Humans are a basically civilized species. We know not to go barefoot in restaurants, treat our friends living rooms like landfills or nap on the shoulder of our office cubicle mate. And yet, as soon as we step inside an airport or onto a plane, our manners seem to vanish. Perhaps it’s the delirium of travel or the belief that everyday rules do not apply to vacations, much like calories don’t count on holiday and foreign currencies aren’t real money. Or maybe there has never been a canon for proper passenger behavior - until now.
Etiquette is more important than ever these days. For most of this year, more than 2 million people have been streaming through security checkpoints each day, according to the Transportation Security Administration. One ill-placed limb on the arm rest or acrid hard-boiled egg can sour the air travel experience for many.
To help you become a model passenger, we compiled 50 rules that cover every step in the flying process, from arriving at the airport to exiting the aircraft. To reinforce these tenets, we inserted several pop quizzes. Ace these tests and adopt these behaviors and you will earn your wings - angels, not pilots.
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1. Dress comfortably, but not too comfortably.
Going to the airport should look a lot like going to a doctor’s office. You’re out in public, surrounded by other people. You don’t have to impress anybody - were not insisting on going full suit - but consider shooting for a notch or two above the bare minimum.
And for the record, the best way to avoid getting kicked off your flight for wearing a controversial shirt is to skip the controversial shirt.
2. Don’t ask your friends for a ride to the airport.
No one likes fighting airport traffic. But if your best friend (or partner or parent) asks you to take them, do it.
3. Don’t show up late and expect to cut the line.
Living for the thrill of cutting it close means accepting your fate when it doesn’t work out. You don’t get to jump the line at baggage drop and check in, and you certainly don’t deserve to be rescued at security, either. If you’re late, prepare to wait.
4. Abandon your partner if they don’t have TSA PreCheck.
How many times have you reminded them to get TSA Recheck? And how many times have they let you down? Not this time, not again. Tell them you’ll see them on the other side.
5. Get your life together before getting in line at security.
If you’re not PreCheck, the stakes of the security line are higher. There are more moving parts to juggle, more opportunities to slow down the delicate flow of traffic, more opportunities to get yelled at. That is to say: lace-up knee-high boots are for your checked bag, not grinding the procession to a halt while you figure out how to de-boot. Have your jangly belongings out of your pockets, liquids dumped and outerwear off by the time you walk up to the X-ray, please.
6. Peanut butter is a liquid. Don’t even try.
Trying to sneak contraband in your carry-on slows down the line, an infraction that deserves a place among the Seven Deadly Sins. Save yourself and look up TSAs rules before packing something egregious, like a full-sized shampoo bottle. Remember that if you can spill it, spread it, spray it, pump it or pour it, TSA will likely chuck it if its over 3.4 oz.
7. Pack your snacks, but not a tuna sandwich.
To quell your hangry self, you will need a snack plan. Unfortunately, you can’t rely on Starbucks; those wraparound lines will only poke the beast. Carry a mix of foods that are portable but not pungent. If your cat likes it, consider it a no.
8. BYO water bottle.
Cabin air can be as dry as a desert, so you’ll need to hydrate. Bottled water sold at airports is either wildly overpriced or, if you’re flying out of Los Angeles or San Francisco, banned. Unless you’re a camel, bring a reusable water vessel that you can fill up after security. Stick with legal liquids: no booze.
9. Tip where tipping is due.
You can skip the tipping screen when you buy a pack of gum at Hudson News, but don’t forget the Uber driver, wheelchair porter, and curbside luggage valet and airport shuttle driver.
10. Leave the speakerphone gossip for home.
Believe it or not, you can take FaceTime calls with headphones, too.
11. And absolutely no calls in the bathroom.
Seriously, stop doing this.
12. We love your dog, but he needs to mind his manners, too.
The airport is not doggy day care, so don’t let your pet roam free. Use this opportunity to show off your pups leash skills, which are often better than toddlers on tethers.
13. The gate is not your living room.
You’ve seen gate campers - bags everywhere, limbs draped over chairs. Maintain some spatial awareness for those around you, and stop taking up two extra seats with your bags. If you do picnic, clean up your trash before boarding.
