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Airplane Etiquette: Answers to Questions Travelers are too Shy to Ask

Whether you travel often or are a first-time flier, avoid making travel mistakes by being in the know when it comes to airplane etiquette:

1. Should the flight attendant help me with my bag?

Flight Attendant
Editorial credit: Chayuth M /

You probably see flight attendants assist passengers with their bags all the time, but did you know that they’re not obligated to do so?

While flight attendants are there to make our flights more comfortable, they aren’t required to help passengers with heavy lifting for a number of reasons!

First off, helping passengers carry 10-15 lbs of luggage on a regular basis may lead to severe back damage and if a flight attendant gets hurt while doing so, they may not be able to assist during an actual emergency.

Lastly, if you’re bag is too heavy to carry on your own, then you should probably check it in.

However, flight attendants may assist PWD, someone pregnant, a child or a senior citizen.

2. How do I call for assistance?

Flight Attendant Call Button

Though the plane is equipped with buttons to press for when you need help, guests who abuse these buttons are frowned upon.

If you can, simply wait for a flight attendant to walk your way and politely raise your hand.

3. Can I recline my seat all the way?

Given that legroom on planes has been shrinking, the struggle for space has become increasingly heated over the years. While technically, you can recline your seat, travel etiquette calls for certain steps to be taken before you actually do.

First off, avoid reclining all the way without taking the passenger behind you into consideration. Rodney shares,

“I had a woman in front of me decide to recline her seat during takeoff. The seat shot back onto my knee (I’m 6’5”), and it actually made me bleed.”

Before reclining, look behind you. The passenger might be working on their laptop, have their tray down for a meal, might be elderly or like in Rodney’s case, be very tall.

Gently give the passenger a head’s up that you’d like to recline your seat, this is usually met with a positive response. When this happens, recline slowly and only as much as needed.

On the other hand, if you’re the one being reclined into and the passenger just did so – you can gently tap them on the shoulders and ask if they could move up a little.

According to Elaine Swann, a former flight attendant for Continental Airlines for 10 years, it is best to gently and discreetly do this. If refused, you may transfer to another seat that is available or ask again in a more firm yet diplomatic manner.

If all else fails, feel free to approach a flight attendant to assist you. While passengers may opt to ignore you, they cannot ignore the requests of the flight crew lest they risk being fined or offloaded.

4. The plane has landed, may I stand up already? 

Standing on the Plane
Editorial credit: withGod /

Getting off the plane may seem like the slowest part of the journey, especially if you’re rushing off to a connecting flight or just want to beat the long lines at immigration.

Whatever the reason, it is absolutely frowned upon to stand up as soon as the plane lands – especially when the seatbelt light is still on.

As soon as the plane lands, it pulls up to the gate where the pilot switches both the engine and anti-collision light off. The pilot then stops the plane and alerts ground crew that they can now approach and bring out the bridge that connects the plane door to the airport.

While it seems easy and smooth enough, there’s no telling what can happen, so passengers are encouraged to stay put until the seat belt lights are switched off.

5. What do I do if my seat mate smells? 

Smelly Passenger

Being clean and smelling fresh is an underrated but very much appreciated gesture for everyone on a plane. Given the fact that you are literally an inch or two apart from the next person, it is highly recommended that you freshen up before your flight.

What happens if your seat mate is the one who reeks, though?

“I was on the way home from a business trip, and was seated to a very smelly man – like BO to the high heavens! At first, I thought I could sit through it, but then he took his smelly shoes and socks off and placed his feet up on the seat in front of him! I had to beg my colleague to switch seats with me!”, says Karen.

When dealing with smelly seat mates, you can try to sit tight and power through – especially if it’s a short flight. But if you absolutely can’t handle the smell, then you can discreetly bring up the matter with a flight attendant and ask if you can be given a different seat.

The harsher option is that the captain can make the decision as to whether or not the offender should be off-boarded if the smell is really that bad (given that it isn’t associated with a medical condition).

6. Is it okay to switch seats?

Plane Seat

Whether you’re a first-time flier or a frequent traveler, you’ll know that a seat is assigned to you as soon as you check-in.

So when boarding the plane, the best thing to do is go to your designated seat, wait until take-off before looking if there are available and more comfortable seats for you to switch to. You should NEVER take another seat before then.

Also, take into consideration that there are price range tiers when it comes to seats – for certain airlines, there are economy and premium economy seats available in the same cabin, but that doesn’t mean that if the former has seats available that you can take it immediately. Ask a flight attendant if you can first.

“Someone took my assigned seat and refused to go to his own. His reason? He was apparently a social media influencer and needed to take good photos”, shares Myke.

Don’t be the obnoxious passenger who takes another person’s seat without their permission – especially for an incredibly lame reason.

If and when you end up being the offended party, do not hesitate to bring this up with the flight attendant (especially if this is a seat that you paid extra for).

7. What do I do if my seat mate is snoring loudly?

Snoring Passenger

“While on a recent flight, a guy snored throughout the trip! Like, an engine-type level of loudness which prompted a child to cry and several people switching seats!”, shares Silvana.

According to survey, a majority of travelers say that it’s a no-no to wake someone no matter how loud their snoring. Instead, they opt to either make use of their ear plugs, turn up the volume of their audio entertainment or switch seats.

But then again, this all boils down to nationalities. While Filipinos would most likely grin and bear, Britains have been surveyed answering that they would slightly nudge their seat mate and then make it look like an accident.

8. Who gets to use the middle armrests?

Middle Armrest

There’s nothing more dreadful than having to take the middle seat – being sandwiched between two passengers, both of whom at least have have the sidewall or aisle to expand in to.

Then comes the awkward dilemma of who gets to make use of the middle armrests. According to Wall Street Journal columnist, Scott McCartney, it is traveler’s courtesy that the middle armrests go to the middle seat passenger as consolation for the tight squeeze.

It is suggested that if seated in the middle, that you politely bring up the matter with your seat mate and give them a heads up that you’d like to use the armrests. If however, you are dealing with a particularly difficult seat mate, feel free to bring the matter up with the flight attendant.


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