Don't Wing It: Use These 15 Airplane Etiquette Tips Every Time You Fly

Prepare for takeoff with these jet set manners for airplanes. All it takes is a few basic rules to help you avoid being rude on any flight.

Published August 29, 2023

You've got your carry-on bag ready to go, your bag checked, and your boarding pass in hand. It's time to catch a flight. But do you know what you shouldn't forget to pack? Manners.

Even onboard an aircraft at 30,000 feet, etiquette is important. Are you committing any of these airplane etiquette faux pas, or are you a master of the rules as a frequent flyer? 

Avoid the PJs and Wear Real Pants, Please

We all want to be comfy when we fly, no ifs, ands, or buts. But when it comes to getting dressed for your flight, skip the pajamas. Leggings or nice joggers are great, but the flannel bottoms can stay at home or packed away in your suitcase.

Quick Tip

The same goes for slippers — keep those in the suitcase. Opt for some comfortable slides, sneakers, or sandals instead.

Keep Your Shoes On!

It can be tempting to kick your shoes off, especially if you've had a long day of travel or you're gearing up for vacation mode. But no matter how much those dogs might be barking, you should keep them in the doghouse. No one wants to sip a ginger ale or nosh on an airplane snack while your toes are wiggling away within arm's reach. 

Mind Your Personal Space, Please

There are few places where personal space is more important, and, well, personal, than when you're in a metal tube flying through the sky. Emotions are running high, and most of the passengers are looking to keep to themselves and not have to battle for space. 

Need to Know

Keep your elbows tucked to your side and don't drape your hair or any clothing over the back of your seat. Not only will you most likely block another person's in-flight entertainment, but you could wind up knocking over their food or drink.

Know the Armrest Rule

There's an unspoken but essential rule of etiquette when it comes to the armrest on the airplane. If there are only two seats on an airplane, then the inside armrest belongs to the window seat, and the outside armrest belongs to the aisle seat. The shared armrest in the middle is a mutual space; think of it as a fence. And good fences make good neighbors.

If your seats are three across, then the rules for the middle are a bit different. For the window, the inside armrest is still theirs, and the outside armrest is still the domain of the aisle seat.

But as for the middle seat? They get both of their armrests. After all, there's no other place for them to go or to lean. 

Leave Pungent Foods on the Ground

Go ahead and bring a sandwich, salad, or wrap on the plane with you. No one wants to feel their tummy rumbling when they're so far away from food that's not snack-size.

Skip the tuna fish sandwich or salmon on your salad, though, unless you want to be given the stink eye for your smelly food choice. Whether you have it with onion or not, just beware of your breath too. 

Use Your Headphones

You're clicking away on your laptop, firing off one last message on your phone, and settling in for the flight.

Don't forget your headphones! No one wants to listen to your podcast choice or your perfectly crafted playlist anymore than you want to listen to theirs. It's no longer be kind, rewind. The new rule is everyone knows, always use your headphones

Don't Argue With the Crew — Ever

Don't get in the way of the crew, and don't disobey any direct orders, from the captain to the flight attendants. In fact, flight attendants are primarily there for your safety, not your service. From medical episodes to rough turbulence to everything in between, their first job is safety. Everything else is snacks and soda. 

Wait Your Turn

If you're going to be cutting your time close with a layover, kindly let a flight attendant know. I've been in situations where they hold passengers so that those who have only a few minutes to catch their connecting flights can exit first. But if you don't meet that criteria, wait your turn when it comes to retrieving any luggage from the bulkhead and exiting the plane. 

Be Aware of Your Fellow Passengers' Body Language

If you really want to avoid rudeness on airplanes, be courteous and mindful of other passenger's behavior. If your seatmate has their eyes down and headphones on, they're probably not eager to strike up a conversation or make a new friend. Reading those cues is important to an enjoyable flight for everyone. Some people are more naturally introverted and aren't up for chatter while they're flying. 

Skip the Perfume & Cologne, But Not the Deodorant

Just like with a tuna fish sandwich wafting through the cabin, a heavy-handed spritz of perfume or cologne will quickly introduce itself to every last passenger on your flight. If you want to apply some, do so after the plane has landed and you're outside of the airport. Never apply any while on the plane.

On the other hand, definitely take the precaution and apply deodorant before boarding. 

The Airplane Isn't Your Office

In this day and age, there's Wi-Fi everywhere, including on the plane. Sure, you have emails to send, messages that need a timely reply, reports to make, or even articles to write. But your tray table is where you need to limit your desk.

Don't take over your seatmate's tray table, and no matter how exhausting the task, keep the sighing, muttering, and zealous typing to a minimum. 

Know When and How to Recline Your Seat

Technically, you should always check with the passenger behind you and verbally ask if they mind should you recline your seat. If you're on the shy side or this feels like a big ask, there are ways to recline your seat respectfully and without ruffling feathers.

Take a quick glance behind you first. Do they have their tray table down? Are they eating or drinking? Is there a laptop or something else on the tray that would be crushed by the recline? If you can do so without disrupting their flight, feel free to recline. 

Quick Tip

Absolutely never recline during meal or beverage service; wait until those come to an end first. You don't want to cover another passenger in food or drink. 

Skip the Clapping

It can be tempting to clap; you're happy to be on the ground after a successful flight, but it's just another day at the office for the flight crew. Instead, thank the flight attendants and pilots personally for an enjoyable flight, a smooth flight, and a good landing. Besides, the pilot can't hear your applause. 

Quick Tip

If you want to thank the crew for their work, bring a bag of wrapped candies or other treats you can offer instead. No one's day was ever ruined because a kind person offered them some chocolate. 

Keep the Personal Grooming to the Bathroom

It can be tempting to take this downtime to touch up your nails with a little filing, add some nail polish, perhaps trim your beard, or style your hair — but the airplane isn't your salon or your bathroom. But that's the exact place you should be taking care of your grooming: the bathroom.

Perhaps not the lav on the plane, since there are only so many bathrooms for the aircraft, but you can take care of your touch-ups on the ground or when you land. In the bathrooms, of course. 

Be an Adult: Don't Get Upset Over a Crying Baby

Babies aren't going to follow the standard airplane etiquette rules, and from time to time, you may encounter a crying baby on a flight. Don't be the airplane passenger that yells about a crying baby like this angry Southwest passenger. Instead, you can put on some headphones or just do your best to ignore the noise without adding to the problem. 

Fly With Finesse

The next time you take off to travel via the friendly skies, pack these etiquette tips with you. With these tips and tricks in your pocket, you're not winging it anymore. You're practically a first-class etiquette passenger now that you know how to navigate everything from small talk to armrests. 

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Don't Wing It: Use These 15 Airplane Etiquette Tips Every Time You Fly