The Best Airplane Etiquette Tips for Making Flying Less Stressful

By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor

Here’s an odd thing about flying. When passengers were polled about their top complaints concerning the lack of airplane etiquette, it’s not delayed flights, lost luggage, and long security lines that top the list; it’s the rudeness of fellow travelers.

Others’ lack of manners wasn’t always a concern.

At the dawn of commercial aviation, people were mindful that they were embarking on a shared journey. In preparation, they put on their best manners for the benefit of their fellow travelers.

Fast-forward to today.

Now we’re experiencing what happens when a society abandons the commonality of civility that holds us together for the belief that we each can do as we like without (or despite) it negatively affecting us as a whole.

What’s the solution to making our hectic flights more tolerable? Understanding, and then acting upon, the fact that courtesy diffuses stress — even at 30,000 feet!

The Best Airline Etiquette Tips To Make Flying Less Stressful

1.) At the security check, be ahead of the game.
As you approach the first security checkpoint, have your ticket and ID out and ready. When you’re three people or so away from having your turn to place items in the bins on the conveyor belt, begin to take your shoes and jacket off and put on a smile! It will make the security process more pleasant for you and everyone around you. Since you have to go through it, you might as well make it as enjoyable as possible!

Grace Note: At the conveyor belt, if the stack of bins where you deposit your items is running low, say to the person behind you, stranger or not: “Please hold my spot! I’m going to the next belt over to get some bins for us.” Pick up several, and place a few on the belt for you and the person/family directly behind you. Place the rest on the floor nearby for the next passengers. This small act of helpfulness earns a smile and a thank you from even the gruffest of fellow travelers. (Of course, you wouldn’t want to do this if it caused you to go back through security or x-ray. However, normally there are bins stacked at the beginning of each conveyor belt prior to where you step through x-ray.)


Flying anywhere soon?! Here are the top 7 airline tips for the etiquette of making airplane travel less stressful and more comfortable for ourselves and everyone else. There is a way to be classy even at 30,000 feet! #airline #airlinetips #plane #flying #traveltips #etiquette #manners #mannersmentor #maraleemckee
2.) Handle your carry-ons considerately. Hold your carry-on items directly in front of you as you board the plane. It’s natural to think that carrying items above your head or to your sides near the floor is the surest way to keep them from accidentally bumping others. But the best method is counterintuitive. It’s to hold your items directly in front of you anywhere between knee and waist level. Fellow travelers who happen to be sitting in aisle seats will appreciate that you didn’t hit them in the shoulder or thigh.

Once you arrive at your row, place items in the bin above your seat, not in other bins. Using those would put the passengers about to sit below them in the same predicament you’re facing. If your bin is full, try to notify the flight attendant. Even after takeoff, if a bin isn’t full, ask the passengers below it before using it. They later might need to stow a coat, computer bag, or some other item in their bin.

3.) Don’t bring meals onto the plane. Outside food on flights is a biggie! Snack crackers, granola bars, and similar items are fine. However, the aroma of a double cheeseburger or salad with blue cheese that you purchased in the airport food court will permeate the circulating air in the plane before you can say “Fasten your seatbelts.” I read about a flight recently where a woman ate a meal, pulled out dental floss, and began spraying food particles. The stunned, unfortunate woman next to her tried to bury her head deeper and deeper into her magazine to protect herself. When the plane landed, the flosser’s only comment was a snide remark about how she “really enjoyed the conversation” of her silent seatmate.

Grace Note: While we’re on the topic of odors, why not aim to be a literal breath of fresh air! Perfume, scented lotions, aftershave, or anything else with scent should be used lightly or not at all. Again, the recycled air on the plane can amplify the fragrance, and if others are sensitive to it, it can leave them with allergy-like symptoms and real headaches.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, liberally apply your deodorant while getting dressed for the flight. And it’s always a gracious gesture to carry breath mints. It’s nice when your seatmates find you refreshing. You don’t want them to think you need refreshing!

4.) Speak to your seatmates graciously but tentatively at first. Smile, make eye contact, and say “Good afternoon” to the persons in your row. You don’t need to engage in full conversation with the stranger beside you. Of course, you may if you like. Test the waters by asking whether this trip is for business or pleasure and seeing where the conversation leads. If the other person takes out something to read or work on, or puts on earphones, that’s the silent signal that your seatmate isn’t in the mood for conversation.

5.) Be proactive in putting your seatmates at ease. If you have an aisle or middle seat, tell your seatmate(s) you’ll be happy to move or let them pass by you if they need to get up during the flight. Especially do so before you put all your personal possessions on your seatback tray. When you’re using your laptop or other items, your seatmates know they’re bothering you by asking you to move, and it’s never kind to put people in the uncomfortable position of asking you (a stranger) to be inconvenienced on their behalf. It’s also not right for them to have a full bladder from Atlanta to Denver because they were concerned about your reaction to their request to get past you to use the restroom or for any other reason. (And yes, there are lots of people who are shy enough that sitting in discomfort is less stressful to them than asking whether they can squeeze past you.)


