For the launch of my travelog A Kiwi Can Fly, I thought it would be fitting to discuss the subject of airplane etiquette, since I believe I am a veteran on this matter, having traveled by plane over 46 times in 2014. You see, while airplane etiquette may appear to be common knowledge, like saying your “please“s and “thank you“s, there’s always that one person who doesn’t quite get it. The points below list out my thoughts on what I believe airplane etiquette rules should include, and should you find yourself in a reclining chair war with your fellow passenger, you’ll know what to do next time you’re 40 feet above ground.
Carry-On Items, Checked Baggage and Overhead Compartment Use
Literally, “so luggage”.
Regarding carry-on items, most airlines state that you are allowed two items: one item to be stowed in the overhead compartments and a smaller item to fit underneath the seat in front of you. When storing a carry-on item in the overhead compartment, use your Tetris skills you learned as a child to fit the item in neatly, without taking up space horizontally, leaving room for your fellow passengers. If you need help, a flight attendant is always on standby to assist.
These days, airlines are overbooking flights, to the point where there is not enough space in the overhead compartments for a single carry-on item per person. Usually, in this case, prior to boarding, an airline attendee will announce that they are offering free checked luggage. SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY. Checking your carry-on items means you won’t be holding up boarding (and subsequently, delaying departure time) by trying to find a row with an empty overhead compartment. Also, the compartment above your seat may already be already taken by someone else before you board, and you may need to place your items in a row further behind or in front of you, which is a hassle as you then have to wait for everyone to disembark the plane after landing, before being able to access your item. The only time I would advise against taking the offer of free checked luggage is if you are in a rush to get somewhere after the flight lands (say, a meeting), and wouldn’t necessarily want to wait the additional 15 – 30 minutes after landing to collect your luggage. If you are in no rush and decide to check your luggage, free of charge, just remember to take out your valuables and keep them on your personal.
Courtesy and Respecting Personal Space
I said, “hey, what’s up, hello”.
Upon finding your seat, it’s nice to greet your temporary neighbour with a friendly hello. It’s not necessary to become best friends with the passenger seated next to you, but a little small talk is fine, especially since this person is going to be within close proximity for the duration of the flight. Becoming acquainted with your fellow passenger is advantageous to you, for when the flight attendant comes by with a customs form, your neighbour may kindly take an extra form for you, or wake you up when it’s time for food and bev, if you’ve asked them to. It’s also less awkward when one of you needs to ask to get past the other, for a toilet break.
You also never know who you will meet. One time, I sat next to James Franco on a flight from LAX to Sydney. During the 15-hour duration of the flight, I kept questioning whether it was James Franco (I just thought it was a really good looking guy) – why would he be sitting in economy (I later found out he was in Sydney for the signing of his book “Actors Anonymous”)? I barely spoke to him, apart from saying thank you, whenever he passed me my food tray from the steward – I noticed that he kept looking over though, probably thinking I was the only girl in the world who was not fawning over him. I even woke up in the middle of the night and saw him sleeping – YES, I SLEPT NEXT TO JAMES FRANCO. In retrospect, I should have made more of an effort to become acquainted. Who knows, I could be Mrs James Franco, by now.
On the other hand, you don’t want to be Gossiping George or Talkative Tina, or WORSE – be seated next to either. If your neighbour is too chatty, you can open a book/magazine and pretend to focus, until the neighbour gets the hint, or put in your headphones. If that doesn’t work, you may need to just straight out say, “I’m sorry, I really want to read this”, or let them know you have work to do. Usually, this will do the trick. However, one time, I was on a flight from New York to China, on a last minute trip, for work. I was seated next to a Chinese man who was excited at the fact I spoke English, because none of his friends knew how to speak English, and he wanted to be able to converse with someone who could. I made the effort for small talk in the beginning, but I mentioned shortly after that I should get some sleep, as I had two consecutive meetings straight from the 16-hour flight. He didn’t get the hint, and kept talking. Even when I put in my headphones or turned my back, he kept prodding me to ask questions. This was clearly a case of bad luck – usually, most people will get the hint by your body language. Just remember to be nice about it.
While on the subject of chatty neighbours, it is also important keep down the volume, in respect for other passengers on the plane. If you are with a friend, keep your chatter between you. Not everybody needs to know how wasted you were last night. If you want to listen to music, play it through headphones. If you do not have any, you can ask the flight attendant for some. For parents traveling with small children, remember to keep a close eye on them. If you are traveling with a baby and the baby is uncomfortable and starts to cry, you should attend to your baby and go for a stroll to the galley area of the aircraft (once the seatbelt sign is off), to soothe and relax your little bub.