14. It’s not your bedroom, either.
See No. 14 re: spatial awareness. But we get it, we’ve been there. Sometimes you have to sleep at the airport. Just don’t do it at a busy gate.
15. Don’t be an outlet hog.
We all depend desperately on technology (can you even get on a flight without a smartphone these days?), so show your fellow traveler some empathy if you’re dealing with a crowded outlet situation. If you’re charging a laptop and a phone, consolidate those devices and charge your phone via that laptop instead of using two precious public plugs. Even better, pack a portable charger so you don’t have to enter the fray in the first place.
16. You can’t self-upgrade your boarding group.
It’s printed right there on your boarding pass (and yes, your mobile one, too). There’s no escaping your boarding group destiny, unless of course you’re one of the special groups announced by the gate agent. Avoid gate lice tendencies to crowd the area until you’re summoned.
17. Sorry, your cross body bag is a personal item.
Its two carry-ons per person, and they mean it. Don’t try to hide it under your coat. Consolidate before you board.
18. Accept your fate if you’re told to check your bag.
Gate agents sometimes require passengers to check their bags because of diminishing overhead bin space and time constraints. Don’t pout or kick the wheels of your roll aboard. Graciously accept the bag tag, roll your belongings down the jet bridge and use your free hands for greater good, such as helping another passenger.
19. Say hi to your flight crew.
Imagine the plane is a friend’s home. When you enter it, give the hosts - in this case, the flight attendants - a warm greeting. A cheerful welcome sets the tone for your flight, and it might even earn you some bonus points as the teacher’s pet.
20. Find your seat, and get out of the aisle.
Hopefully when you did that consolidating, you prepared yourself for a smooth landing once you found your seat. You should be able to toss your carry-on in the overhead space near you and be ready to go with a personal item - not bobbling around a bunch of bags, looking for your headphones, holding up the boarding process.
21. Don’t touch other peoples stuff.
You found a place to put your bag in the overhead bin but it’ll require a little Tetris to pull off. Because you never know who’s about to fly off the handle, ask around before moving someone’s stuff. Better yet, ask the flight attendant to help negotiate space.
22. Respect bin space.
Most crowded flights are pressed for bin space (see above), so keep your storage conservative. Overhead compartments are primarily for carry-ons that don’t fit under the seat. Everything else is extra and should be stored up top only when everyone has boarded and at least attempted to store those bigger bags first. Then you can stake more square footage.
23. No one wants to switch seats with you, so don’t ask.
Should you ever switch assigned seats? It depends on who you ask. Unless you’re offering someone the chance to swap their economy middle seat sadness for something better (an aisle in comfort plus? A window seat in business?), just sit where you’re booked.
24. Take a hint if your neighbour doesn’t want to chat.
Plenty of travelers are down to chat - and plenty more think doing so is akin to committing a crime. Look for signs to distinguish one group from the other. They can be obvious: headphones in, eye mask on, a T-shirt that says Don’t talk to me.
25. Flight attendants are the law.
Despite what you may think, a flight attendants job is to keep you safe, not serve you drinks. Listen to their briefings, respect their orders and please take your headphones off when they’re talking to you.
26. Don’t try to open the emergency door.
There are a zillion other ways to get attention; don’t go with guy who tries to open airplane door. First of all, it won’t open at cruising altitude. Secondly, even the attempt is a serious offense.
27. Keep your limbs to yourself.
As they say: Point knees ahead, and do not spread. (Okay, no one says that but maybe they should start.)
28. No reclining. No exceptions.
Okay, there are a few exceptions. You may recline on: redeye flights; if the seat behind you is empty, or inhabited by a small child; if you ask the person behind you and they don’t mind. But that’s it!
29. Middle seat gets both armrests. Period.
This rule is so important that it should be engraved on the doorway of the plane. Does the middle-seat passenger have to use the arm rests? No. But should they be made available to the cursed soul trapped in airplane purgatory? Yes. It’s not a conversation. It’s a given.
