Top tips for in-flight etiquette

By David Flynn, September 16 2016
Top tips for in-flight etiquette

Take 300 people, most of them strangers to one another. Jam them into limited space for 10-12 hours, during which they have to sit side-by-side. Thin out the air to make everyone a bit more tired and tetchy. Add some stress and fatigue.

It could be the recipe for a new reality TV program, but this show is played live over 100,000 times a day at airports around the world.

Little wonder that there’s enough pent-up tension simmering among travellers to make the average Big Brother household look like a happy hippie commune.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not as if hundreds of passengers are about to go postal on their seatmates.

But all too often it seems that travellers don’t pack social graces in their carry-on luggage.

Is it simply that tolerance levels decrease because we’re stressed, sometimes rushed, cramped, tired, hungry and bored?

Or do cheap tickets and the rise of the ‘cashed-up bogan’ equate to travellers who bring to the airplane the same self-centred habits and lack of civility that they’d exhibit on the ground?

(While these observations apply mainly to economy, where legroom and privacy are at a minimum, business class can have its own share of cashed-up bogans and the Don’t You Know Who I Am brigade.)

Whatever the reason, the results are the same.

The act of reclining your seat becomes a turf war over personal space. Subtle (and not-so-subtle) manoeuvring for the armrest. iPods with the volume wound up to 11. And the sometimes annoying in-flight antics of kids.

However, most of this is due to personal attitude rather than altitude.

I like to think that frequent flyers are the exception.

We’re well-organised, we know how to travel with a minimum of fuss for ourselves and others.

Our take is that because we’re all stuck together in this tin can for the next 10 hours, let’s try to make it work out with a smile instead of a snarl.

It can also be said that airlines are party to this, bringing out the worst in passengers by squeezing more people onto each flight and cutting back on in-flight amenities.

Even little touches help keep things humming along. Even notice how, on a Qantas international flight, the mood in the economy cabin skyrockets when the flight attendants hand out those Weiss ice-cream bars and cups of hot chocolate?

But airlines could do more to promote flight etiquette.

Maybe an announcement, following the pre-flight safety demo, suggesting that “as we’ll all be together for the next eight hours, please be considerate of your fellow travellers when reclining your seat and playing music over your headphones.”

Airlines could also offer some specific in-flight etiquette suggestions in an email with your itinerary or on your e-ticket.
Until that happens, here are a few starters.

Hey DJ!

Flight etiquette begins on the ground, in the airport lounge.

Using your laptop to watch a video, play some music, make a FaceTime or Skype call or keep Junior entertained with his or her favourite Wiggles videos – with the sound blasting through your laptop’s speaker?

Let me tell you about these amazing new invention called ‘headphones’ which you can even use in the plane!

Ditto for FaceTime speakerphone calls on the phone.

Bag-swingers and bag-stuffers

Passengers who hoist carry-on bags over their shoulder rather than holding it in front of them risk giving a black eye to travellers who are already seated.

And bloated hand luggage that’s bursting at the seams and needs a shot-putter to wedge it into overhead bins? Give me a break.

There’s a reason why carry-on baggage is limited and bins are not TARDIS-like portals to infinite space.

Second bag smarts

Worse still are passengers who repeatedly bounce up and down to fetch items from their carry-on bag.

It’s better for you and your seatmates if you bring a second, much smaller bag – one that can be stowed under the seat in front of you – with everything you’ll need during the flight.

Blokes should consider a compact messenger-style satchel that can hold your iPad, noise-cancelling headphones, a small set of in-flight toiletries, your travel wallet and such.

Rules for reclining

This is the flashpoint for in-flight aggravation.

I'm a firm believer that you shouldn't need to ask permission to recline your seat – you paid for that right when you bought your ticket.

At the same time, you have every right to the personal space which the seat ahead of you will be reclining into.

As you can see, those 'rights' – which most travellers hold to – happen to diametrically opposed to one another.

So there’s a middle ground where manners and consideration are needed.

Before you hit the recline button, check if the person behind you is using a laptop and needs to adjust their screen or extend the tray table.

You don’t have to ask them if you can recline your seat, but it doesn’t hurt to let them know that you’re going to recline it “a bit” to get some sleep.

Then do it slowly, or even just halfway.

Armrest warfare

If you’re in a two-seater, the armrest should be there to share. If your seatmate insists on hogging it then you need to either put up with it or reclaim your own slice of turf when they take a toilet break.

But where there’s a middle seat, frequent flyers generally accept that the person in the middle should get both armrests because they don’t have the side space of either a window or aisle to gently lean into.

What’s your experience with flight etiquette and what suggestions do you have to make flying a little more enjoyable for everyone?