Regarding personal space, it is an important note to share the armrest space. Also, gentleman – please do NOT do “The Spread”. There is already not enough leg room, and your neighbours do not need your knees invading their space. Just be courteous, it’s pretty easy.
The Reclining Chair
When push comes to shove (literally).
In too many instances, I have had the passenger sitting in front of me recline their chair all the way back where it’s almost touching my nose, and to the point I’ve had to tilt my TV screen upwards to be able to watch what’s on. I’ve never made an issue about it, but I would be lying if I didn’t roll my eyes or curse under my tongue. Of course, the recline setting on the chairs are to ensure the comfortability of the aircraft’s passengers, and while all passengers evidently hold the right to recline their seats, the reclining chair issue is something every traveler has experienced at one point, whether you are the recliner or the disgruntled passenger behind said recliner. The fact is, nobody is at fault – airlines are charging more for less space.
Since the space is already tight to begin with, it is a general rule of airplane etiquette to remember to be courteous to all neighbours, specifically in this case, the neighbour behind you. If you would like to recline, look back to check how much room you have; give your neighbour a warning. When it comes time for meals and beverages, ensure that your seat is upright, so that the passenger behind you has room to eat as comfortably as possible. On the other side of the reclining spectrum, if the passenger in front of you is leaning their chair too far back, you can politely request that they do not recline all the way, without any pushing or shoving. If you do not feel confident in bringing it up with your fellow passenger, a flight attendant can assist in guiding this interaction. It must also be noted that those sitting in front of the passengers seated in the last row on the aircraft should be aware of how far back they recline, as the passengers in the last row do not have the recline option at all.
Bottom line – to the reclining passenger: be respectful of your fellow neighbours behind you; to the passenger sitting behind – be kind in requesting that your neighbour in front bring their chair upright a little, without causing a big fuss. If it really is such a big issue, when booking your next flight, maybe consider booking an upgrade with extra leg room.
Copy the flight attendants.
As you make your way down the aisle to leave or return to your seat, it is best to refrain from grabbing the back of the seats in front of you, as the passenger in the seat may be sleeping, and I’m sure most of us will agree that it is not fun being woken up. Instead, follow the flight attendant’s movements, who balance and guide themselves by holding on to the overhead compartments.
Let There Be Light…?
The Window Shades Up, Window Shades Down Debate
Usually, the flight attendants will announce to lift the window shades up or slide them down, for take off or landing. Other than that, it’s pretty dependent on the time of day you are flying. If you are in the window seat, flying throughout the night, and you happen to wake up at the time the sun rises, don’t be that person that rolls up the window shades while your neighbours are sleeping, as the blinding glare may disturb them. There has been some debate on whether the window seat passenger has the final say on whether the window shades remain up or down, but again, it all comes down to being courteous. If you are worried about this, it is best to ask your neighbour if they mind that you raise the window shades.
Sun glare isn’t the only light that may disturb your sleep. Your neighbour may have a ton of work to do on their laptop, keeping their reading light on, or they may stay up watching a movie, and the glare from each can be of annoyance to you, if you are trying to sleep. I always pack a sleeping eye-mask when traveling, in case I stumble across these scenarios, so I would suggest to do the same. Usually on long haul flights, the airline offers these, so you can ask the flight attendant for an eye-mask, if necessary.
Don’t Get Drunk
Even if you’re ready to party.
Yes, it’s fun to unwind, take off your shoes, and enjoy the complimentary alcohol, on board. If you are going on a vacation and are “ready to paaarrrttyyy“, enjoying alcohol [with food] isn’t a crime, however, don’t embarrass yourself by becoming the drunk passenger that everyone [including airline staff] is annoyed at, on the flight. As my friends and I always say – “PY: Pace Yourself”. If it helps to keep yourself in check, just think – you don’t want to be the hungover one when you arrive at your destination while everyone else can actually party, do you?
Disembarking the Aircraft
Wait your turn.
One would think that this is common sense, but again, there’s always that one person. On a recent flight I was on, impatient people were rushing to get ahead, not waiting their turn to retrieve their carry-on items from the overhead compartments, and causing quizzical looks to be exchanged amongst other passengers. When disembarking the aircraft, it is common courtesy to wait your turn. Allow the passengers in the rows ahead of yours to grab their belongings, to avoid causing traffic in the aisles. Being a little patient will go a long way.
If you have a connection flight, and are in a rush, you may ask your neighbours if they wouldn’t mind letting you go ahead. [That being said, you should always book a trip which allows yourself enough time to disembark and find your way to the gate before your connecting flight]. Also, when opening the overhead compartments, make sure to open slowly, as some items may have moved around during the flight.
Remembering the aforementioned steps for the next time you’re on board will make for an enjoyable experience for everyone. Happy flying!