30. The aisle seat is the gatekeeper of the row.
You’ve chosen this life. If your neighbors need to use the bathroom, it’s your burden to bear to get up as many times as they need. It doesn’t mean your seatmates should abuse this privilege, though.
31. The window seat controls the shade.
Window seat: you’re the boss. Everyone else: If you wanted to gaze out the window, you should have booked the window.
32. Keep your shoes on.
Don't forget your socks for the chilly cabin air!
33. Your seat is not a spa.
That means absolutely no nail clipping, nail filing or nail painting in your seat. Ditto for spraying perfumes and colognes, teeth brushing and shaving. Before you partake in any airplane grooming, ask yourself what’s the risk of [this product/my rogue DNA] landing on my neighbor? Respect innocent bystanders accordingly.
34. Watch what you’re watching.
Everyone can see your screen, so choose your content wisely. And while you’re at it, choose that content on your screen gently. There’s usually a head on the other side of that seat back screen you’re jabbing.
35. No headphones, no sound.
Listening to music or TV without headphones is an ick so offensive, airlines actually have policies against it.
36. Soup is not a plane food.
There are plenty of foods out there that do pair well for plane travel. There are plenty more that don’t, such as foods prone to splashing, wafting or crumbling into a million pieces when you bite into it.
37. No fighting.
Do we even have to say it? (Apparently, we do.)
38. Your neighbours shoulder is not your pillow.
You’re not watching a romantic movie with your sweetheart, so keep all of your body parts inside your personal space. If your head tends to loll, buy a neck pillow that will double as a buffer.
39. Respect the seat belt sign.
When the pilot switches on the seat belt sign, resist the urge to use the lavatory or visit a friend you have been ignoring since takeoff. Strapping in keeps everyone safe. In fact, even when the icon is not lit up, keep your belt on in the event of surprise bumps.
40. Vaping is considered smoking.
And neither is allowed on planes.
41. Don’t treat the bathroom like hotel room
Leave the lavatory in pristine condition. Fully flush the toilet, clean up any splashes or toothpaste gobs and toss your paper towel in the proper bin. Before exiting, check your shoes for any hitchhiking squares of toilet paper.
42. Don't be a "call button bandit."
Consider it the 911 call of the sky - something to use in case of emergency, not in case of thirst to quench.
43. Don’t yell at crying babies.
What is helpful: Showing the parent some compassion, or turning on your noise-canceling headphones and letting it go. What isn’t: Telling parents to make their baby shut up. Kids exist. There on planes, in airports. Get over it. You might even get a goody bag out of the deal.
44. If you clap when the plane lands, be prepared for side-eye.
Unless cheering is a cultural tradition, resist the urge to turn the cabin into a sports stadium. Save your appreciation for disembarkation. (See No. 50.)
45. Don’t crowd the aisle.
You hear the ding. You want to flee the aircraft. That’s understandable. But instead of giving into that Pavlovian response to make a run for it, respect the order of deplaning and wait until the row before you has exited. Bonus points if you let travelers with tight connections go ahead of you.
46. Just like national parks, leave no trace.
Just because you can leave your trash behind when you deplane doesn’t mean you should. Clean up after yourself, like an adult. And if your kid makes a mess, say by spilling popcorn everywhere, its your responsibility to clean it up. Flight attendants and cleaning crews already have enough to do in the mere minutes they have to turn a plane before its next flight.
47. You’ve got two hands. Lend one to your fellow travelers.
When retrieving your carry-on from the bin, offer to grab your neighbors belongings as well, especially if they are on the short or frail side. If someone’s bag is behind you, organize a fire brigade, so they don’t have to swim upstream.
48. Say bye and thank you to your crew.
49. Don’t crowd the baggage carousel.
Baggage claim pickup can be a totally unremarkable experience, and it can also be a madhouse. Like when hordes of panicked travelers rush the carousel like its about to disappear. Civility goes out the window as pushy strangers vie to get their bag first in a contest that doesn’t exist. Don’t join the fray. Sit back, wait until you see your bag, then proceed to the conveyor belt like a professional.
50. Don’t ask someone to pick you up.
It’s way worse than drop-off.