5 Commandments Of In-Flight Etiquette

2 June 2015
Read Time: 3.3 mins

Words by Anna Howard

Much like the commuter route, badly behaved or oblivious passengers are becoming all too common in the air. You know the kind that has to be restrained with duct tape because he's drunk and belligerent or the woman who forces an aircraft to make an emergency landing because she refuses to stop singing Whitney Houston songs. You can't make this stuff up.

Aside from those that take things to the extreme, you're forced – literally – to rub elbows with the stranger next to you. Travel brings together all kinds of diversity and when it comes to the skies, even the most basic manners go a long way. Don't be that person who leaves their common courtesy on the tarmac. These commandments of in-flight etiquette will ensure a smooth journey for all.

1. Thou shall dress appropriately

In its heyday, air travel was reserved for the elite. It was a luxury, not a necessity and an idealistic excuse to dress up and hobnob with other glamorous travellers. Today, the emergence of cheaper airfares mean air travel is becoming not unlike public transport. Some argue the magic of travel has disappeared with the emergence of no-frills airlines and cheap deals. Regardless of who you choose to fly with, it's no excuse to dress like you're ambling down to the corner store.

Leave the boardies, thongs, track pants or short skirts in your checked-in luggage; a crisp, button-up shirt, closed-toe shoes and composed demeanour will not only help you feel like a million bucks after a long-haul flight; most importantly, it will afford you a better chance of an upgrade.

For the love of aviation, if you have to remove your shoes, keep your bare feet concealed with socks or slippers. No one wants to see toes poking through their seat or in the aisles. If you're concerned with swollen limbs, invest in a good pair of DVT socks to keep the circulation going. And don't even think about walking through the cabin or heaven forbid, the bathroom, in bare feet.

2. Thou shall be respectful

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" couldn't be truer than at 30,000 feet.

  • As much as you love to strike up a conversation, your buddy in 12C may not appreciate a chatty Cathy and the intricacies of her love life. Take the hint if you receive a minimal response; a simple hello will generally suffice. Don't speak at the top of your lungs either.
  • Keep your belongings to yourself. Ensure your bag is stowed away beneath your seat or above and not spilling over to your neighbour's area.
  • The same goes for parts of your body. Be mindful of your sleeping position – just image waking up on the shoulder of the stranger next to you.
  • Don't hog both arm rests. Think of the poor soul in the middle who's uncomfortably twiddling his thumbs while his neighbours elbow him in the sides.
  • Don't grab the back of the seat in front of you while you're getting up. It'll be a shock to the person who's sleeping/reading/working in front of you.
  • Keep your eyes to yourself and pack enough of your own reading material. Looking over the shoulder of your neighbour is a big no-no. It's terribly rude and nine times out of 10 they'll notice.
  • Leave the attitude at home. There's no need to treat flight attendants with anything other than respect. It's not the end of the world if your choice of chicken or beef has run out and certainly no excuse to take it out on the host or hostess. After all, they'll be the ones putting your safety first in the unlikely event of an emergency.
  • For those mile-high club wannabes, rethink a bathroom rendezvous. The bathrooms are not only filthy, but there are at least another 100 people using them at any given time. You're just asking to be caught out.

3. Thou shall be considerate when boarding

We've all seen – or been behind – that one person who's been waiting patiently to board acting completely surprised when the flight attendant requests a boarding pass. This is usually followed by a frantic rummage through bag after bag to find it, unaware of the line piling up behind them. Stay organised and have your travel documents in a handy place, ready to be presented when requested.

Once you're onboard, keep things moving swiftly so as not to create a hold-up. Stow your bag in the overhead lockers as close as possible to your seat. It's a win-win for all parties as it won't delay departure, you'll have easy access to your things and the person sitting near you doesn't have to wait for everyone to disembark before being able to retrieve their luggage at the back of the plane.

4. Thou shall recline with care

There's a very fine line between what's acceptable or discourteous when it comes to that little button on your armrest. Though, really only an issue in economy class, the age-old, 'do I or don't I recline' question has been given some serious thought in the last few years.

Sure, you've paid for the seat and it's yours to use to its fullest extent but think about the person behind you trying to enjoy their packaged meal without the glare of the in-flight entertainment just inches from their eyes. We recommend you keep it in the upright position during mealtimes. If you must lie back, it doesn't hurt to take a peek behind you before reclining– slowly – so you don't knock out that small child or squash the tall guy's legs up against his ears.

5. Thou shall not get too boozed

You may love your singing voice after a few vodkas but the rest of the cabin probably won't appreciate your favourite karaoke song. A few glasses of wine aren't going to hurt but there's no good reason to get drunk before or during your flight. Plus, if you're noticeably unruly, your chances of boarding without raising suspicion are slim to none.