Airline Etiquette – 10 Rules for Passengers

1024px-british_airways_747-400_world_traveller_cabinThe man next to me on the my five-hour flight sounds like a pig searching for truffles.

Apparently these porcine snuffles and snorts are his way of alleviating the sinus congestion of a cold. Unfortunately, his undoubted need for a shower evokes a similar comparison to the creature he appears to be imitating. And he manages, in the course of the flight, to add the rich aroma of a brewery. Is beer the new Dristan?

After three hours, I retreat to the rear of the cabin to chat with whichever flight attendant isn’t busy. They are kind and let me stay. Our conversation inevitably turns to their own nightmare passenger stories. It got me thinking that it might be time for a list of do’s and don’ts for passengers.

So, from what I learned from my attendant friends, and from my own countless hours in the air, I herewith offer my list of suggestions for airline etiquette:


  1. Please eschew garlic-laden dishes 24 hours before flying. Your seat mate(s) will have to bear the brunt of your breath. Worse, some people actually exude the smell from their pores.
  2. For goodness sake, have a shower. Sweaty armpits and other malodorous body parts are very offensive. This is a huge concern for the poor attendants who not only have to deal with the odor when serving them but also with the complaints from other passengers who want to change seats.shower_head
  3. Perfume and cologne should be used sparingly (preferably not at all). Indeed, some people have severe asthmatic reactions to strong odors so this could be serious. Note that sprinkling either of these liberally is not a viable solution for offense number 2.Stinky Feet Not Allowed
  4. Many travellers like to remove their shoes on a plane. I have done so myself on long flights. If you plan to do this, please ensure that a) your socks and b) your feet are clean. Flight attendants have to deal with the complaints of seatmates dealing with the odor and might even have to ask you to replace your shoes. Embarrassing! But note this. Being prone to airsickness myself, I can guarantee that smelly feet is likely to bring this on and it’s not going to be pleasant for either of us!
  5. With so many airlines dropping meal service, passengers often bring food aboard. Choose wisely. Remember that the aroma of your food might be delightful when you first bring it aboard but after recirculating for four hours, it may be unpleasant. One attendant told me about a passenger who had brought some durian aboard. For the uninitiated, this fruit from Southeast Asia has been variously described as smelling of dirty socks and even of rotting meat. Apparently the flight was a nightmare as nothing could get rid of the odor.
    durian Airline etiquette
  6. Why do people on cell phones feel the need to shout? The phone amplifies your conversation perfectly well. Fortunately, we have to turn these off for the flight though the period before take-off and after landing can be very noisy as these self-important schmucks make ‘important business calls’. airline etiquetteEven after the announcement to turn off cell phones, some passengers think they are beyond the rule. Flight attendants sometimes have to be very firm.
  7. If you have a bad cold, cough, flu – stay home!! Or take a heavy duty decongestant, antihistamine, anything! Humorously, the lady in the seat on the other side of the aisle from my sniffling neighbour pulled her scarf around her face like a mask each time he did this.
  8. Alcohol is not the solution – to anything! Moderate drinking please. Note that Vitamin C in the form of juice might actually help you feel better.
  9. Courtesy is always appreciated. My attendant friends told me that it only takes one rude passenger to spoil the flight for those sitting around the individual and for them as staff dealing with it. Examples: a) the person who insists they booked the window/aisle seat and are NOT going to sit in the middle (faced with no choice they then make the flight miserable for all concerned); b) the person who shoves his feet, arms, hair, etc. into another passengers comfort zone.Airline Etiquettec) the passenger who puts on earphones and refuses to respond to others – either seatmates needing the toilet or attendant trying to get their attention; d) the person who complains loudly that they want a cup of hot coffee minutes before landing time or on a short leg flight without time for brewing;
  10. The seats are narrow, the space is limited, but keep your feet out of the aisle.  Attendants need to get by with carts, and other passengers can trip, especially on darkened planes.

I’ve probably left several out, but you get the picture. Needless to say, inappropriate sexual behaviour is verboten.

If you really want the picture, Google passenger shaming online or on Instagram. I hasten to add that while some might feel this is unfair, I tend to think that if you insist on removing your shirt or clipping your toe nails during a flight, you’ve relinquished any claim to dignity.

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