Flight Etiquette

I don't fly very often - maybe once every other month at most, so though I'm not a "real" frequent flyer, I do fly often enough to witness to a lot of rude, discourteous behavior.  The majority of it stems from a lack of awareness of those around you and an attitude that rules are meant for everyone else but yourself.  The next time you fly, consider how your actions affect those around you.  If you don't care or feel that you're above everyone else, you're an asshole. 

I have so many peeves here that I'm breaking it up into sections.  The ones that put my life in danger are highlighted in red:

First and foremost:

  • Stewards and Stewardesses are not your servants.
    Actually, they are the ones in charge.  Imagine an indulgent parent - that's what they're like.  They'll cater to your whims, but at no time should you think you have the upper hand.  They do and they have your safely and the comfort of you AND YOUR FELLOW PASSENGERS in mind.


  • Do not play with your palm during takeoffs or landings.

    Don't play your MP3 player, do emails on your blackberry or decide to go change the settings on your phone.   I constantly have people tell me that they do it all the time and nothing bad happens.  What??  Does someone have to die before you get the message???  I see this kind of behavior over and over again!  And you know what?  I tell them to turn it off - Turn the fucking thing off!!  It's not going to kill you to be without a diversion for 10 minutes.  Grow up!  Maybe you can use the time to think!  Imagine that!  Actual introspective thought!


  • Don't do emails on your blackberry during the flight
    Another no-no.  I have a blackberry - it's an indispensable part of my job - and I agree with you - there's probably no harm in using it during a flight.  In fact, the people who object most to you using your cell phone or blackberry during a flight are the wireless providers.  As you fly 10,000 feet in the air, your signal is broadcast to multiple towers, taxing the transmission equipment.  But the rules are the rules.  The FAA prohibits the use of transmitting devices during a flight.   You aren't above the law and neither am I. 

    I wish that one day some corporate idiot would get arrested for using their blackberry. Their email logs could be used as evidence against them.  The resulting embarrassment would cause other companies to make the use of blackberries during a flight a ground for termination.


  • IF YOU CAN NOT DEAD-LIFT 50 POUNDS - DON'T GET AN EMERGENCY EXIT SEAT! You're putting my life in danger!
    You don't know how often I've seen elderly, frail looking men and women taking up emergency exit seats.  Once I was on a flight with a colleague who was in her mid to late fifties.  She asked for the emergency exit seat and when asked if she could meet all the requirements that go along with sitting in an emergency exit row, answered "Yes."   I knew that in an actual emergency she wouldn't be able to lift the door.  So I asked her why did she ask for an emergency exit row seat?  Could she actually lift 50 pounds?  "No," she replied.  "I just wanted the extra leg room."  Ugh!!!  I'm sorry - she should be forced to be the last off the plane in an actual emergency!

  • Don't recline your seat until you're instructed to do so.
    There's a reason you're asked to keep your seats upright.  It's called letting the person in the row behind you escape quickly during an emergency!

  • Don't recline your seat all the way back the moment you're allowed to!
    You're not in your fucking living-room recliner! There's someone sitting behind you whose knees you just compressed!  If you must recline, do so SLOWLY, and don't go all the way back!  Courtesy should be be extended to those around you and behind you!

  • If you're 6'3" or taller and want an emergency exit seat, arrive at the airport sooner!
    Guaranteed that if you go to the gate an hour and a half or more before take-off, you'll be able to score one.  If it's too much of a hassle for you to arrive earlier, tough.

  • Don't try to board the plane before your row is called.  Only assholes do that.
    Unless you personally just saved a life or are on your way to do so, you're not that important.

  • Plane boarding is not done on a first-come, first serve basis!
    Here's how it works:  First class and preferred customers board first.  Next comes rear boarding working to the front of the plane.  Some airlines are now boarding by zones.  Either way, there's no reason to crowd around the boarding area!  If you're concerned about getting overhead space for your luggage, check it!

  • When you get to your row, don't block the isle. 
    If you can, move into the row and get settled.  Or quickly store your overhead and wait until most people have boarded and then go about taking off your jacket and storing it.

  • The seat in front of you is not a foot-rest!

  • If you're using your laptop, type lightly.
    Once I had this jerk sitting behind me and I swear his keyboard must have been defective!  He was pounding on those keys as if his life depended on in!  My seat would bob with each keystroke.  That was during my less vocal days - now I will turn around and ask him not type so hard. 

  • Don't use your tray-table as a knee rest.
    You're pushing into the back of the person in front of you

  • Don't use your tray-table as a head-rest either.
    It's obnoxious to the person seated in front of you.  Each time you shift your weight, you yank their seat up and down.  And not only that - it's not safe!  If the plane jerks because of turbulence, you may hurt yourself!

