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Travel Etiquette: What Not To Do On A Plane

Let's keep it classy, folks.

29/06/2016 8:48 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:56 PM AEST
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Kristen Wiig in'Bridesmaids'is pretty much an example of how not to behave.

As residents of the Land Down Under, anyone who has ever gone on an overseas holiday will be familiar with the inevitable plane trip that goes with it. (No jaunty road trips over international borders for us, sadly. Best get familiar with the customs line instead.)

Unless you're able to fork out the extra mulah for a first or business class fare, chances are you'll find yourself in cattle class, sharing a confined space with hundreds of people for hours on end. Hooray!

In order to make the flight more enjoyable for all involved (especially if it's a long flight), The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Anna Musson, etiquette expert and founder of The Good Manners Company, to find out the do's and don't's of plane behaviour. And yes, this includes the rules associated with the age-old Battle Of The Sky: who gets what armrest.

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If a child is kicking your chair, do you turn around and speak to the parent or the child? Or do you suffer in silence?

"Wait for at least five minutes to give the parents the opportunity to notice and correct the child themselves before you intervene, but in short, no one should have to suffer being kicked in the back for the duration of their flight," Musson told HuffPost Australia. "If the kicking persists, turn around and pleasantly address the parents with 'I'm sorry but your child is kicking the back of my seat.'

"If it persists after this, it is acceptable to take matters into your own hands and move your arm behind the seat to wave away the offender. They may be so shocked that they stop in horror -- the parents will ideally notice this and take a more active role.

"If you notice your child kicking the back of a seat or playing with the meal tray which can be equally disruptive, correct them in a voice the person in front may hear so they know you have addressed it. Flights can be very boring for children so keeping them occupied will reduce the impact on them and other passengers."

Elisabeth Schmitt
Peek-a-boo, I see you...

On that note... do you have any advice on the etiquette associated with traveling with children? both for a) parents and b) those seated near families?

"Preparation is key. Speak to your children about what to expect in the days and weeks before they board the plane. Explain what it will be like and include them in the process of how to alleviate boredom. On many flights it is possible to look up what the in-flight entertainment will be, if any, and if they know what's coming it will make for a much smoother experience."

Things to do:

  • Time the flight so they have the greatest chance of going to sleep.
  • Encourage them to run around the airport to wear them out – under your supervision, of course.
  • Pack a bag full of activities to keep them occupied.
  • Prepare for sore ears at take-off and landing with lollies or a bottle.
  • Be active in disciplining them if they are making a fuss – it is very frustrating for other passengers privy to a tantrum to see the mother ignoring her child. Do all that you can to pacify the child and be seen to be doing this.
  • Do not permit your children to kick the seat in front, play with dinner trays or be a nuisance to other passengers.
  • Take them for walks, play games and do all you can to keep them feeling sane – long flights can be hard on little children who seek constant engagement.
  • As a passenger, be gracious and helpful towards others with children. A disapproving 'tsk' or eye roll is never helpful.

Common man. #actlikeyouvebeenherebefore #passengershaming

A photo posted by Matt Henson (@matthenson1980) on

Is it ever okay to take your shoes off?

"It is fine to take shoes off on a long haul international flight, provided you are wearing clean socks and you have washed," Musson said. "It's a good idea to put on compression socks for long haul flights and putting shoes away in a bag is a good use of space and comfort. Keep your shoes on for all domestic flights -- yes, even to Darwin."

Are there rules when it comes to sharing armrests?

"Choose an armrest, left or right, never both."

In the immortal words of Brad Pitt in 'Fight Club', "Now, a question of etiquette -- as I pass, do I give you the ass or the crotch?"

"As for theatres when sidestepping across the aisle, it is much more pleasant for others to see your front than your backside. Consider this a universal rule."

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Brad Pitt knows where it's at when it comes to in-flight behaviour.

Reclining your seat on a domestic flight: yay or nay? Is it dependent on length of flight?

