Skip to main content Skip to header navigation

5 Simple rules of air travel etiquette

Air travel is stressful – long lines to contend with, delays, surly security people, cramped seating that barely holds a toddler, let alone a full-grown adult, bad food and myriad other issues known to drive even the sanest traveler to distraction. But none of those things gives anyone the right to be a total jerk 30,000 feet in the air. We’d all be a lot happier if everyone afforded fellow travelers a certain amount of common courtesy. Here, then, we look at a few simple rules that would make air travel much easier for all involved.

Woman boarding airplane

1Carry-on courtesy

The humble carry-on bag may seem innocent, but in the hands of the wrong person it can become one of the most annoying aspects of air travel.

Exhibit A: The person with the carry-on bag that is too big for the overhead compartment. That, fellow travelers, is not a carry-on bag. If it doesn’t fit in the overhead compartment or under your seat, it’s luggage that needs to be checked. We’ve all waited (not so patiently) behind the person sweating and grunting as they try to push and squeeze their oversize (should-have-been-checked) bag into a space that is far too small. Pare down, folks. It makes life easier for all of us.

Exhibit B: The person wielding a large carry-on bag as if he is in a wide-open space, not squeezing through the cramped cabin of an aircraft. As you board the plane, do everyone already seated a favor and hold your bag in front of you so you don’t knock the nice lady in seat 16-A unconscious with your carry-on luggage as you walk by.

2Baggage claim protocol

Trust us, after a long flight we all want to get our bags and get out of the airport, but there are some ways to go about retrieving your luggage that are better than others. Unless you see your bag and are actively in the process of hauling it off the carousel, there is no need for you and your entire family to stand directly in front of the baggage carousel. If you – and your wife and three kids – are standing in front of it, no one else can see anything. Move back and stand a reasonable distance away so everyone can see the status of their luggage. Otherwise all we’re doing is bobbing and weaving in between the human chain-link fence your family has created, in hopes of stealing a glimpse of what’s on the other side.

3Seatback civility

Being able to put your seat back during a flight is a privilege, not a right. This means that if you are going to put your seat back, kindly ask the person behind you whether that’s OK, or at least warn them before you lurch back, potentially crushing their knees and possibly their laptop. Comfort is a scarce commodity on airplanes, and putting your seat back offers a sliver of relief in a situation often fraught with discomfort, but be considerate of your fellow passengers who may not want to fly all the way to Frankfurt with your seatback in their lap.

4Armrest etiquette

Who gets the armrest is an age-old air travel debate — and the answer, unfortunately, is that no one gets it: It needs to be shared. So before you sharpen your elbows in the race for armrest domination, remember that it’s not about who gets there first – it’s about taking only as much room as you need, and leaving enough so that the person beside you has enough space to perch their own tired limbs.

5Exit strategy survival

We all know that deplaning takes time, and that just because the aircraft has come to a full and complete stop doesn’t mean you’re getting out of there anytime soon. So why are you flailing around like a maniac in a mad rush to retrieve your bag from the overhead compartment (and hitting people in the head in the process)? On a related note, stop pushing. If no one else on the plane is getting off, neither are you and shoving the poor guy in front of you isn’t going to make things move faster. Stay calm, stay seated (or at least stand still) and wait for the first few people closest to the exit to start moving before you get excited.

Tell us

What are your air travel pet peeves?

Share with us in the comments section below!

More travel tips & advice

Top 10 tips to be a better traveler
How to prep for your next trip abroad
7 Tips for budget-friendly travel

Leave a Comment