Airplane Etiquette: 15 Passenger Do’s and Don’ts When Flying

15 Annoying Things Passengers Do on Planes (& What You Should Do Instead)

A crash course on plane etiquette.

Stuck in a plane with hundreds of strangers for hours? It’s no surprise that airplane etiquette can get a little bumpy. From inconsiderate seat reclining to disruptive chatter, certain passenger behaviours can turn the beginning of a dream vacation into a stressful slog. But fear not, fellow travellers! We’ll not only shed light on these in-flight irritations but also offer up actionable tips to navigate a more graceful flight and make your next trip a breeze. So, buckle up and get ready to learn how to deal with annoying plane habits — and maybe avoid committing one yourself!

Also read: 12 Things You Should Never Wear on a Plane 

Airplane etiquette: what you should and should not do

1. Playing games or music without headphones

Airplane etiquette: Playing games

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Have you ever been so captivated by reading a book or watching a movie only to have that peaceful moment shattered by someone’s airplane game noises? Yeah, us too. Sharing your audio entertainment with the entire cabin is a surefire way to annoy fellow passengers. It disrupts people trying to sleep, work, or simply relax and enjoy the flight.

What to do instead: Luckily, the solution is simple: pack a good pair of headphones! These will not only keep your neighbours happy but also allow you to enjoy and fully immerse yourself in your chosen audio world. It’s a win-win situation!

2. Pulling back the seat in front of you when standing up or sitting down

Airplane etiquette: Pulling back the seat in front of you

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Ah, the age-old plane seat dilemma. Reaching for your overhead compartment or squeezing into your seat shouldn’t feel like a game of Tetris, and it shouldn’t cause inconvenience to anyone! While some passengers reflexively yank the seat in front of them back, a little courtesy goes a long way. You never know, the passenger in front of you may be sleeping, suffering from a headache, or trying to get comfortable as they may have flight jitters.

What to do instead: Try to politely ask the person in front to momentarily push their seat forward if you’re really having a hard time passing through. A quick “Excuse me, do you mind moving your seat forward a bit?” works wonders and dodges possible co-passenger disputes. Remember, they’ll likely need the same courtesy when they exit their seat too.

3. Asking another passenger to switch seats with you

Airplane etiquette: Asking to switch seats

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We’ve all been there: separated from your travel companion or stuck in a less-than-ideal seat. Asking a fellow passenger to switch seats is one of the annoying plane habits that disrupts their chosen spot. Not to mention, you inadvertently put them in an awkward situation if they refuse. Remember, you both paid for a seat on the plane anyway.

What to do instead: Try to address the issue before boarding. Check if the airline can help during check-in or politely ask an agent if there are any open seats you could move to. If all else fails, a friendly request to the passenger next to you might work, but always be prepared to accept a “no” gracefully and offer something in return, as a form of courtesy.

Also read: Meet the Thai Frequent Flyer Who Recreates Airplane Food From Home

4. Taking your shoes or socks off

Airplane etiquette: Taking your shoes off

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Long-haul flights are dreadful, and while the urge to kick off your shoes and wiggle your toes might be strong, try to resist by all means! Airplane floors see a lot of foot traffic, and hygiene can be questionable. Not only could you be exposing yourself to bacteria and fungi, but freed feet can also be an unpleasant sight (and smell!) for fellow passengers.

What to do instead: Opt for cosy socks, sandals, or slippers to make yourself more comfortable during a flight. Save the barefoot bliss for when you reach your destination. *wink*

5. Being too chatty with a fellow passenger

Airplane etiquette: Being too chatty

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We get it — sometimes, plane rides can feel like a forced social interaction, especially if you’re travelling alone. And while striking up a conversation can be fun, understand that not everyone is in the mood for a chat. Being too chatty when your seatmate clearly wants peace and quiet is indeed one of the most annoying plane habits that a lot of people commit.

What to do instead: Pay attention to body language and closed-off responses to maintain good airplane etiquette. If someone seems lost in a book they’re reading or wearing headphones, it’s a pretty obvious sign that they prefer some peace and quiet. However, a friendly smile or a simple greeting can never hurt!

6. Claiming too much space in the overhead bin

Claiming too much overhead bin space

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Overhead bin space is precious real estate on a plane, and there’s nothing worse than witnessing a suitcase Tetris fail that blocks everyone else. Everybody paid for a seat on the plane and a spot in the overhead bin to place their stuff, so it’s common courtesy to share it with fellow passengers.

What to do instead: To avoid becoming everyone’s arch-nemesis, be strategic with your packing. Stick to a carry-on bag that fits comfortably in the overhead bin and avoid overstuffing it. If you’re bringing extra baggage such as a laptop bag or a purse, consider placing them on your lap or under the seat in front of you to maximise overhead space for everyone.

Also read: 14 Tips & Tricks for Surviving Long-Haul Flights

7. Rushing up from the back to the front of the plane upon landing so you can deplane first

Rushing up to the front of the plane

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Picture this: the plane touches down and suddenly, everyone’s an Olympic sprinter? The mad dash to the front of the plane to disembark first is a common recipe for frustration among passengers. In reality, it rarely makes a significant difference in how quickly you can actually exit the plane. If anything, it even causes clogging at the front of the plane, making it hard for fellow passengers to retrieve their stuff from the overhead cabin.

