Airplane Etiquette: 9 Things NOT to Do on a Plane

Jessie Beck

From crowding boarding gates to never quite knowing when to wear shoes, air travel has a way of bringing out the worst in people. But it doesn’t have to. Here’s what NOT to do on a plane (and what TO DO instead).

Sometimes, it’s not the airlines, weather, or sleepless flight attendants that make air travel irritating. It’s other passengers.

But are you that annoying passenger? Would you even know you it if you were?

From crowding boarding gates to never quite knowing when to wear shoes, air travel has a way of bringing out the worst in people. But it doesn’t have to. To make sure you’re not an obnoxious airline passenger, follow airplane etiquette and never ever do the following on an airplane or at an airport:

Don’t Crowd the Boarding Gate

We’ve all seen it: as soon as boarding begins, a hoard of passengers swarms the gate — even though their boarding zone hasn’t been called yet. These anxious-to-board travelers, known as gate lice (sounds gross, right?), aren’t just annoying. They can slow down boarding for handicap individuals or travelers with young children (the real priority boarders, y’all), block other gates, and create confusion for passengers whose group actually has been called.

Instead: Wait until your boarding group is called

Resist mob mentality. Stay put, remove your headphones, and pay attention. If you need to get closer to the gate (for example, to hear announcements better) try to move to a closer seat instead of standing directly in front of the gate. 

If you’re really anxious to board and lay claim to an overhead bin, pay the extra fee for priority boarding.

Don’t Hog the Overhead Luggage Bin

The flying faux-pas that irritates my inner OCD the most: passengers using more than their fair share of the overhead compartment by stowing extra bags or jackets in it — before everyone else has had a chance to put their carry ons away. 

The worst? Travelers who put their jacket in a completely empty overhead luggage bin, then CLOSE IT. “Excuse me, sir, but you really didn’t think there wasn’t any room left for a full backpack UNDER YOUR LIGHTWEIGHT DOWN JACKET?”

Almost every flight is already strapped for overhead bin space, so don’t be that jerk who hogs it and forces others to gate check their luggage. 

Instead: Put your carry on up before you sit, then wait to see if there’s extra room

Just as you would wait to see if that middle seat is actually occupied before you flip up the armrest and stretch out, wait until everyone has boarded and stowed their carry on in the luggage bin before you place any extra items (jacket, personal item, duty free bags) above you.

Also, whether you travel with a suitcase, duffle, or backpack, put it narrow end or wheels-first. Whatever you do, just don’t be this guy.

Don’t Walk Around (or Do Anything) Barefoot

If you’ve ever seen Instagram account, Passenger Shaming, which documents and re-grams poor airplane passenger behavior, you may have noticed a trend. A scary number of the posts and stories feature bare feet. Some of the foot-fails grossing out fellow passengers include:

  • Going into the bathroom barefoot (omg, you know there’s pee on the floor from some dude trying to relieve himself during turbulence)
  • Putting bare feet on the armrest in front of you
  • Putting bare feet on the headrest in front of you
  • Putting bare feet in the aisle
  • Putting bare feet anywhere, actually

The internet has spoken: no one wants to see your naked feet on a plane — especially if they’re anywhere other than under the seat in front of you.

Instead: Wear socks at your seat and shoes when walking around the cabin

If you want to take your shoes off at your seat, travel with a good pair of socks to keep your feet covered and warm in cold cabins. For quick runs to the bathroom, wear shoes that are easy to slip on/off, like a slip on sneaker, mule, or sandal.

Don’t Change a Baby’s Diaper on Your Tray Table

Traveling with kids is hard, and dealing with a poo-mergency mid-flight also requires a feat of parent ingenuity. Just, please don’t change your baby’s diaper on a tray table — where future passengers (and yourself) will eat.

Tray tables don’t get scrubbed between flights, and are said to be even dirtier than a toilet seat. Don’t add more poo to the problem by changing your baby’s diaper on your tray table. 

Instead: Go to the bathroom or ask a flight attendant for help

There should be changing tables in the bathrooms. On some planes, there aren’t changing tables in every bathroom, so ask a flight attendant if you need help finding it. If the plane doesn’t have any, they can also help you find a place to take care of a dirty diaper. For more, read these tips on the blog, Traveling Mom.