Flying anywhere soon?! Here are the top 7 airline tips for the etiquette of making airplane travel less stressful and more comfortable for ourselves and everyone else. There is a way to be classy even at 30,000 feet! #airline #airlinetips #plane #flying #traveltips #etiquette #manners #mannersmentor #maraleemckee
6.) Check before reclining. 31% of passengers recline. You have the right to recline at will, as well as the responsibility to understand that your comfort is coming at a cost to the person behind you. Last month, as I flew home from a business meeting in Chicago, the person in front of me reclined the whole trip. By the time we landed three hours later in Orlando, I barely could feel my toes! Also, look behind you before reclining to make sure the other person doesn’t have snacks or beverages on the tray table. You’ll prevent sending a wave of diet soda crashing onto the person’s lap.

7.) Turn to face your seatmates when you enter or exit the row, and don’t grab the seatback. Try to face any of your seatmates while passing them. No one enjoys a backside view at eye level! (This is true for rows anywhere — movie theaters, auditoriums, churches, etc.) This way, you also can make eye contact with them as you say “Excuse me” and “Thank you.” When rising from your seat, get leverage from the armrests, not the seatbacks of those in front of you. Even a gentle grasp of their seats causes them to feel a jolt which may startle or awaken them, and it’s also easy to pull their hair accidentally.

Grace Note: It’s kind for any persons sitting in the aisle and middle seats to stand up and move into the aisle to allow their fellow passenger the easiest in and out.

The Best Airplane Etiquette Tips To Make Flying Less Stressful —Bonus Tips

1.) Don’t place your items under your own seat! Your items are correctly stored under the seat in front of you. That way they are easier for you to see and reach. If you’re in the front row of seats, you don’t get the luxury of under-seat storage, so everything will need to go into the overhead bin. However, you do get the luxury of the extra legroom and not having anyone sitting in front of you! It’s a trade-off. All in all, it’s a great one!


Flying anywhere soon?! Here are the top 7 airline tips for the etiquette of making airplane travel less stressful and more comfortable for ourselves and everyone else. There is a way to be classy even at 30,000 feet! #airline #airlinetips #plane #flying #traveltips #etiquette #manners #mannersmentor #maraleemckee
2.) Children will be children; don’t allow their behavior to pull you to their level. There are some parents who don’t seem to care at all what their little ones do or whom they disturb during a flight. And there also are parents who are nervous wrecks during the whole flight because they’re terrified of being the parent with the loud child.

Sometimes, turning around and smiling is the best way to get parents to take charge of an overly loud or active child behind you. It lets the parents know that you’ve “noticed” their child is behind you, but it doesn’t put them in a defensive position about the behavior of their child.

In most instances, give the gift of grace; you were a child once yourself! And as for babies, the change in altitude and the unfamiliar surroundings can make them cry. Think about it: don’t a lot of us grownups actually want to cry when we fly?!

The most common complaint about children on flights is that they swing their legs back and forth, kicking the seat in front of them. If you’re the person whose seat is being kicked, try this: Turn to the parent(s) and nicely inquire about the child. “He’s anxious to get off the plane, isn’t he?” (Parent answers.) “How old is he?” (Parent answers.) Then add anything else you can think of that will make for a moment or two of pleasant banter. Next, say something along the lines of, “Could you help me with something? He’s kicking the back of my chair, and it’s jolting me.” Because you first established a relationship with the parent(s), albeit a brief one, you’ve put them in a much less defensive and more helpful attitude.

If that doesn’t work, or if a child four years or older is truly disruptive (yelling, running in the aisle, or such), alert the flight attendant. The last thing you want is to anger the parents and escalate the situation.

3.) When exiting the plane, exit row-by-row from the front of the plane to the back. Unless you’re about to miss your connecting flight, exit the plane in row-by-row order, and everyone will actually disembark quicker. When the small center aisle gets congested, no one ends up getting anywhere fast!

4.) What about armrests? Which one is mine, and which one(s) belong to my seatmates? When your seatmates are strangers, there is an etiquette to which armrest should be used by which person. It comes down to taking pity on the passenger in the middle seat! In 2011, five out of six experts whom The Wall Street Journal polled said the middle passenger in a row of three seats (aisle-middle-window) gets both middle armrests.


Because the middle person is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to comfortable seats (not that any of them are comfortable, but the middle seat is just the least comfy, especially when sitting next to strangers). The aisle passenger can stretch out into the aisle when no one is walking by, and the window-seat passenger has the wall to rest/sleep against. You can find out more about this and other etiquette tips in Rules of Flying: Ex-Flight Attendant’s Top 10 Airline Etiquette Tips.

What’s Next?

If you’re new, welcome! You can find out more about the Manners Mentor family and me here. Please join us by entering your best email address in the rectangular box below this post. As my welcome gift, you’ll receive a FREE illustrated copy of my Impressive Dining Skills for Every Meal. You deserve a seat at every table, and with this guide, you’ll feel confident and at ease in any dining situation from casual to formal, for work, social situations, and family gatherings.

Until next time, keep doing what only you can do. Bless the world by being you at your authentic best!

Blessings galore,

Flying anywhere soon?! Here are the top 7 airline tips for the etiquette of making airplane travel less stressful and more comfortable for ourselves and everyone else. There is a way to be classy even at 30,000 feet! #airline #airlinetips #plane #flying #traveltips #etiquette #manners #mannersmentor #maraleemckee

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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