  • Don't Hog the Armrests!

  • Your laptop doesn't impress anyone.  Don't take up more room than you're allotted.
    Most high school kids probably have a better one, and let's face it - if your job demands that you work every single second, even when flying, you're a sucker.  No one wants to be Gordon Gekko anymore (unless you're some Long Island hick whose idea of "making it" is having a lot of money and being an ass).  At best, you look like some slimy lawyer.


  • If your carry on does not fit fully under the seat in front of you, either store it overhead or check it.
    For your safety as well as mine, I don't want you or me to be tripping over your bag when the plane is on fire and I've got 30 seconds to get out alive! Believe me, if you're tripping over your own damn bag, don't expect anyone to come over and give you a hand.  That'll only result in two deaths.

  • Don't bring huge, obnoxious carry on luggage. 
    If you can pack more than two days worth of clothing it's too large to be carry on.

  • When the plane docks, don't immediately rush to get your overhead luggage.
    Where's the fire??  You can't exit until the rows in-front of you has.  Sit down and wait your turn!  Next time you're in row 1,233 and the plane docks, note how all the idiots around you immediately reach for their overhead luggage.  They're idiots because they now have to stand with their carry on for the next half hour until the rows in front of them clear out.  Do like William does and wait until the exit queue reaches three or four rows in front of you.  Then calmly get up, carefully open the overhead bin, and get your bag.

  • If you want to store your jacket in the overhead bin, do so AFTER everyone else has placed their bags.
    Or at least place it on top of or in-front your luggage.  If there isn't room for you to do so, your bags too fucking big to begin with!

  • If you find clothing occupying the overhead space where your luggage goes, feel free to GENTLY move it.
    Pretend that the article is yours and you paid $1,000 for it.  Fold it carefully and neatly when restoring it.  If there's no room for your bag because of the article of clothing, contact the Steward.  Your bag has the right of way.

  • When boarding, keep an eye on your shoulder bags!
    No - not because their going to stolen, but because you may hit someone with it!  Best best is it carry it in front of you.  And if you can't because your hands are full, you're probably bringing too much on-board!

General Rules of Courtesy and Behavior

  • Don't get an odorous meal at the terminal and then eat it at your seat!
    I'm sorry but your fillet-of-fish does not smell appealing to those around you.  I've been on flights where people have brought aboard entire Chinese take-out dinners!  I love Chinese food - but I wouldn't subject my fellow passengers to a the smells of a lo-mein dish at 20,000 feet.  In an enclosed cabin, it can be rather noxious!

  • Don't be a pig - clean up after yourself when you leave the plane.

  • Guys - lift the toilet seat when you pee.

  • If you're traveling with children, don't let them kick the seat in-front of them!
    If you think this might be an issue, before the kid starts, apologize to the passenger seated in front of you kid and let them know that they should tell you if your child begins to kick incessantly.  Look - all kids swing their legs, and I don't mind an occasional tap here and there.  It's the price you pay for flying coach.  But a kid who kicks throughout a flight sends a message:  their parents are assholes and the kid will grow up to be one too.  If you can't help being an asshole, at least save your children from the same fate. 

  • If you're a heavy smoker, wear freshly washed clothing on the plane.
    Believe it or not - if you smoke a pack or more a day, your clothing stinks!

  • Don't splash on collogue or perfumes before a flight.  Enough said.

  • Lower the volume on your walkman or MP3 player!
    Do the following test - take the headphones away from your ears and hold them at your chest.  If you can hear sounds coming from them, it's too fucking loud!  Maybe you want to drown out the airplane hum, but did you know that after a while the background rumble disappears from your perception?  Amazing stuff!  If you must drown out the background noise, spend a few bucks and  buy a noise-canceling headset.  They're ultra-cool!

  • Airplanes are not meeting rooms!
    First off, I may be a competitor meeting with the same client right after your presentation.  Not everyone in the industry looks the way you would expect (broaden your horizons, bub.  A professional is a person who gets paid for what they do, and a superior product and pitch beat out a Brooks Brothers suit every time!) One time I was on the Delta Shuttle and these two people were sitting behind me babbling on about their careers and what publishing company they're working for now and how hot peer-to-peer sharing applications are and how they're the future of commerce (this was back in Napster's hey-day)...  they probably belonged to the same camp that saw wireless push to cell phones a killer app in 2000...  These idiots - that's how they came across to me because anyone with common sense and an understanding of the technology would be hard pressed to see a real business plan here - droned on and on.  Lower your voices or shut up already! Thank the odds that the flight was only 45 minutes long!

Now comes my "DEAL WITH IT" section.  These are things that you can't control so there's no sense in getting upset about them.  Take a deep breath.  Relax and enjoy your flight.


