The Rudest Things You Can Do On A Plane

Etiquette experts share their top air travel faux pas.

Air travel is generally not a fun and carefree experience. But there are many ways you and your fellow passengers can make flights less miserable. Specifically, there are certain things you can avoid doing in order to foster a more pleasant journey for all.

To guide travelers toward this goal, HuffPost asked some etiquette experts to identify the faux pas they often witness people committing while flying, and their advice on how to avoid repeating them. The answers mostly come down to having respect for others and setting a good example.

“When you’re trapped in a small space, you have to have extra good manners. I can’t get off and move away from you on an airplane the way I can in a subway car,” said Jodi R.R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.

“The kinder you can be, the better you can help to create an atmosphere where we’re all a little bit caring. We all need to get to the destination as quickly and safely as possible, and a little bit of kindness and understanding can go a long way,” Smith added.

Without further ado, here are 15 of the rudest things you can do on a plane.

Bring Pungent Food On Board

If you want to bring a snack or meal on board, avoid messy or smelly foods. When you’re in a small space, pungent odors will spread, and it’s particularly rude to passengers sitting next to you.

“A tuna sandwich or hard-boiled eggs are better served in a home or restaurant, where there is more air and better air filters,” said Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life,” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.

Beyond food smells, Smith advised being mindful of your body odor.

“If I’ve just run the New York City marathon, I’m going to take a shower or at least try to give myself a bit of a sponge bath in the airport bathroom before I sit down next to you for a cross-country flight,” Smith said.

There are ways to make flights more pleasant for yourself, your fellow passengers and the cabin crew.
Witthaya Prasongsin via Getty Images
There are ways to make flights more pleasant for yourself, your fellow passengers and the cabin crew.

Take Photos Of Fellow Passengers

Gottsman cautioned against taking pictures of other travelers and posting them online without permission.

“Unless there is a situation which involves potential danger, it’s rude to post a picture of a fellow traveler to make fun of them for something they wearing, carrying or enjoying,” Gottsman said.

Make Lots Of Noise

All the experts agreed that yelling, having loud conversations and watching a movie on your iPad without earbuds are major no-nos during air travel.

“Don’t play a video game with the noise all the up so that everyone is subjected to listen to it,” Smith noted.

Use The Plane As A Spa

“People file their nails, floss their teeth, take off their shoes and wiggle their toes. We have to remember the airplane is a means of commuting ― it’s not a day spa,” said Patricia Rossi, a civility expert, keynote speaker and author of “Everyday Etiquette.”

That doesn’t mean you should head to the airplane lavatory for your beauty treatments, either.

“There are too many passengers waiting to use the facilities for one person to take 20 minutes putting on makeup and fixing their hair. It’s not a beauty salon,” said Gottsman.

Ignore Armrest Protocol

Traditionally, the rule for armrests is that the person on the aisle gets the aisle armrest, the one by the window gets the window armrest, and the person stuck in the middle gets both of the shared middle armrests.

Gottsman said the person in the middle seat should be mindful of their neighbors, however. “The person in the aisle seat may also need to rest their arm on the shared armrest since the one on the aisle can make contact with people walking by to the restroom or a flight attendant who is serving beverages,” she noted, adding that it may be necessary to take turns.

If you’re sitting in a row with two or four seats, it’s similarly important to be respectful and take turns with the shared armrests.

Disregard Personal Space

“On airplanes, they’re making our little bubbles smaller and smaller and smaller,” said Smith. ”Some people try to shove their legs in between the two sets in front of them. That’s not part of your bubble. Your feet should not be touching somebody else’s arm. Be cognizant of being respectful of other people’s space.”

Respecting people’s personal space extends to germs as well. Gottsman believes passengers should be mindful of their coughing and sneezing, and avoid brushing their hair.

“Germs spread in seconds,” Gottsman said. Hair may not carry as many germs, but people don’t want someone else’s hair wafting onto their clothes or in their personal space.

It's important to respect personal boundaries on flights.
izusek via Getty Images
It's important to respect personal boundaries on flights.

Act Entitled With Flight Attendants

Flight attendants often bear the brunt of passenger rudeness.

“There’s a sense of entitlement,” said Jacqueline Whitmore, an international etiquette expert and former flight attendant. “Flight attendants are really there for your safety, but people don’t understand that and think they’re just there to serve you drinks.”

Smith emphasized that flight attendants are more likely to want to help you with matters outside their general duties if you ask politely and wait until you’re at cruising altitude.

“Don’t scream at them. Don’t treat them like your servant,” Smith said. “Unless you’re flying first class, don’t expect a cocktail when you sit down. When they’re boarding the plane, their job is to help people board as quickly and safely as possible ― not to get you a drink, bring you extra tissues or find you a pillow.”

Rossi recommended showing gratitude to flight attendants. “If you’re flying around the holidays, get them a $5 or $10 Starbucks card and thank them for working on the holidays to get you where you need to go,” she said. “It’s kind, and it makes you feel good to do that.”