Don’t Encroach on Other Passenger’s Space

We get it. If you’re in economy, you don’t have a lot of room. But that doesn’t mean you can take room away from other passengers. This means no manspreading and taking up other passengers’ foot space. No hogging of armrests. No flipping hair over the back of the seat.

And no kicking or pulling on the seat in front of you (like when you’re using it for support to stand up). Remember: there’s a person in it. They don’t want you shaking it around while they try to take an already uncomfortable nap.

Instead: Be mindful of other people’s space

Stay in your space (unless you know the person) and be mindful of those around you. If you need extra support when you’re standing up, use your own seat.

Also, most people agree the middle seat should get the armrests. So if you’re in the window or aisle, give it up.

Don’t Be Rude (or Gross) to Your Flight Attendant

Yes, they give you drinks, snacks, and helpful in-flight updates, but a flight attendant’s main responsibility is keeping you and all your fellow passengers safe. While almost every flight attendant has an example of an extreme situation where passengers were rude, gross, or dangerous, more common are passengers acting bossy, demanding, or entitled.

I’m sorry, but you sat in economy. Don’t complain to your flight attendant about your in-flight lunch being subpar (true story) and demand that you and your three kids get a second, different, lunch. We all knew it was going to be mediocre.

Instead: Be polite and act like a normal human being

Appreciate them. Be nice to them. Don’t boss them around like they’re a serf in your kingdom. Smile and say thank you. Clean up your trash.

And, for the love of god, if you have to hand over a used barf bag — please warn the attendant collecting trash.

Don’t Eat Peanuts or Stinky Food On a Plane 

Eating smelly foods on a plane can irritate, and nauseate, other passengers. Bananas, tuna sandwiches, and anything that’s heavy on the onion and garlic are all food that’s too pungent for air travel.

Also avoid bringing anything with peanuts or peanut butter (trail mix, bags of peanuts, PB&Js). You never know if you’ll be on a flight with someone who has a severe peanut allergy. For some, just the presence of peanuts can cause a reaction.

Instead: Pack snacks that don’t smell — or cause allergic reactions for others

A cheese, crackers, and fruit plate. Turkey club. Pasta salad with veggies. Bagel and cream cheese. There are so many stink-free airplane friendly snack options you can prep in advance or buy at the airport (though those tend to be less healthy).

Don’t Clip Your Nails or Take Care of Personal Hygiene

Seriously? Do we have to tell you not to clip your nails in a public place? Apparently, yes. Oblivious passengers have been known to clip nails, paint nails, spray perfume or cologne, and partake in a number of personal hygiene rituals that gross out those around them.

Someone around you might already be clutching a barf bag. Don’t be the person who sends them over the edge.

Instead: Save it for the bathroom

Freshening up before you land is totally fine — just, do it in the bathroom and without making a stink or mess in the cabin. So head to the bathroom and brush your teeth, use a low or fragrance-free face wipe at your seat, and squirt on a little hand sanitizer. Just, save the nail care for home or your hotel.

Don’t Stand in the Aisle While You’re Waiting to Get Off the Plane

I’m 100% guilty of standing in the aisle while waiting to disembark. I didn’t even realize it was a thing until I discovered Passenger Shaming’s Instagram account (again: would you even know if you were that annoying passenger?) but, apparently, it’s not kosher to stand in the aisle while waiting to get off the plane. 

When passengers all leap to stand in the aisle when the plane lands, it slows down the entire deboarding process as passengers shove past each other or hold up the line.

Instead: Stay in your seat

Stay seated until it’s your row’s time to get up and leave. It’ll be more orderly for everyone.

TL;DR

No one wants to be a jerk when they’re flying. Instead of joining the gate lice at the boarding gate or eating smelly tuna fish sandwiches on planes:

  • Wait until your boarding group is called
  • Put only your carry-on in the overhead luggage bin until everyone has boarded
  • Wear socks at your seat and put on shoes to walk around the cabin
  • Change baby diapers in the bathroom
  • Be respectful of other passengers’ space
  • Act like a normal, polite human being to flight attendants
  • Save personal hygiene for the bathroom — or home
  • Stay in your seat when waiting to disembark
 

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