  • Babies cry.  Deal with it.
    I hate it as much as the next guy.  That's life.  And Parents - I know that sometimes it's beyond your control, but a little apology to those around you won't hurt.  And by the way, now is the time to spoil your kid - do anything you can to keep your fellow passengers from giving your baby the evil eye.

  • Babies poop.  Deal with it.
    But  Parents - don't sit around.  Change your child as soon as possible!

  • Children talk.  Deal with it.
    But parents - teaching your children to talk in hushed tones in a theatre, museum, etc... goes a long way into showing your children to have respect for others.

  • Airplane food sucks.  Deal with it.
    You're not paying for a dining experience - you're paying for the flight.  Occasionally I have had a passable meal on a flight - especially when I've flown First Class.  But for the most part, if I'm lucky enough to get anything, it's a pre-made meal that feels as if it came out of a machine.  Don't complain.  You probably hunted around for the cheapest fair and now you want Emerill to cook for you??  Deal with it.  But if it really bothers you a letter - you know, the thing that you were taught to write in the 8th grade - to the airline is recommended.

    Airlines are profit driven and therefore the only way they've been able to raise profits and salaries while keeping price low is by cutting back on services.  Most consumers shop around for the least expensive flight to visit their aunt in Miami regardless of the meal service.  Note how well Jet Blue and SouthWest have done and they don't provide any meals!  What they do provide though, is good service.  Cheap or not, I'd rather pay a few bucks more to avoid an airline whose service sucks.


  • Your fellow passengers need to pee.  Deal with it.
    But unless you're in the isle seat, don't order $5 beer after beer and then have to pee every ten minutes. 

  • Delays happen.  Deal with it.
    The airline don't want delays - they cost money.  When a delay occurs, calmly asses your options and deal with it.  Note that if your flight is cancelled you can ask for a full refund!  Don't settle on a flight certificate unless that's appealing to you.

  • Turbulence happens.  Deal with it.
    And yes - everyone is looking at the steward to see if they're nervous.  You're not the only clever person who thought of it.

  • It's courteous to swap your seat to allow a family to sit together.
    Now this one got some controversy when I mentioned to to my fellow travelers.  Some people don't see the reason why a family can't sit apart for a flight.  Others agreed with me.  Listen - the best rule of thumb is if you want to sit with your husband or wife, switch with someone is a like-seat.  In other words, if you have a middle seat, switch with some-else who does.

Now airlines also need to learn about courtesy.  I've had my share of issues, delays, poor service, etc..  where because I'm not a loudmouth, I didn't get satisfaction. 

I work daily with corporate clients - some of whom bring the company I work for millions of dollars, some who barely bring us enough business to justify the relationship.   In either case, I don't discriminate.  Certainly the million dollar client get special privileges, but all in all, I treat each client the same and seek to offer the same level of support and commitment to all.  It's unfortunate that we live and are indoctrinated into a society where the squeaky wheel gets oiled.  I grew up thinking otherwise, and have over the years missed opportunities because I naively thought that just doing good work was enough.  

Airlines need to realize that many people out there are looking for the lowest cost provider, but at the same time, just because it's all they can afford doesn't warrant them receiving any less service than a regular flyer. With one airline alone, I've logged over 100,000 miles.  That may not seem like a lot to many in the industry, but when you think that 99% of humanity has never ever traveled that much, it means something.   

What will I get in return?  Actually a pretty nice bonus - a free trip.  But what would be very much appreciated is something as small as giving me priority boarding for being a loyal customer.  It wouldn't cost them any extra and it would make me very happy.   Or how about automatically giving me a bulkhead seat?  Maybe a free cocktail ever time I fly.  This would let others around me know that it's worth being a loyal customer with airline X.  But once I use up my free round trip (if I do so before the miles expire) I'll no longer have an incentive to fly the airline again.  I got my prize but since my ongoing loyalty isn't really valued, why should I continue with them?

So take my advice, reward your regular clients.  Give them a perk that makes them feel wanted. Learn from Amazon.com.  I've been a loyal customer with them since their inception.  They actually note that and recently when I forgot to enter a coupon code, the representative on the phone gave me free shipping on my whole order because I've been a long time regular and loyal customer.  You don't know how good that made me feel towards Amazon and how many of my friends have herd this story.

Also a little advice for those who are afraid of flying - never take a sleeping pill.   Think of it this way - if something does go wrong you're going to want to be as alert as possible.  This isn't the time to be sleepy or groggy!

Lastly I love flying.  It's still a miracle to me.  The principles of flight don't awe me - the utilization of them does.  Next time you board a plane, think of how long the same trip would have taken if planes didn't exist. It's a wondrous time to be alive!