The Unspoken Rules of Air Travel

09 May 2018

When it comes to flying, there are plenty of rules that you have to know. You must check-in before your flight, your baggage can’t be over a certain weight, there’s no smoking onboard and you have to wear your seat belt at all times. These rules are mandatory and told to us every time we fly.

But what about the rules of air travel that aren’t so obvious? The etiquette that is assumed but not always made clear to everyone. To help make the in-flight experience a pleasant one, we’ve drawn upon our years of flying experience to bring you the unspoken rules of air travel...

The middle seat passenger gets the armrests

“I’ll take the middle seat!” Said no one, ever. And so as the last resort for all travel (especially on a long-haul flight), the consolation prize for getting stuck in the middle seat is you get to enjoy BOTH armrests. It it your unspoken and honourable right. So if you’re sitting next to the window or the aisle, keep to your side, learn away from the middle seat and keep your elbows off the middle armrests.

Don’t recline your seat until after the meal service

We’ve all witnessed it. The plane takes off and as soon as the seatbelt sign switches off, the person in front of you immediately reclines their chair right into your space. *Insert eye roll here* Instead, the onboard etiquette is to wait, enjoy the first meal service (where you have to have your seat upright anyway), and then recline your seat to settle into a movie or snooze.

If someone in your row needs to get up, you should exit the row

Most long-haul airlines offer fantastic legroom these days, even in Economy. Having said that, the legroom available is not enough to fit two people. So, there’s nothing worse than when you need to pass someone in the row and they simply stand or shift to one side, forcing you to awkwardly clamber over them to get past. If someone next to you needs to get up, the proper thing to do is get up also and stand in the aisle to let them out.

Don’t go to the bathroom until the meal trays have been collected

As mentioned in rule three, people in your row should always get up in order to let you access the aisle if you have a window or middle seat. Having said that, this does not apply during the meal service. Don’t expect people to stop eating their meal or bend and contort around the tray tables in order to let you out. If you see the in-flight attendants pushing the drink and meal trolleys down the aisle, consider it your bathroom break warning!

Close the window shade if you have the window seat

While one of the benefits of having the window seat is being able to look out at the changing view, with great advantages comes a great responsibility. And that responsibility involves making sure people aren’t blinded by sunshine when they are trying to sleep or watch a movie. If it’s a flight longer than three hours, close the window shade after the meal service and don’t open it until you’re about to land or the next meal service takes place.

Keep your feet out of sight

You! Yes, you! The person behind me who thinks my armrest also doubles as their footrest. Or the person opposite me who thinks they can just stick their feet in the aisle without anyone noticing. Nobody wants to see your feet while flying. That means keeping your tootsies on the ground or on your footrest at all times. Also, if you insist on removing your shoes during the flight, it’s imperative you keep your socks on at ALL times. And if you get up to walk around or go to the bathroom, for the love of flying, wear your shoes!

Wait your turn to exit the plane

You know what we're talking about. The plane has landed, the seatbelt sign makes a ‘ding’, and the impatient among us spring to their feet in a panic to be the first ones off. Only, no one can move until the people to the front of the plane, row by row, exit first. You can push and huff all you want, but the unspoken rule is to let those in front of you off first. Unless it’s an emergency, don’t barge ahead. Equally, when it’s your turn to depart the plane, be ready with your bags or let everyone waiting pass you until you’re ready.

Don’t stand right next to the baggage carousel

Crowding around the baggage carousel isn’t going to make your bag come any faster, and you’re just going to get in the way of everyone else. Instead, be respectful of the space and take a step back. This way you’ll still be able to spot your bag, and so will the people behind you.


Got your in-flight etiquette nailed? What better excuse to book your next holiday? Chat to a Travel Expert to plan your tailor-made Journey, beach Escape or city break.


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Lauren Burvill

Australian born but London based, I'm a sucker for big cities and small tropical islands. When travelling, I like eating like a local, dressing like a local, but staying in 5 star style. Have a travel story to share? Tweet me @laurenburvill.