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2014

Total posts 122

Security checkpoints. 

You usually have to stand in line. So why not empty your phones into your carry on and pull that laptop out *before* you get to the belt.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 473

Yep, drives me crazy...ppl think that you get your stuff organised "when" you get to the belt! 

I had a beligerant old bugger last week in Auckland start giving me stick, trying to push my laptop bag off the rollers, and raising his voice with the security dude because I dared walk around him whilst he fished $37 of change out of his pockets - and  there was no one in front of him waiting to go through the scanner..!

Security guy said to him - "bro, you're not ready, step back and let others go through"

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Nov 2014

Total posts 32

Do you think that airlines should have harsher rules when it comes to illnesses? Like can they turn around someone at the gate if they have gastro? Or even a cold, these days, long haul flights are pretty much a guarantee for a cold.

undertheradar Banned
undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 650

I believe the person you are in (every day) life, is the person you bring on to an aircraft. (or any other public transport for that matter). It's just 'amplified' because  the rest of us can't 'escape' from you in a tube 40,000feet in the air. lol

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 142

And don't forget to bring your seat back to upright whilst meals are being served even if you aren't eating.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2015

Total posts 38

1. Allow pax seated in front to disembark first.

2. If the overhead bin at your seat is full, use locker space in front of your seat, not behind. If you must go behind, allow others to disembark before retrieving.

3. If you are not able to lift your own carry on bags into the locker, they should not be in the cabin.

4. Wear deodorant.

5. Skin on skin on an armrest is not acceptable.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 May 2015

Total posts 19

I do think a friendly reminder to be courteous with a few basic suggestions given by the crew when the seat belt light first goes off would go a long way to setting the tone.  

Also, I'm sad to say that those "Weiss ice-cream bars and cups of hot chocolate" have both gone from Qantas economy flights, at least the ones to Asia.   


Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 730

Wear footwear, bare feet not a good look, especially when exiting from rest room that looks like it had a major plumbing issue.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Aug 2013

Total posts 5

Nice one, made me laugh.

19 Jan 2012

Total posts 4

I struggle with the hygiene issues. I can understand if you've been travelling for 30 hours that you may be a liitle bit on the nose by the end of that, but some people are odourous at the start of the journey. Wet wipes go a long way, as does deoderant.

The other problem is loud talkers on overnighters. Noise cancelling headphones don't always help in that regard if they insist on being heard.

Etiquette problems aren't always passenger related either. I've encountered some truly surly flight attendants in my time.

And yes, I agree with Jared! Security checkpoints! Some people attempt to go through with stuff in multiple pockets and have to go through the barrier 3-4 times. 


12 Apr 2013

Total posts 1519

IMHO airlines should reinforce paxs to use only overhead bins that dedicated to their seats.

As to most notorious “recline war” I cannot get what is fuss about. Those seats made recline, so person in front of you have all rights recline whenever they like. Blame herd’s (and of course yours own!) greediness and do not expect to pay below $2k to fly to Europe in full comfort. Saying that I always recline “in steps” to allow rear pax to adjust.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

22 Apr 2013

Total posts 143

I've learnt the hard way that adjusting my own expectations pre-flight goes a long way to my emotional/psychological endurance for the flight ahead. By that I mean, when I'm travelling for business it's usually at a time when other business travellers are also on-the-move. We generally know the drill, things are usually managed with a degree of coordination and civility between us all. So I feel justified to set my expectations a little higher (but not too high, not everyone travelling on key business flights are travelling for business). On a Saturday morning zip up to Sydney, for example, I set my expectations low... wayyyyy low. Because this is generally when the frequent and routined traveller will clash with the mass hoards of infrequent and confused. Expect chaos at the security screening points. Expect to be smacked in the side with an unrealistically large carry-on bag being carried by an utterly oblivious traveller having a phone conversation at 120 dB. Expect to give way to an elderly traveller who's confused and a little afraid. 

At the end of the day, I own my emotion and how I respond to circumstances... this starts with setting my expectations right.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Jul 2011

Total posts 60

Some great comments in here. Mine are:

1. If you are allocated a window seat, don't be the last one on the plane. 

2. Just because you can take a bag on that is the size of a house doesnt mean that you should. 

3. While I get the 'right' to decline your seat, do you really need to do it for a flight under 2 hours? 

4. Once the plane has stopped at the gate and the seat belt sign has done off, is there really any value in everyone standing up? How about you just keep seated until there is room to move and we are actually moving. In saying that, have you stuff together so you can pick up and go (similar to the security check point). 

