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Don’t Make These Travel Etiquette Mistakes the Next Time You Fly

6 minute read

Flying can be a nerve-racking and sometimes aggravating experience—even more so when faced with rude behavior like someone reclining their seat too far back or cutting you in line.

“When people are traveling, they often are experiencing higher levels of stress,” says Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute and the great-great-granddaughter of etiquette expert Emily Post. “It can be really easy when you travel to forget your manners.”

A lot of the stress and anger passengers may experience are also a result of an increase in the number of people traveling over the past few years. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, nearly 850 million passengers traveled domestically and internationally on scheduled U.S. airlines in 2017 — a 14.3% increase since 2013.

“There’s more of us traveling in less desirable conditions,” Post says.

That being said, there are small adjustments you can make to enhance the experience for you and your fellow passengers. So the next time you travel, be mindful of these common mistakes — and here’s what you should do instead:

What are the most common etiquette mistakes people make when flying?

Since traveling tends to spark high levels of stress, people guilty of travel faux pas may not normally behave this way in their daily lives, Post says.

Still, many passengers tend to commit a whole host of blunders. The most typical etiquette errors involve issues of hygiene, speaking to passengers who would rather be left alone and a general disregard for others — whether it’s taking off shoes, resting feet on chairs, reclining seats too far back or kicking the seat in front you, Post says.

Another frequent mistake travelers tend to make is trying to board the flight before their section is called, according to Post. This can hold up the boarding process. “Why are you going to go trap yourself in a smaller space for longer?” she says. “Just stay seated until it’s time to get up. You will make it on the plane. You bought a seat.”

Other common etiquette errors include taking foul-smelling food on the plane, coughing without covering your mouth and hanging onto the backs of the chairs in front of you when getting up from your seat, according to Post.

Amanda Pleva, a flight attendant for a U.S. airline company, also says she regularly witnesses “territory battles” among passengers—especially when it comes to the armrest.

Who has claim over the armrests?

The armrests on either side of the middle seat are often a point of contention for many passengers. But Pleva says the answer to who has ownership over the armrests is plain and simple: “The middle person gets both armrests. Period,” she says. Since the window seat passenger can lean against the wall and the person in the aisle seat can stretch out his or her legs, she says passengers should “throw the middle seat a bone.”

Post adds that it’s also possible to share or take turns using the armrest, but it’s most important that passengers are cognizant of the small space in an airplane and willing to make compromises. After all, “we’re sardines in a can,” she says.

What’s the best way to deal with reclining seats on a plane?

If the passenger sitting in front of you reclines his or her seat all the way back, is it acceptable to ask that person to move it back up?

“You have to be really careful about the language that you choose here,” Post warns. She says it’s acceptable to ask the person in front of you to pull his or her seat back up — but only if you do so in a friendly tone.

And if all else fails, just remember that the discomfort is temporary.

“It’s a lot easier to take stock of your situation and say, ‘OK, this will be over in 4 hours and 3 minutes than it is to start doing things in a retaliatory fashion that are just going to make matters worse in a small environment,” Post says.

But is it fair for you to recline your seat back? If you don’t feel it’s absolutely necessary, you should consider avoiding it, says Post.

If you do decide to recline your seat back, however, there are ways to preserve common courtesy. First, you can check if the person sitting behind you has a child or a laptop on his or her lap, and then let that passenger know you’ll only be reclining your seat for a finite amount of time, Post suggests. She sets a timer on her phone to remind her when to straighten her seat, especially if she falls asleep.

“[Speaking up] gets such a positive reaction compared to just throwing your seat back and then having the person behind you wonder if this is going to be for the next six hours or not,” Post says.

How should you interact with flight attendants?

Whether you’re boarding or deplaning, expressing gratitude to the flight crew goes a long way.

“It’s the little things that dehumanize us,” Pleva says. She adds that one of the worst feelings she experiences is receiving no acknowledgment at the end of the flight after working hard to ensure passengers are comfortable and having a pleasant trip. “That just says to me, ‘you’re not even worth my reply.'”

Sometimes negative interactions with the flight crew originate from the anxiety travelers experience from potentially missing a flight. One way to secure a positive interaction with flight attendants is to give yourself even more time than you think is necessary to get situated at the airport, Pleva suggests.

“When you go to the airport still in your pajamas … and you’ve barely slept because you decided to stay up all night and take the first flight out, you’re exhausted,” Pleva says. “You’ve got this negative attitude and you’re not going to have that great of a flight.”

She suggests getting to the airport early, enjoying a good meal and making a positive experience out of traveling. This will put you in a better mood, which will extend to your in-flight interactions.

And in the end, good travel etiquette comes down to a basic level of respect from all parties.

“It’s amazing how much just a little bit of consideration goes such a long way in travel,” Post says.

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