"Nay. Do not recline your seat on a domestic flight. Space is at a premium and if the flight is under 4 hours, there is no need to recline. If you insist, it should only be done after meal service and slowly, so the passenger behind does not wear their drink."

Should you put your seat in an upright position during meal times?

"Yes," Musson said. "Give those around you the most space possible for meal service and wait until these are cleared to recline your seat again."

If there's a spare seat next to one of you (and you're in a row of 3+) do you move over one so you have a seat between you and stranger?

"Yes. The passenger next to you will appreciate the extra space and this spare seat becomes Switzerland, so feel free to put your personal items on half, not lie down and spread out."

Should you wake sleeping people up if you need the toilet on a long haul or wait until they wake up naturally to go? Is it ever okay to climb over someone who is sleeping so you don't wake them up?

"No one likes to be woken on a flight so wait to use the facilities if you can. If you are bursting, try your best to climb over the other person without disturbing them and ensure you whisper, 'excuse me, so sorry' as you go."

Are there any rules specific to the seat you are sitting in (i.e. window versus aisle?)

"Each plane is different and some seat configurations limit foot space - keep your feet in your footwell and man spreading is no excuse for placing one foot in another person's feet space. The same applies for under seat baggage, it should be under the seat in front of you only or stored overhead.

"When coming to land, be mindful that other passengers may be trying to look out the window too and pressing your nose against the glass will prevent them from seeing anything but the back of your head."

Is there a dress code that needs to be followed for a plane trip?

"Travelling by plane used to be for the wealthy an a strict dress code of long pants, no jeans and long sleeved collared shirts at minimum, prevailed," Musson said. "While we have relaxed our dress standards slightly, travelling to a holiday destination is no excuse for dressing like you are going camping. The minimum standard for plane travel is:

  • Long pants or smart skirt past the knees
  • Proper shoes, not thongs
  • T-shirt or collared shirt, no singlets
  • No cut off shorts, swimwear, fitness wear or trainers.

Once you have landed and it's time to get luggage out of the overhead, do you unpack everyone's and pass it to them, or just sort yourself out?

"If you are sitting on the aisle and you know passengers in your row have bags in the overhead, it's thoughtful to pass them to them to speed up the disembarking process. This is particularly thoughtful if you know a person from a few rows ahead has their bag in your overhead space. Trying to go back down the aisle can be almost impossible."

Any big plane etiquette no-no's?

  • Don't be drunk. It is illegal and super annoying for other passengers. Offenders may find themselves spending a night in jail at their destination.
  • Don't try to join the mile high club. Save it for the private jet.
  • Clean up after yourself. Leaving a pile of snack wrappers and drink containers is thoughtless and causes delays at the other end – can you imagine if every passenger did this?
  • Anything you would normally do in the privacy of your bathroom should not be done on a flight. Painting nails – also illegal as it's flammable, filing nails, brushing hair, picking nose or ears etc.

Any general rules to keep in mind?

  • Minimise cabin baggage – if your bag is on the large side, check it. Don't squash other items in the overhead locker as you try to make room.
  • Greet the passengers you are seated next to – it sets a pleasant tone for the trip.
  • Be sensitive to those who give signals that they do not wish to chat during the flight, and respect their privacy. A good indicator is if they have put their headphones on early and closed their eyes.
  • Be mindful of reading confidential documents on a flight – these are among the most fun things for others to read sneakily, so discretion is required.
  • Disembark with patience – let the row in front leave before you make your move and avoid rushing into the aisle as soon as the seatbelt sign is off. If you are in the front seats of Economy it is prudent to not move up into the Business Class cabin until you are actually leaving the plane. They have paid for the extra space and are entitled to it as they collect their belongings.
  • Don't place your feet up on the empty seat next to you (or worse, the occupied seat!). Nor should you place your feet up on the bulkhead or other pieces of furniture. Feet belong on the floor.

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