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5 Airplane Etiquette Rules You Might Be Breaking

By Marissa Kozma
Read time: 5 minutes

Flying can be stressful, but the experience can be a whole lot worse if you have a seatmate or fellow passenger who doesn’t abide by the unwritten rules of air travel etiquette. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 2,031 incidents of unruly passengers in 2023 alone. Want to ensure a smooth flight? Start by making sure you’re not committing these airplane travel etiquette faux pas. 

Don’t Cut to the Front of the Security Line

Travelers in airport security line
Credit: AscentXmedia/ E+ via Getty Image

Unless you are mere minutes from missing your flight, don’t be the person who cuts to the front of the line and aggravates the many other travelers who have been patiently waiting for their turn to go through the metal detectors and have their belongings screened by TSA. If you’re concerned about the clock, politely tell a security officer so they can assist you in getting to the front of the line. Or better yet, enroll in a Trusted Traveler Program like TSA PreCheck before your next flight, which often has shorter lines and doesn’t require passengers to remove their shoes and laptops.

Don’t Ask Someone to Watch Your Stuff

Travelers with baggage at airport
Credit: Pyrosky/ E+ via Getty Images 

Since it is unlawful to leave your bags unsupervised in an airport due to safety concerns, many passengers traveling alone may ask strangers to look after their belongings while they run to grab food or use the restroom. Although it might seem like an easy ask, you also are inconveniencing a fellow passenger who may not like being responsible for your items, or they may also want to grab food or run to the restroom before boarding. Bring your items with you, if you can, or ask airport personnel for assistance if you are having difficulties doing so.

Don’t Ask to Switch Seats

Couple talking to one another across airplane aisle
Credit: izusek/ E+ via Getty Images 

It happens — sometimes you don’t get seated with your partner, friend, or family member. Unless you’re a parent separated from your child, though, try to avoid asking to switch seats unless absolutely necessary. Before booking your flight, you can also consult this helpful dashboard from the Department of Transportation (DOT) to see which airlines guarantee adjacent seats for children 13 or under and an accompanying adult (at no additional cost).

But there are other instances in which you may be tempted to ask to switch seats. For example, you may be looking to give some emotional support to your travel companion with a fear of flying. Or, if it is a particularly long flight (more than four hours), you might not want to be separated from your partner. If you still want to try asking, make sure that your offer is fair (i.e., a window seat for a window seat) or more generous (a seat in the back by the restroom for a seat in the front). And if the other passenger politely declines, respect their decision — after all, they’ve likely chosen their preferred seat for specific reasons, too.

Don’t Be an Inconsiderate Seatmate 

Zoomed-in image of person watching show on smartphone in airplane seat
Credit: AJ_Watt/ iStock via Getty Images 

When you’ve finally made it to your seat and settled in for the flight, beware of the following travel etiquette faux pas that might irritate your fellow passengers: 

Not Using Headphones: Forgot your headphones at home? Many airlines offer reusable earbuds during the flight for a small fee, or you can ask a flight attendant for a pair. Don’t be the person who plays their music out loud or lets their children play shows at high volumes. This is especially rude if people are trying to sleep on an early morning or overnight flight. 

Reclining Your Seat: Seat reclining is always a contested topic, particularly with cramped economy cabins these days. However, airplane seats are (typically) designed to recline, so it’s within the rights of each passenger to do so. However, according to travel experts, politeness and consideration go a long way. Take a look behind you to see if the passenger has a drink or laptop on their tray table before you recline, or you may wish to give them a heads up that you plan to do so. Keep in mind: Some passengers (particularly taller ones) may not appreciate your seat encroaching on their space, so try to limit your recline if possible. 

Personal Grooming: This one should be a given, but personal grooming is a private routine for the home or hotel. Even if the flight is long, doing your makeup or nails on a flight isn’t hygienic, and brushing your hair or flossing your teeth will definitely irk your neighboring passengers. Another way to gross out your fellow passengers is by removing your shoes or socks mid-flight. The plane floor isn’t exactly hygienic, and your feet will likely smell after a long day of travel. 

Not Sharing the Armrests: Airplane armrests are another hotly debated topic. While there aren’t set rules on which passengers — window, middle, aisle — have the right to lean on each armrest, experts suggest being considerate toward the passenger in the dreaded middle seat. Window and aisle passengers aren’t boxed in on both sides, so it’s a good idea to allow the passenger in the middle seat use of both armrests. If you wish to use the armrest, consider striking up a friendly conversation with your seatmate first — they may be more willing to sacrifice some of their space if you make the effort.  

Don’t Be Rude to Airport Personnel 

Gate agent handing passenger ticket at airport
Credit: izusek/ E+ via Getty Images

Lastly, always show respect for the people working to ensure you get to your travel destination safely and comfortably. That’s everyone from the flight attendants who serve you snacks and comply with important safety procedures to the check-in agents who  assist with luggage and the airport employees who answer your questions — and still wear a smile each day. Airport and airline employees are often overworked and underappreciated, so a little kindness goes a long way. 

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