What to do instead: Channel your inner zen — relax and wait for your row’s turn to exit the plane. After all, everyone’s bound to disembark anyway!

8. Not understanding the dynamics of the armrest pecking order

Amrest pecking order

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The armrest: a constant battleground for tired elbows and a source of silent struggle for most passengers. Understanding the unspoken armrest rule can be tricky, especially for new flyers, but with a little information like this one, you’re one less misstep away from causing inconvenience to a fellow passenger.

What to do instead: Understand the general rule: the aisle seat gets one armrest and extended legroom, the middle seat gets two armrests, and the widow seat gets one armrest and a window.

9. Walking down the aisle with a backpack on then swivelling sideways

Walking down the aisle with a backpack

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Don’t get us wrong, this is not a direct attack on anyone who loves backpacking! Backpacks are a great travel companion, but navigating a crowded plane aisle with one can be tricky and bothersome to your fellow passengers. The “backpack ballerina” move is when someone walks with a backpack on and then swivels sideways to squeeze past others, smacking other passengers’ faces.

What to do instead: Be considerate! Take off your backpack upon boarding the plane and hold it in front of you as you navigate the aisle. This simple step keeps the flow smooth and avoids knocking elbows or snagging people’s headphones — or worse, faces!

Also read: Real-Life Flight Attendants Share Their Top Pet Peeves About Fliers

10. Coughing or sneezing without covering

Coughing or sneezing without covering

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Uncovered cough or sneeze = flight catastrophe. Airplane air is recycled air, which means a cough or sneeze without cover becomes a shared experience for everyone nearby.

What to do instead: Practice proper airplane etiquette and always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue with you, the crook of your elbow is the next best option. A simple act like this drastically reduces the spread of germs and keeps your fellow passengers healthy (and happy!) throughout the flight.

11. Tapping too aggressively on the screen in front of your seat

Tapping the screen too aggressively

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Those touchscreens on the back of airplane seats are great for entertainment, but the tapping can get out of control. Aggressive tapping on the screen can be a real annoyance for the passenger in front of you, especially if they’re trying to sleep or focus on work. Would you want the person sitting behind you to do the same?

What to do instead: Keep your taps light and controlled. They’re touchscreens, after all. Remember, a little screen etiquette goes a long way towards a peaceful flight for everyone on the airplane.

12. Standing up when the seatbelt sign is on

Standing up when the seatbelt sign is on

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The seatbelt sign is on for a reason, so it’s good airplane etiquette to keep an eye on it during your flight. It’s a crucial safety measure for takeoff, landing, and unexpected turbulence. Disregarding this sign and attempting to stand up or retrieve your stuff when the sign is clearly on puts you and other passengers on board at risk.

What to do instead: Wait patiently until the sign is switched off, and trust the cabin crew’s judgement when it comes to ensuring a safe and smooth flight for everyone on board.

13. Not watching your kids during the flight

Not watching kids during the flight

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Kids bring a special kind of energy to flights, but an unrestrained little one can quickly become a source of annoyance for fellow passengers. Some children can be prone to throwing tantrums, kicking the seat in front, picking on other passengers’ hair or face — and the list goes on. And besides, the plane is not childproof, and there are many things kids can injure themselves on when left unattended.

What to do instead: To avoid meltdowns and keep the peace during the flight, come prepared with activities and snacks to keep your kid entertained. Take advantage of the breaks that the flight attendants offer to stretch little legs, and be mindful of their noise levels and tantrums. But remember that sometimes, kids making noise or crying is unavoidable — they’re kids after all.

Also read: 8 Common Reasons for Flight Delays

14. Reclining your seat all the way back

Reclining your seat all the way back

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The airplane seat decline: a constant source of endless debate. While reclining can be comfortable, it can also feel like an intrusion to the passenger behind you. It’s totally okay to take advantage of this feature but always keep in mind that there are also other passengers sharing the space with you.

What to do instead: Recline at a reasonable amount, avoiding smooshing the person in your back. If you’re not quite sure, a quick “Excuse me, do you mind if I recline a bit?” can go a long way. A little consideration makes a big difference in everyone’s comfort level throughout the entire flight.

15. Clipping your nails

Clipping your nails

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Clipping your nails on a plane is a major faux pas. Imagine tiny nail clippings flying through the air and potentially landing on a fellow passenger’s food try — yikes! Not only is it unsanitary, but the clicking sound of the clippers can also be disruptive for those trying to get comfortable.

What to do instead: It’s only good airplane etiquette to keep such habits for when you’re in private. Save the nail grooming before or after your flight, and enjoy a peaceful journey for yourself and everyone around you.

Also read: 10 Tips for Getting Cheap Flights in the Summer

Riding a plane can be a fantastic way to explore the world, but inconsiderate behaviour can quickly turn a smooth journey into a bumpy ride. By following simple airplane etiquette and being mindful of your fellow passengers, you can contribute to a happier and more peaceful flying experience for everyone on board. So, pack up your patience, a little courteous cheer, and get ready to soar through the skies with confidence! You’ll be a pro in airplane etiquette in no time, making every flight a comfortable adventure for everyone.

About Author

Patricia Caleon
Patricia Caleon

Patricia is a simple girl who likes to express herself through pictures and words. Not much for talking; writing and taking pictures have always been her way of telling people of her stories and adventures. On a normal day, you'll probably see her reading a good book in one hand and a cup of coffee in another.