Airplane etiquette. It must be discussed. The days when people got dressed up for a flight are history. Then again, so are amenities like meals and legroom. The Golden Age of Air Travel is gone and seems to have taken civility with it.
As airlines continue to minimize comfort to maximize their profits, customers have had to resort to finding ways to endure their flights. But abandoning good manners should not be one.
Etiquette is the glue that holds a civilization together. In a cramped steel tube, 35,000 feet above land, it’s even more important. We’re all in it together, breathing the same recirculated air and wishing we were rich enough to be in first class. So let’s play nice and make the best of it!
Airplane Etiquette: Seats
Window Seat: Many people prefer to sit by a window, tiny as it is. Sleeping is a little easier, because you have something to lean against. No one bothers you and there is a smidgen of extra space between the armrest and wall. Expedia found that 55 percent of passengers choose a window seat. If you’re in that group, listen up:
- Do not–repeat, NOT–book a window seat if you have a weak bladder. Asking seat mates to unbuckle and shuffle in and out of the aisle every 30 minutes is rude.
- You are in charge of the window shade. Generally, you decide if it should be up or down. But airplane etiquette dictates that you keep it down if it’s too bright for others to use their devices or watch movies. Ask them to let you know…then comply.
- If there is something special to see outside (Northern lights, UFOs) lean back so your neighbors can see, too. Maybe even offer to take a photo with their device. We don’t expect a running narrative, just a little courtesy.
- Try to time your bathroom breaks with the others in your row. You need to get up and move anyway, so take advantage of the empty seats next to you. Don’t wait until they’ve returned and settled back in to announce that now it’s your turn.
Aisle Seat: About half of us–including me–like an aisle seat. Yes, it means getting up more often, but it also means not having to disturb others. You can actually follow the advice to stay hydrated, because it’s easy to get to the WC. Aisle-seaters have responsibilities, too:
- If the middle or window seat folks want to get out, you have to stand. As many times as necessary. Or help them get past you. For a long-haul flight, let your neighbors know that it’s okay to tap you or speak to you if you’re sleeping, whichever you prefer.
- Help your seat mates pass their trash to the flight attendant. With rows so close together, the window person can have a hard time reaching over without smacking someone. Same goes for passing from the flight attendant to your neighbors.
- Keep your legs, feet, and arms out of the aisle. It’s tempting to want to stretch into that space, but it’s “public” territory. Flight attendants use the aisle constantly. Those carts are heavy and can injure you. Other people need to get up and walk around, too.
Middle Seat: Oh, you poor thing! A survey by Global Strategy Group found that 56 percent of people would rather be stuck in traffic or go on a blind date than be in a middle seat. One in five Americans would be willing to stay overnight nearby in order to get an aisle seat the next morning, rather than take a middle seat! For good reason: No privacy from either side; a greater chance of having a non-stop talker next to you; having to let the window person out without being able to maneuver very well; and of course, dealing with armrest hogs. Since no one purposely chooses a middle seat, here are some tips to help you make the best of the situation.
Very few rules apply to middle seaters:
- YOU GET THE ARMRESTS! Claim them early on. They are poor compensation for your misery, but all the travel experts agree that you’re entitled. Of course, if you’re traveling with someone, you can work out an agreement about sharing.
- You still have to watch your space…no mansplaying, reading a full-size newspaper, or spreading out paperwork. (No one else should be doing these, either.)
- When the window person wants to get out, you have to coordinate with the aisle seater, maybe even notify them that it’s time to get up.
To Recline or Not to Recline?
Now we enter a sensitive area of discussion. Is it okay to recline your seat? It depends. For red-eye flights, absolutely. Other times? Now it gets a little trickier…unless you fly on Spirit Airlines or Allegiant Air. None of their seats recline.
Passengers seem to either feel it’s their constitutional right to recline, or that it’s the pinnacle of thoughtless behavior. Either way, here are a few guidelines:
- If you like to recline, take a second to look who’s behind you. If it’s someone tall or large, you are going to restrict his or her movement, just so you have two extra inches.
- Never simply recline without giving warning. Look back first. Even better, ask the person behind you if it will bother them. Usually it’s okay, but if they say no, be courteous.
- Sit up to eat. Remember that your seat back is connected to someone else’s tray table. This gives the other person a break; it’s easier for them to get out or to eat their own meal.
- If you are a tall or large person, consider paying more for an exit row seat or Premium Economy. At the very least, look at the flight’s seating plan on SeatGuru.com.
- Bad back? If you know you have to recline for medical reasons, be upfront about it. Explain the situation to the passenger behind you before take-off. They may be uncomfortable, but it’s still better than sitting next to a crying baby.
The Telegraph did an interesting survey about airplane etiquette: The best way to climb over a sleeping plane neighbour (if you dare) It covers everything from removing shoes and socks (Ewww!) to dealing with snoring seat mates.
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