Glare At Parents Of Crying Babies

“I want people to be forgiving when they’re on an airplane. If an infant is screaming their head off two rows back, there’s not a whole lot a parent can do other than try to calm them,” Smith noted. “The parent is already exhausted and mortified. You shooting evil glances at that parent is not going to help that situation.”

Instead of glaring, you could see if there’s something you can do to help the situation. Smith outlined a few ways to lend a hand.

“If you think you’re a baby whisperer, you can offer to hold the baby, burp the baby, rock the baby. You can be helpful in other ways. If you’re in a row with a parent who has a baby and toddler, offer to read the toddler a book or color something in their coloring book so that the parent can take care of the infant,” she suggested.

“We have to consider ourselves part of a giant human family and when you can help, you should help,” Smith said. “You don’t have to be a jungle gym for a toddler that won’t sit still, though.”

Let Your Children Run Wild

While many things are out of parents’ control, they can make an effort to calm their energetic children.

“I’ve seen kids are jumping on the seats, moving the seats in front of them, playing drums on the tray table, being too noisy and rambunctious, or running up and down the aisles and getting in the way of the flight attendant’s meal cart,” said Whitmore, adding that it’s inconsiderate for parents not to curb this behavior when it’s in their control.

Smith noted that there are situations when a little understanding goes a long way, however.

“If someone has special needs and occasionally shouts out, you’re just going to have to bear with them,” she said. “That’s who that person is, and it’s probably stressful for whoever is traveling with them.”

Be An Overhead Bin Thief

Although airline baggage fees encourage people to carry on more stuff, that doesn’t mean you should take up more than your fair share of space in the overhead bin. And if you can’t lift your bag to stow it in the bin, you probably should’ve checked it.

Gottsman described another type of “overhead bin thief” she’s observed on flights. “This is the person who has a seat in the back but wants his/her luggage to be up front waiting for him/her when they get off the plane,” she said. “They don’t want to carry it all the way back to row 22, so they decide row 8 looks like it’s a nice space.”

Another rude behavior involving overhead bins is smashing other peoples’ belongings in order to make your overstuffed bag fit. “This person takes it upon themselves to move the suitcases, totes and carefully placed bags with breakables around to accommodate their own luggage,” Gottsman said.

Take Off Your Shoes

Kicking off your shoes to take a nap might feel nice to you, but you may be introducing unpleasant odors into the cabin and making your fellow travelers uncomfortable.

“If you absolutely have to, just make sure you have a pair of socks on,” said Rossi. “Nobody wants to see your scary toes.”

Gottsman added: “And don’t even think about going to the bathroom barefooted.”

Etiquette experts caution against taking your shoes off during a flight.
Jasmin Merdan via Getty Images
Etiquette experts caution against taking your shoes off during a flight.

Time Bathroom Breaks Poorly

Another inconsiderate plane behavior is choosing to use the bathroom at times that inconvenience cabin crew or fellow passengers.

“Use the bathroom while you’re sitting and waiting in the airport,” said Rossi. “People try to use the bathroom right after boarding the plane, which can slow the whole boarding and departure process.”

Smith advised travelers to pay attention to drink and food service times, too. “Those aisles are narrow. If you see them about to take out the drink cart, don’t go to the bathroom at that exact moment,” she said. “Try to go before or after so you’re not shoving them into a row or making them back all the way up. It should be common sense.”

Pick Fights With Fellow Passengers

“If the person next to you is not being respectful, your first line of defense is to speak with them directly and politely,” said Smith, giving the example of a passenger playing something on their iPad loudly.

“Say, ‘Excuse me, I hate to be a bother, but could you put in your earbuds so that I don’t have to listen to your movie?’” Smith advised. ”The vast majority of people will be like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize, I’m so sorry!’ If they say ‘no,’ then you can enlist a flight attendant and have them ask the passenger, but you should be a grownup and ask nicely first.”

Whitmore said it’s important to be mindful before creating conflict.

“Choose your battles,” she said. “If they’re talking too loudly on their cellphone before takeoff, maybe it’s not going to make a big difference to ask them to stop since the conversation will have to end soon anyway. If you can ignore it, ignore it. But if it’s encroaching on your privacy or well-being, say something politely or take up your grievance with the flight attendant.”

Recline Into Someone’s Knees

Although you have the opportunity to recline once the plane reaches cruising altitude, you don’t have to put your seat all the way back.

“Think before you recline,” said Gottsman. “Look around you and your environment. There might be a small child or someone of smaller stature behind you, so you’ll have more room to recline. But if someone is 6′5 and struggling to be seated to begin with, it’s going to be uncomfortable. You should take their comfort into consideration because it’s just the kind thing to do.”

Exit Before The People Ahead Of You

Obviously everyone is eager to get off the plane, but it’s rude to jump ahead and ignore the orderly row-by-row exit system ― even if you have no luggage.

“Unless you are about to miss a flight ― in which case you should alert the flight attendant ― it’s polite to wait your turn for your aisle to deplane,” said Gottsman.

Rossi offered other reasons for waiting your turn.

“I mean what are we talking about, 20 seconds? You don’t want that bad karma, and it agitates people,” she quipped. “And what if you’re flying for work and the person you jumped in front of is the person you’ll be working with?”

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