After 21 years as a flight attendant, I’ve seen it all. The pandemic increased tensions on board, with the most extreme incidents of passenger misbehavior escalating into violence. However, more commonly I see rude behavior leading to verbal disagreements or general malaise.
As we enter the busy summer season, it’s worth discussing some of the common courtesies that might make flying, dare I say it, a pleasant one.
These are my airline etiquette, which are intended to strike a balance between your own reasonable comfort and consideration for those around you.
Everyone has the right to recline, but there is a polite way to do it.
The wrong way is to push the seat back as hard and fast as you can. That has broken laptops, spilled drinks and sparked fistfights that have led to diverted flights. Be careful of your surroundings. Before leaning back, look behind you and see what the situation is, and politely ask if that person cares.
Clean up after your kids.
We are not servants. Flight attendants do not have access to vacuum cleaners, brooms, or cleaning supplies beyond hand soap, wet wipes, and air freshener. You are not required to clean, but you are courteous. There are side effects, too: clutter in the aisle can be a safety hazard, and a big cleaning job can even delay your next flight. Proactive thinking helps. Can a small child handle a large bag of snacks? If not, put them in a smaller, more manageable container ahead of time.
The overhead compartments are not your personal Tetris game.
Containers are on a first-come, first-served basis in economy class. You don’t own the place directly above your seat, and it’s not acceptable to take someone else’s bag out to fit yours. Sliding suitcases to maximize space is fine, but leave the complex puzzle solving to the flight attendant. And remember, small bags should be at your feet, leaving room for large bags in the overhead bins.
No one wants to listen to your FaceTime conversation.
We don’t need to hear both sides of that conversation; besides, boarding a plane is not the time to say goodbye. It’s time for you to focus on finding your seat and packing your bags as quickly as possible so the people behind you can do the same. While we’re on the subject, no one wants to listen to your movies, video games, or TikToks, so bring headphones. Even for children.
The middle seat has both armrests.
It’s the consolation prize for being squashed between two people with nowhere to stand. Case closed.
Headphones are a perfectly acceptable end of conversation.
Overly talkative seatmate? Headphones are a great way to avoid being the sounding board for your neighbor who can’t understand a track. It’s my favorite move: After a long day as a flight attendant, my noise-canceling headphones are my refuge. I want peace on my journey home.
Keep your socks on.
If it’s a long flight, relax and take your shoes off, but there’s never a reason to take your socks off. The smell of feet is inescapable. Also, keep your feet to yourself. It is not acceptable to rest your feet on the armrest of the person in front of you. And I highly recommend putting your shoes back on to use the bathroom.
Use the call button wisely.
If you need something (a coffee refill, assistance with a medical issue, or help with a troublesome passenger), please use it. It’s preferable to poking or touching the flight attendant, which is not okay. Before you push it though, make sure we’re not in the hall with a drinks cart or trash bag, that means we’re coming! If you have a true emergency, press it a few times so we know it’s important.
Do not discipline other people’s children.
Nothing makes a flight more miserable than the back of your seat turning into a punching bag. However, if a child behind you is interrupting, go to the parents. You have no right to yell at someone else’s child. A good way to approach this is to ask parents calmly and with a smile if they notice their child kicking her seat. Then say it’s annoying; Is there a way to make the child stop? This way you are not accusing in your tone and are asking questions instead of being bossy.
Solve your seat problems before you get on the plane.
If your family gets split up on the flight, the chaotic rush to boarding isn’t when the flight attendants can sort it out for you. Gate agents have access to the seating chart and family reservations, so ask them first if it’s possible to change your seats. Some airlines even have a policy that families with children under 13 must sit together, so the gate agent is the best place. Or better yet: call the airline before you come to the airport.
You do not have to change seats if someone asks you to.
I’m going to be unpopular here. No, you don’t have to change with someone who asks you to. If you paid extra for your seat, or even if it’s just an inconvenience, you can say no. If it’s advantageous, like swapping a middle seat for a window seat, or if you’re happy to help, go ahead and swap.
This should be common sense, but somehow it isn’t. I deal with this all day, every day. I don’t want to empty your tank, and neither does the passenger after you. If you can’t find the button, look for it – I guarantee it’s there. On every plane.