Cabin crew
Don't snap your fingers, or poke the cabin crew. They have several responsibilities to deal with, and can't be at your beck and call for trivial requests. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Sigh, sometimes I feel like screaming along with screaming children on a flight. No the children aren’t the problem, it’s the adults.

I’m talking about those people who recline their seat so far back and grumble when I request them to adjust, take away the armrests while I try to resign myself to a middle seat. The icing on the cake is when I’ve had co-passengers poke me in my ribs and ask embarrassing questions. Are you married? When will you have children? It goes on.

So, as airline etiquette has emerged as a trending discussion lately, owing to peak travel season, here are some common courtesies to follow. Few cabin crew members break down the basic etiquette:

Keep your feet to yourself

Person putting their feet up
Remember that the cabin isn’t your living room. Don’t cause someone else discomfort, just because you want to stretch your legs. Image Credit: Shutterstock

When you’re cabin crew flying worldwide, you witness many different things, explains Helga Jensen, former cabin crew and author. Whilst things that passengers might do can be quite surprising, some of what appears to be bad etiquette is purely due to cultural differences. She cites an example. “On one flight a woman had her feet up through the gap in between the seats in front of her so that her feet were sticking out into the passenger's armrest, which she felt was acceptable,” adds Jensen. Jensen still recalls the horror-struck expression of the male passenger trying to eat his food. “His face said it all and I had to ask the woman to put her feet down so this man could eat,” she says.

In short, remember that the cabin isn’t your living room. Don’t cause someone else discomfort, just because you want to stretch your legs. Also, please don’t take your socks off, requests Devyani Roy (name changed on request), another senior cabin crew member. “I’ve seen so many people do this on long flights. The smell just gets so terrible, and I feel awkward having to tell them something so basic,” she says.

Things to remember when you recline

You might be comfortable when reclining. But please note, there’s most probably someone sitting behind you. Some people push the seat so far back and so suddenly that it can lead to broken laptops, or phones.

“When the meal service is taking place, I have had to tell many passengers to put their seats upright,” explains Jansen. “The passenger behind them can’t put his tray table down due to the other person leaning so far back,” she says. Jensen advises that when you push the seat back, think about the person behind. It’s already tiresome to sit in that small space for several hours. Pushing your seat far back is not going to help.

When the meal service is taking place, I have had to tell many passengers to put their seats upright. The passenger behind them can’t put his tray table down due to the other person leaning so far back...

- Helga Jensen, former cabin crew and author

Please keep an eye on your children

Children will be children; they will get restless. In many cases, this leads to them disturbing other passengers. “Don’t let your child kick the seat in front of you. You’d be surprised how often this happens,” explains Jensen. Moreover, please ensure that you clean up after your kids. True, you aren’t required to do so, but it is also a part of etiquette. Cabin crew members have a lot to deal with anyway, and clearing out crisp packets, or sweet wrappers from the aisle adds to it. Major messes take time to be cleared and can delay the next flight. “Another matter of etiquette is to keep the cabin tidy. It isn’t nice for anyone when you allow your child to make a mess with crisps and snacks and rubbish all over the floor,” adds Jensen.

However, don’t try disciplining someone else’s kids; inform their parents instead. Just politely let them know that their child is misbehaving, could they please make them stop.

Use the call button; don’t poke the cabin crew

Man on a flight
Always be polite to the cabin crew. Image Credit: Shutterstock

If you need coffee, water or snacks, by all means, use the call button, says Roy. It’s much better than tapping the cabin crew member relentlessly. “I’ve had people snap their fingers at me. It made me so furious,” she says. “We have over 250 passengers to serve, as well as prepare for sudden bouts of turbulence. At that point, when people keep tapping, poking or snapping fingers, it gets us so frustrated,” she says.

Person on the phone in the flight
Use earphones if you are playing a game on the flight; don't disturb your co-passengers. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Wait for boarding to finish before you want to make changes

If you find that you aren’t seated next to a family member, wait, advises Roy. “While people are boarding and everyone’s rushing past with baggage, there’s always that one person who chooses that opportunity to ask for a seat switch,” she says. Address this problem with the gate crew before you board the flight; don’t hold up the queue as other co-passengers are in the midst of trying to settle down.

Try not to make your calls while boarding

People boarding a flight
Boarding is a busy time, as everyone is trying to settle down with their luggage. At that time, don't get on a phone call and block the aisle. It's advisable not to look for a seat switch at that point either, as the airline crew are busy. Image Credit:

“People stand in the middle of the aisle and conduct video calls with their family saying goodbye,” says Roy. So, keep your phone calls and goodbyes to after you have settled into your seat and stowed away your luggage. Boarding time is quite chaotic as everyone’s trying to get to their seat, and have varying baggage sizes that create an obstacle in the path.

Be polite to the cabin crew

The cabin crew, like everyone else, need to be treated with respect. They’ll help you out for sure, but also ensure that your requests are sensible and feasible. “Passengers have actually gotten angry with me because the seats didn’t have pillows. I kept getting called unnecessarily for the most random reasons,” recalls Roy. Remember, they have a job to do, unless of course, it’s an emergency.

Last, keep the lavatory clean

Somehow this isn’t common sense and the cabin crew members have horror stories to share. In short, please keep the lavatory clean. There are others who have to use it too. And, lock the door.

(Note: This story was first published in June 2023)