they don’t feel like getting up? Is it okay to bring a screaming baby on a long haul flight? And who is the rightful owner of the middle armrest?

More often than not, airline staff are left to bear the brunt of passengers who clash horns when it comes to the rights and wrongs of flying.

While I don’t pretend to know all the answers for well behaved travel, here are some guidelines for (relatively) stress free travel which everyone should consider:

  1. Always check behind you before you recline your chair. You shouldn’t need to ask permission as chairs are made to recline, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure your not about to scald someone with hot coffee.
  2. If the person next to you is bigger than you, surrender the armrest. They need the space more than you and if they are bigger than you, they will probably win anyway.
  3. Bring your own noise reduction headphones and music. Voila; crying babies or loud passengers are suddenly not an issue anymore.
  4. If you are not lucky enough to get an aisle seat and need to get up for whatever reason, politely ask the person if they could please let you out. Climbing over someone is neither graceful nor safe so don’t be afraid to move them.
  5. Alternatively, if you are in an aisle seat, be prepared to let people out. If you plan to take sleeping tablets, suggest swapping seats with the person at the window if they think they will be moving about.
  6. If you are a family or group who want to sit together; organize it with the airline in advance. It’s not fair to expect people to move seats which they have selected (and in some cases paid extra for), to accommodate what you want.
  7. Don’t bring more than the allowed carry-on luggage. You’re taking up overhead locker space which doesn’t belong to you and you will probably end up bashing someone with your extra baggage as you maneuver your way down the narrow aisle.

Ultimately, it’s always going to be hard to keep everyone happy when you have so many people in a confined space. But basic manners and consideration is not beyond anyone’s reach and shouldn’t be impossible to ensure a smooth flight. If you treat others as you yourself would want to be treated, flying would be a much happier experience. But if you see me on an airplane; please don’t put your child beside me as punishment – I really don’t deserve it.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Sydney
Thursday, July 19, 2012
See more Tips from
Niamh Walsh