Which passenger gets the armrest and when is it OK to recline your seat? Experts give their answers in our essential guide to airplane etiquette

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What is it about air travel that can transform even the most reasonable people into creatures of supreme self-interest? This was best expressed in an image that went viral last week of a woman lounging with her sneaker-clad feet resting on the headrest of the seat in front.

Of course, lack of space, proximity to others, and the frustration of delayed arrival or departure pose a challenge to civilized behavior. But are there any red lines we still shouldn’t cross?

1. NO BAREFOOT

It’s bad enough putting dirty shoes on the seat. “But it’s equally forbidden to remove socks and shoes even when the feet remain where they should be – on the floor,” says Jo Bryant, etiquette consultant, author and former Debrett tutor.

After all, who wants to look at horrible gnarled feet? Even if you keep your podiatrist on speed dial, it’s still the height of bad manners to sit or walk around the cubicle barefoot.

An image that went viral last week shows a woman lounging with her sneaker-clad feet resting on the front seat headrest on a Delta flight.

An image that went viral last week shows a woman lounging with her sneaker-clad feet resting on the front seat headrest on a Delta flight.

For added comfort, pack a pair of slippers or flight socks in your carry-on bag – “and never use the armrest as a footrest between the seats in front of you, with your toes sticking out,” says Bryant.

2. DON’T FIGHT FOR THE ARMREST

Think of it as a divider rather than a battleground. The courteous response is to let middle seat passengers use the armrests, as they are reserved by other travelers.

“Alternatively, go in slowly by simply placing your elbow on it, which will allow your neighbor to do the same,” says etiquette expert and author William Hanson.

3. Don’t pack spicy snacks

The cabin is not the place for sulfurous egg sandwiches, tangy citrus or spicy curry salads. Opt for bland choices like chocolate, crackers or berries. To fill the stomach easily and on the go, protein bars are also a good choice.

4. STAY IN YOUR LANE

Never invade areas designated by your traveling companions. Don’t sprawl with your feet outstretched under the seat of the person in front or throw sweaters over the seat behind. Also keep the space around you – small bags, magazines and all your other in-flight needs – as clean as possible.

“If the person next to you falls asleep and you want to get up or they slouch, pat them gently. Under no circumstances should you attempt to climb on them – you will wake them and find yourself in an awkward position,” says Hanson.

5. NO PERSONAL CARE

Traveling by plane means that other passengers are a captive audience of your personal habits. But keep your body care strictly to yourself.

“This is not the place to clip nails, tweeze eyebrows, spray deodorant or do anything close to self-care,” Bryant says. If you have to do the prep and trimming, do it in the bathroom.

6. LET THE AIR HOSTS DO THEIR JOB

Unless you need to respond to a call of the wild, stay in your seat when the cabin crew is busy with in-flight service. And be unwaveringly charming. As the saying goes, “more wars are won with honey”.

So, Bryant says, “be patient if things are slower than you’d like.” Smile, greet warmly, sit back and let them do their job. As you leave, take the time to thank them as well.

Even young children may have difficulty negotiating their food when the front seat has been tilted back, so try not to recline until the food is served.

Even young children may have difficulty negotiating their food when the front seat has been tilted back, so try not to recline until the food is served.

7. Don’t recline your seat at mealtimes

Even young children may have difficulty negotiating their food when the seat in front has been tilted back. “Be careful of those following you and do not lie down for a few minutes after takeoff. Wait until after meal service if possible and only lie down completely if you really need to.

Remember, it’s your prerogative to lie down, so a quick glance with a tight-lipped smile to check that the tablet isn’t behind you is a polite gesture.

8. WAIT YOUR TURN BEFORE DISEMBARKING

Hitting the tarmac is not a signal to immediately get up or jump over the heads of other equally tired, bored and impatient passengers. It’s not the school bell. The doors aren’t even open yet. All you do is push your behind in front of others who are reasonably sitting still.

“Allow others to take things down from the lockers and screen the plane, row by row. And always help those who can’t easily access lockers,” says Hanson. “If you need a quick exit so bad, pay for a seat near the front.”

“Allow others to take things down from the lockers and screen the plane, row by row.  And always help those who can't easily access lockers, says William Hanson.

“Allow others to take things down from the lockers and screen the plane, row by row. And always help those who cannot easily access the lockers,” says William Hanson.

The advice is this: don't rearrange other passengers' luggage to make room for yours.

The advice is this: don’t rearrange other passengers’ luggage to make room for yours.

9. DO NOT OVERLOAD THE UPPER LOCKERS

Avoid spreading your stash of duty-free products unnecessarily across the upper cabin space. And don’t rearrange other passengers’ luggage to make room for yours.

The courteous thing to do is to place your carry-on baggage wisely, making best use of the space above your head, and place any other unnecessary items – as well as anything you need during the flight – under the seat in front of you.

10. TO CHANGE OR NOT TO CHANGE SEAT

You bought and paid for your seat because you enjoy watching the world go by through the airplane window. So, should you communicate with a person separated from their child or partner? Frankly, it’s a matter of choice and not obligation.

Just like you should think twice before asking another passenger to change seats. “And if you do, make sure it’s a fair exchange – for example, one aisle seat for another,” says Hanson.

11. Cut out the chatter

Some people enjoy talking to complete strangers during a flight. If you don’t want to make small talk, bury your head in a book, put on headphones (even if they’re not on), close your eyes, or respond monosyllabically but politely when asked a question. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I’m really sorry for being antisocial, but I’m just going to close my eyes/catch up on that book or movie,'” Hanson suggests.

…and here’s what really annoys cabin crew – from a former British Airways flight attendant

FOLDING your coat and place it in an empty upper compartment then close it. Trust me. This space will be necessary for the luggage of other passengers.

SAYING: “You must love Venice/Dubrovnik/Barcelona,” or wherever we go. Most of the time, we don’t get off the plane until we take a new group of passengers home. So don’t rub it.

WAITING until someone joins you before asking the undecided children: “What do you want to drink?” Parents who ask in advance, tell us clearly, and then move on as quickly as possible are our favorites.

ORDER from the onboard menu, then realize your wallet or purse is in the overhead compartment. It’s a race to serve everyone as they are. Please don’t slow us down.

ASK : “Will I make my connecting flight? Most of the time we can barely remember where we are flying, let alone what time we are due to land.

GET angry if we wake you up on a night flight because we can’t see your seat belt. It is a legal obligation to check for turbulence. The ads tell you to put seat belts on the covers for a reason.

ASK looking at something from the bottom of the Duty Free cart. So don’t buy it.

MOANING regarding meals. It’s really not us who made the salad so small. Or picked up those microscopic packets of pretzels.

STANDING before the “Fasten your seat belt” signal is turned off. We hate to call out the AP and tell everyone to sit still – but we can be fired if we don’t.

SARCASTIC comments on delays getting off the plane. Trust me, we want to go home or to our hotel just as much as you do.

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