5. When collecting baggage, stand back! I will swing my bag and hit you if you are standing next to the conveyer belt. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Aug 2014

Total posts 6

Completely agree re the baggage collection. As a regular flyer i am normally one of the first off and take a position a little back from the carousel to watch for my bag, then step forward, grab it and leave. If someone walks in front of me then i politely suggest they step back and allow others to watch the same space. 3 feet back and you can still see the bags, then grab and leave rather than the bag hustle. Have been known to do the bag swing myself on occaision for rude travellers.

One I try to adhere to where i can. Number 2 before you leave. Most flights are less than half a day and you would probably go through a work day and not need to go so why wait until a long haul to disgrace yourself where everyone else has to go?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Nov 2013

Total posts 473

How about the "person of petite build" who's at baggage claim and the first of their 3+ bags with the "heavy bag, bend your knees" tag comes out...and subsequently drags them around the carousel. 

Seriously, what have you packed in your bag that exceeds 30kgs? 

16 Sep 2016

Total posts 1

Don't bring the kitchen sink onto the plane


Stand back from the baggage claim belt so all can have access


definitely have some,person hygiene. Can't believe that even though there is acces in lounge some people are smallholder to,sit near. 


A smile, please and thank you are never lost


Finally I don't want to hear your entertainment or conversations. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

17 Mar 2016

Total posts 43

When boarding your aircraft, walk down the aisle looking and understanding the clearly marked row numbers and positions. Then step out of the aisle and into your designated row to place your cabin bags in the overhead locker, so others can walk past you in the aisle.

Have all your electronic devices handy, out of your baggage before you board so you can sit immediately in your seat.

If you are with a family or large group travelling, do not attempt to visit them all, row to row, as others are still boarding. Leave it until you are in flight and the flight attendants can make sure everything is alright with them in the meantime.

Lastly I am working on a theory that your baggage will take longer to appear on the baggage carousel in direct proportion to the urgency you take to get off a plane. So relax, take your time and do not rush.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2015

Total posts 219

It's irrational but I have issues with folk who have those carry on spinners with what looks like enough luggage to last a year.  Ok it's an exaggeration but you get my drift. My regular runs are to NY and London.  Usual carry on is a slim case with change of shirt and usual electronic gear.  These are long flights.  What do people carry in volume for a short hope from Sydney to say Singapore.  

And finally.  Smile at the FAs, say please and thank you.  They have a miserable job,  especially in economy,  and usually do it with a smile.  

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

28 Jul 2015

Total posts 3

My pet hate is recliners - especially on short flights. 1-2 hours should be no recliners and most people seem to understand that - except for those who regard it as their right.

The biggest problem I see is that Im 6'4 and my knees are already pressed up against the seat in front - without the person reclining and making it even worse. It's the airlines' fault I know, but a reclined seat really gives the person behind you not much room at all in economy.

All I can say is that if you recline your seat without 'asking' the person behind you if its ok, that's just rude and it's likely to get you into an unpleasant situation - where neither person wins.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

16 Apr 2016

Total posts 18

If the overhead bin is obviously full, please don't remove or rotate other persons items so that yours will fit at the expense of items already in place.

First have the courtesy to ask nearby pax who is the owner of the bin contents.

If you're seated in row 3 (VA) or 4 (QF), then as a FF you MUST know that all bags have to go in the bin so don't be last to board and be upset when the closest bins are full.

13 May 2015

Total posts 22

I agree you shouldn't remove anyone's bag but why not rotate it if it means that it makes enough room for your bag too?

22 Jun 2013

Total posts 96

Completely agree. You never know what kind of delicates other people have in their bags... Cameras, sunglasses, laptops etc. Much better for the owner to move/adjust the bag.


22 Jan 2013

Total posts 94

Well put them in the bin in a orderly way. Some people put them in as if theirs is the only one that needs to be in their, like it their personal bin

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

16 Apr 2016

Total posts 18

OK let me add some clarity

I always efficiently pack my bags and coat in the bin leaving room for others

On one occasion on a "fly Forward" sitting in bogan territory on an E190, another pax rotated my bag so that the bin no longer closed and my bag was the identified guilty bag that got penalised by the cabin crew

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Apr 2011

Total posts 106

...& please keep your young child/ren away from the baggage carousel given the danger posed by a swinging suitcase..

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Apr 2014

Total posts 44

If you have the aisle or middle seat, leave your seatbelt undone until the window seat guest has arrived, or cabin door is closed.

Recline on flights less than 2hrs seems unnecessary. Seats back up during meal services.

Completely agree with Jared about security lines. Same thing drives me mad about bus stops, you've been waiting 5 minutes for this bus, and you decide to wait until you're on it to find your ticket?

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