Air Travel Etiquette: 5 Major Don'ts for Sharing Cabin Space


EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday September 23, 2014

Veteran flight attendant Sydney Pearl offers five tips for keeping your manners in check on your next flight. "The ability to afford air travel is a privilege. Although you may not consider a plane ticket as luxurious as a Louis Vuitton handbag, it is still a luxury that many cannot afford," says Pearl. "For those of you that are lucky enough to afford air travel, there are a few issues that need to be addressed."

Don't Forget the Headphones: Etiquette on Personal Electronic Devices
With the new rules appointed by the FAA, you now have the ability to listen to your personal electronic device (PED) throughout the entire flight. While that is great for you, the rest of the plane may not share your enthusiasm for the latest episode of "Orange is the New Black" or hit song from Jay-Z while they are trying to sleep. Please be courteous and wear headphones while using your PEDs or if you do not have any headphones, you must turn your volume off. Keep in mind that not all airlines provide headphones, so come prepared.

Don't Be a Space Invader: Who Gets the Armrest?
Picture this scenario: The last passenger to board is a small woman and the last seat on the plane is nestled between two huge guys who are both taking up all of the armrests. The woman sits with her hands tucked into her sides. Very unpleasant. Rather than be uncomfortable, just ask for an armrest or put your elbows on the armrest and play a game of elbows to see who wins. Kidding.

While there are not any rules for who gets the armrest and how many are allocated per person, approach the situation as if you were at a yield only intersection. Give the right of way when necessary, use your best judgment, be courteous and hope your seatmate can locate their common sense. Unless they checked it along with his or her luggage.

Don't Offer Your Life Story: Etiquette on Being a Courteous Seatmate
Most people look toward air travel as a way to unwind while watching a movie, catch up on a good book or work-related materials, or sleep. What most people do not expect is the Chatty Cathy seated next to them. It is acceptable to strike up a brief, polite conversation, whether it's about plans for your final destination, the weather, the rude attendant you just encountered, or the seemingly drunk guy in row two.

It is not acceptable to engage in conversation if you see your neighbor on their PED. If you see your neighbor watching a movie, please do not lean in and attempt to watch over his or her shoulder. Likewise for crossword puzzles. Look for subtle hints to gauge whether your seatmate wants to communicate with you or not.

Don't Forget to Flush: Be Kind to the Lavatory
The lavatories onboard the aircraft are small units that provide little wiggle room and serious amounts of claustrophobia. While these smelly units may be frustrating, there are some simple ways to navigate the onboard porta-potty. When you approach the door, notice if there is a handle or some writing that says PUSH.

Once inside, locate the FLUSH button, the signs that say TRASH, PAPER TOWELS, and TISSUES. Acquaint yourself with the functions of the sink. Now that you have familiarized yourself with the proper functions, the next passenger should not find tissues on the floor, napkins sitting on the sink soaked in water, remnants in the toilet, and wet unknown substances on the floor. Please wear shoes at all times, courtesy flush, and if needed, discreetly ask the flight attendant for air freshener. Oh, and close the door on your way out.

Don't Abuse the Overhead Bin Compartments: Your Muffins Belong Somewhere Else
Overhead bins are the most shared space onboard the aircraft. While each model of aircraft may have different sized bins, you can still apply the same logic when stowing your luggage. If you have two carry-on items, place the smaller of the two items underneath the seat in front of you, leaving the overhead bins for larger bags. Placing small items in the overhead bins, such as purses, laptops, shopping bags and baked goods, can and do get ruined.

With larger roller bags, if they do not fit in with the handle out try placing it in backwards with the wheels out and that will usually work. If that fails, then stow your luggage vertically. Please keep in mind that the bins above each set of seats is supposed to accommodate the luggage of the occupants of that row. If the bins are full, that causes passengers to take more time placing their bags in other bins and taking away space from another row, which can lead to bags having to be checked last minute, which delays the whole flight.

Sydney Pearl is an active, veteran flight attendant for a well-respected airline and resides in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of "Diary of a Pissed-Off Flight Attendant," available on Amazon and Learn more about Pearl at

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