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10 Little Etiquette Rules for Flying on an Airplane

Updated: Jan. 07, 2024

Being a polite passenger starts with just a few easy steps.

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Don’t hold up the security line

Proper flying etiquette begins before you even board the plane. Have your boarding pass and ID ready as you approach airport security. If you’re waiting in line, start thinking ahead; you can speed up the process by removing your watch and belt, pulling out your laptop, and separating your liquids before you reach the conveyor. This will get you—and everyone behind you—to the gates faster. Here are 50 etiquette rules you should always practice.

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Board (and pack) courteously

As airlines squeeze in more and more people per flight, passengers fight for the same bin space. To maximize room in the overhead compartment for other travelers, place your bag vertically rather than horizontally on the shelf. And only put one carry-on bag in the bin; the other one can fit in the open space under the seat in front of you. Here’s how to tell what size your carry-on should be, based on the airline you’re flying.

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Help your fellow traveler

While you’re loading your carry-on bags into the overhead compartment, offer to hoist a fellow passenger’s up there, too. Not only is it kind, but it could make the boarding process more efficient for everyone else. Flying after a long time? Here are some new airplane travel rules to keep in mind while flying.

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Be willing to swap seats with a family

Airlines sometimes block out certain seats or charge extra fees for adjacent ones, making it tough for family members to buy seats together. If you’re traveling solo, offer to switch seats so that a family can sit beside each other; it’s a kind gesture that they won’t forget. But be sure to delay swapping until the plane has reached cruising altitude, as switching seats while everyone is boarding can be an inconvenience for those standing in the aisles. Though travel insiders suggest this tip to upgrade your air travel, no matter if you’re alone or with family.

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Respect your (limited) space

In the cramped quarters of an airplane, maintaining your personal space will go a long way to make a smoother ride for everyone. Let the middle-seat passenger use the armrests (it’s the least you can do), and keep your legs within the width of the chair frame. Please abide by these rules that flight attendants encourage. 

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Keep your personal items, well, personal

It’s as important to be mindful of your personal belongings as it is your personal space. Avoid hitting other passengers with your bag as you walk down the aisles by keeping it in front of you and close to your body. And once you sit down, you should stay there, so make sure you have everything you will need for the flight once you settle in. Reaching over other passengers to access the overhead storage during the flight is uncomfortable for everyone. You also want to avoid taking off your shoes for this gross reason, according to flight attendants.

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Converse with caution

Although some people pass the time on an airplane through conversations with strangers, others would prefer to keep to themselves. Be mindful of the cues your fellow passenger is giving; if they avoid eye contact, leave them be. If you do strike up a conversation, speak in soft tones, as loud and disruptive conversation can disturb the rest of the cabin.

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Avoid bringing smelly food

Cramped quarters are no place to break out a pungent tuna sandwich. If you bring food to snack on during the trip, opt for less intrusive goodies like nuts or pretzels. Your fellow passengers will thank you. Make sure you also avoid these foods dietitians say to never eat on planes.

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Snooze at your own risk

Sleep with consideration for your surroundings and other travelers. Only lean back in your seat if you absolutely must; reclining your seat may be more comfortable for you, but it makes a tight space even tighter for the person behind you. A travel pillow is a great tool because it helps you sleep without invading other people’s space. And beware of snoring; you could risk getting an unpleasant awakening from a flight attendant or fellow traveler. Here are some weird travel accessories that are shockingly useful.

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Disembark calmly

“Touching down has the same effect as the old school bell,” according to Expedia Airlines; “chaos ensues as everyone tries to be the first through the door.” Be courteous of other people’s belongings in the overhead compartment as you reach for your own, and offer to help them get their bags if you can. And as you leave, take the time to thank your flight attendants—they will appreciate your kindness. There are many secrets that flight attendants won’t tell you, including the fact that these parts of the sky are forbidden.