Airplane Etiquette 2017 – How To Fly Friendlier Skies

Is it just me or has airplane etiquette deteriorated? My husband and I travel frequently to other cities for work, play, and to visit family a couple of times a month. While we don’t travel for a living, we feel for those who do after seeing patterns of inconsiderate and sometimes gross behavior on flights.

You may ask, “Thea, why are you covering airplane etiquette in your style blog?” Good question. As the Association of Image Consultants International points out, appearance, behavior and communication are the three pillars of your personal image. I sincerely believe that small gestures of consideration can make a big difference how you look and feel while traveling.  Why not take control of stress factors when we can be “a good neighbor” in the cramped confines of an airplane?

You may have a short-list of airplane etiquette party fouls like I have.  Here’s my list. What’s yours? Leave comments at the bottom of the post.

Party Foul #1: Pre-board Bumbles

Have you waited on passengers at the check-in counter who are yanking clothes and shoes out of their luggage to avoid fees on exceeding weight limits? How about the person in front of you taking five minutes to walk through the metal detector 3 to 4 times for various security infractions? (I was once behind a guy who forgot he had a GUN in his bag!)

A few best practices I figured out along the way:

—  Review the nationwide travel rules from the FAA before leaving the house. Rules change, stay ahead of the game.

— Arguing with TSA is futile.

— If inclement weather is on the way, mentally prepare for delays. My friend and I were delayed in Baltimore thanks to near-hurricane conditions. Standing in line at the gate, it was appalling how passengers treated the gate agents while reassigning flights. We walked up, thanked them for putting up with the terrible behavior of others, and said any flight they could get us on would be much appreciated.   Not only did we get booked on a non-stop flight to Chicago, but we were upgraded to first class.  Being kind PAYS. Plus, who wants to look like a jerk?

Party Foul #2: Carry-on luggage you can’t carry

According to an report for 2015, efficiency of boarding a plane is as important to travelers as quickly getting through airport security. That’s tough to achieve when people a) can’t lift luggage quickly and easily into the overhead compartment by themselves, or b) are stopped at the door or gate to check in a bag because it’s too big.

A few “light” packing tips (See? I can work style tips into any topic– LOL):

—  Leave items at home that the hotel supplies (hair products, soap, blow dryer).

— Bring travel-size health and beauty products for those few items that you’ll need like deodorant. I re-use my sample containers from department store beauty counters for skincare products. Warning: a regular tube of toothpaste is too big for TSA rules and will be removed and tossed.

— Pack one pair of shoes at most. Wear the heavier pair to the airport, pack the lighter pair.

— Wear your jacket or sweater instead of packing it. My husband uses this trick– it prevents wrinkles and lightens the load.

— Choose a neutral pair of pants or skirt that you can wear both days and simply change out the top and/or that second pair of shoes. Men do it, so can women.

— Purchase a smaller carry-on that forces you to pack efficiently.

Note: I stopped taking roller luggage onboard years ago, even for short trips. With just my tote (includes a small handbag, laptop, and a book), my back and feet are much happier. I don’t stress about the $25 that some airlines charge because it’s cheaper than a chiropractic appointment. Plus, I feel more polished when unencumbered.

Party Foul #3: Other People’s Audio (OPA)

Other people’s audio (OPA) is akin to nails dragging down a chalk board.  This is the new airplane etiquette issue that I wish flight attendants were corporately empowered to enforce.  It’s easy to pull out earbuds/phones and plug in before hitting the “play” button.  This goes for kiddos, too.  iPads and other video/game sources are the most amazing inventions for occupying kids on a long flight but defeat the purpose if neighbors can hear them.  Especially SpongeBob.  No SpongeBob audio. Please.  If you find yourself sitting near OPA, or a screaming child, earphones/buds are just as important.

Fixes for a quiet flight:

— Some airlines pass out earbuds as a courtesy (or for $2).  Well worth it for a 2+ hour flight time.

— Invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

— Don’t be afraid to ask your flight attendant to ask the offending party to turn it off.

Party Foul #4: Hair twirling/combing and beard picking

Now we’re hitting the “eewwww” factor. Usually a nervous habit, these activities can be overlooked in an open space. In airplanes, they leave a wake of hair and flakes all over seats and floors.  Common offenses I witness:

— Twirling hair and then pulling the loosened strands out.

