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10 Things Polite People Don’t Do on Airplanes

Updated: Aug. 03, 2021

When you're in travel mode, following your own schedule and keeping all sorts of little details straight, it can be easy to get absorbed in your own little world. But just because you're anxious to get to your destination doesn't mean you should abandon common decorum. Here are some behaviors that it's just polite for airplane passengers to avoid.

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Passenger woman putting luggage into overhead locker on airplane (Selective focus)
Chun photographer/Shutterstock

Monopolize the overhead bin

It starts the minute passengers step onto the plane: Everyone’s eyes dart toward the overhead bin above their respective seats, hoping that there’ll be enough room for them to stash their carry-on bag. So be considerate about how much of that space you take up. “Don’t take up overhead bin space with things that could have fit under the seat in front of you,” advises Robert Feinberg, Flight Expert at Scott’s Cheap Flights. “And don’t haphazardly place your bag in the bin (especially not the long way) so that no one else can use it.” Before you even board the plane, find out the things you shouldn’t be doing at the airport.

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Businessman At Airport Moving To Terminal Gate For Business Trip, Back View

Roll your carry-on

Kate Sullivan, creative director at Secret Fares, says that polite airplane passengers don’t roll their carry-on bags down the aisle. “Yes, your carry-on is jammed full to avoid checked-bag fees, and it’s so much easier to wheel it than carry it,” she told Reader’s Digest. “But you have much less control when you do so, and you’ll probably end up bumping into plenty of folks trying to settle into their seats.” Plus, it’s just a bit more time-consuming than lifting it. She recommends holding it close to you, in a sideways position so it takes up as little room as possible until you reach your seat. Plus, then, it’ll take less fanfare to lift it up to the overhead bin.

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boarding airplane

Dawdle in the aisles

Everyone on the plane with you can agree that the sooner it takes off, the better. So please get to your seat in a timely fashion; don’t hold up the people behind you by fiddling with your things. “There are a hundred people behind you trying to get to their seat but can’t because you forgot to take your headphones out of your bag before you got on the plane,” Feinberg sums up. What polite people do do? “Scoot into your aisle and now you can start arranging your seat-back pocket, coat, tablet, personal bag, etc., to your liking,” Sullivan suggests. “Others can easily get past you and you’ll be able to get settled without causing a backup all the way to the door.”

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Dark Blue Seats in a Empty Jet Airplane

Choose the wrong seat

It’s as simple as knowing your own plane habits. It can be hard to put yourself in the mindset of actually being on a plane while you’re just clicking through an electronic seating chart but consider which seat would be best suited for you. Case in point: “If you don’t get up frequently during a long flight, take the window seat,” Feinberg suggests. “If you do get up frequently, take the aisle seat.” This’ll make the overall flight experience more pleasant for those sitting near you—and for you as well! No one wants to shuffle past two sets of knees from the window seat if they’re prone to getting up several times. And if your neighbor is sleeping and you need to get up, this is what you should do.

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Airplane entertainment display on an arm rest inside the plane.

Recline the seat willy-nilly

Yes, sleeping on an airplane is challenging, and it can be tempting to recline the seat for the duration to enhance your chances of snoozing (and just make the flight more relaxing). But doing this won’t be relaxing for the person behind you. “If you absolutely must recline your seat, don’t then sit up straight in it,” Feinberg insists. Make sure you’re actually going to use the reclining feature, rather than keeping your seat like that “just cause.” And put your seat upright during mealtimes so that everyone has enough room to eat.

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Close up of asian flight attendant's hand call cabin crew or stewardess by pressing help needed button on overhead compartment. Economy class on low cost airline business seated activity concept.

Badger the flight attendants

“Flight attendants are not waitstaff. They are there to ensure your safety,” Feinberg says. It’s that simple. Don’t be that jerk that’s rude to the flight attendants. They have tens, maybe hundreds of passengers to take care of and can’t reasonably be expected to be at your beck and call. Find out more things your flight attendant wishes you knew.

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airplane lavatory
kanyaphak nakalekha/Shutterstock

Hog the bathroom

Let’s be honest, why would you want to stay in an airplane bathroom any longer than you had to? And yet people do it. Do what you have to do, of course, but be considerate of your fellow passengers and don’t linger in the loo.

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airplane aisle

Take up the armrests

Well, if you’re in the middle seat, go for it. According to Feinberg, it’s an unwritten rule that the person in the middle seats gets the armrests on either side of him or her. The middle-seater doesn’t get many perks, so it’s the nice thing to do. Here are some more little etiquette rules for flying on an airplane.

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airplane window

Monopolize the window shade

There’s only one window in an aisle with three people, and unlike the armrests, use of the window doesn’t automatically belong to a certain person. So, if you have the window seat, “it’s polite to ask your seat-mates about their preference regarding the window shade,” Sullivan says. “Some folks like a nice, bright flight; others prefer it dim…Consider asking your neighbors whether they have a preference for the shade to be up, down, or partly closed.”

In addition, Feinberg believes that, if you’re in the window seat, it’s good manners to lift the shade when the plane is descending. “Everyone wants to see the view,” he says. Especially if you see your neighbors’ eyes squirreling toward the window, or their heads tilting to try to see out of another row’s window, you can assume they’re hoping to get a view of the world outside the plane.

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emergency exit sign and toilet sign on airplane

Cut the exit line (unless you have a connecting flight)

Of course, if you have a connecting flight to make—especially if the flight you’re on took off late—you’re within your rights to try to hustle toward the exit, as long as you’re not knocking people aside like bowling pins of course. But in general, once the plane lands and the doors open, it’s not a free-for-all. “It is established protocol that one waits [for] the row in front to exit before the subsequent rows proceed,” Feinberg says. In addition to these general politeness rules, there are plenty of other things you shouldn’t do on an airplane for your own safety and comfort.