— Combing through hair (fingers or brushes) with strands flying.

— Using hairspray!

— Picking through beard/mustache and flicking whiskers and food onto the floor and seat.

It’s easy to groom before getting on the plane.  But if it’s a nervous habit (like hair twirling), try a slicked-back updo that eliminates tempting, twirlable locks. Or wear a cute hat! And there’s always the option of visiting the bathroom.

Party Foul #4: Armrest Hogging

I read about this in an airplane etiquette post a year or two ago (I’d reference it if I could remember the blog), and it hit home.  If you are sitting in an aisle or window seat, leave your middle seat armrest for the middle passenger.  She is already wedged in between two people, so why not allow for elbow room?

Party Foul #5: Deplaning Line Skippers

Just last month, my husband and I were rudely pushed out of the way by a man from two rows back who squeezed his way past other passengers to get out first. This line skipper didn’t say “Pardon, I don’t want to miss my connection,” or even an “Excuse me.” Later, we stood next to him waiting for our baggage at the carousel.  Seriously! All that silliness to wait with the rest of us.

If there is a clear opening to exit before others, why not go for it? But when people are actively exiting, using a bag as a bulldozer is a party foul. Instead, ask a flight attendant early on to announce that some passengers may miss their flights due to delays and to let them out before those without connections.  Or explain to those around you your situation in advance. It’s amazing how accommodating people can be when you give them the chance.


I know my husband is reading this post wondering why screaming babies and loud children aren’t listed as a party foul. As a traveler, I know how nerve-racking it is to work (even with headphones) next to a screaming child.  As a parent, I know how hard it is to quiet an uncomfortable baby with popping ears or tummy woes.

Here’s a video that may give you some good ideas for babies from Daily Mail UK.

Here’s another video for toddlers, in particular, from The Washington Post.

The more we practice airplane etiquette, the more pleasant future flights will be for everyone. Safe travels!


Thea Wood
Signature Stylist
“For a look that says who you are and where you’re going.”

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7 Responses to Airplane Etiquette 2017 – How To Fly Friendlier Skies

  1. Kim Smith December 14, 2017 at 5:49 am #

    We live in a society (Facebook) where we can do anything online and in person-personal boundaries-non-existent! I do not like traveling in coach, people are too close to me. I do not want to be that intimate with strangers. We all need a bit of respect for oneself and others.

  2. Deneen December 13, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    This is such a timely article for me since I will be going to South America in a few days. I love all of these and you are right, have seen or experienced them all! Now if we could just get Americans to not buy one seat when they really need two that would be nice. 🙂

    • Thea Wood January 3, 2018 at 5:07 pm #

      So glad this helped you out. Some airlines offer larger seats now (I think they are called “comfort plus” and accommodate taller/larger people. It’s at an extra cost, but certainly worth it for all travelers. Plus, I believe it’s a safety issue should there be an emergency evacuation. I’ve contemplated jumping over people next to me if they couldn’t get out of their seats!

  3. KATE BATTEN December 13, 2017 at 3:50 am #

    Do you think possibly there is a self-sabotage human behaviour thing going on here? Taking too many bags, making things harder then they need to be? … Mmmmm it’s possible.

    • Thea Wood January 3, 2018 at 5:10 pm #

      Hmmmm… that’s possible. Though I think the system re-enforces poor travel habits. Charging $20-$50 to check in bags encourages personal “overload,” so to speak. Plus, the food/beverage service is down to a few soft drinks and water on most flights– forcing people to pack food/bev, adding to the problem. It’s a total mess.

  4. Valerie Albarda December 12, 2017 at 10:49 am #

    Oh. My. Gawd! Yes yes yes. As a frequent flyer, there are a number of things that irk me:

    . the person who sits next to me smelling like he/she bathed in liquor.
    . the people seated behind you who grab onto the back of your seat when they stand up.
    . feet (bare or socked) poking through the arm rest from the idiot behind me. Ewww. Just ewww.

    • Thea Wood December 12, 2017 at 11:00 am #

      Yes to all these!! Especially the second one!!

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