Last updated on November 30th, 2023
Featured image: Remember when flying felt magical? | Photo by Rawpixel Envato
From keeping your socks on to chewing quietly, let’s bring back airplane etiquette
By Carolyn Ray, Editor, JourneyWoman
My first memory of air travel is flying Ward Air to Toronto to see my grandparents. My mother made us wear our Sunday best, told us to be polite to the flight attendants (or else) and mind our manners. I remember the excitement of the meals, served on Ward Air’s delicate china plates and silverware, with delicious entrees and desserts and starched white napkins that stretched across my lap. Airplane travel in those days was a special treat — an antidote to spending days in the car duking it out with my brother in the backseat as we drove from Florida to Canada.
I don’t need to tell you what air travel is like now. In an industry motivated by ‘cost per passenger seat mile’ (CASM), a few things have changed. The seats and aisles are smaller than ever, we are forced to carry on as much as possible to avoid additional baggage fees, and the food is entirely presented in hermetically sealed bags. And then there’s airplane etiquette, which has resulted in almost 8 million articles with titles like “The rules of flying like decent humans” or “9 ways not to be an annoying airline passenger.”
Perhaps we can’t return to the plane experiences of our childhood, but we can look at our behaviour. After all, good manners and some self-awareness can ensure that we all enjoy the flight. And, as my mother taught me, what you give, you get, so manners count. (I can’t be the only who received Emily Post’s Etiquette books as birthday presents, right?)
We asked experienced solo travellers to share their flying pet peeves, with the hopes of helping us all be better guests on a plane, and perhaps, just perhaps, making flying enjoyable again.
Women’s Top 13 Flying Pet Peeves
1. People who take their socks off
Of all the flying pet peeves in this article, this. isthe one that got the most reactions. There’s nothing worse than watching someone walk barefoot down the aisle without their socks on. I remember when airlines used to include socks in the hygiene package, and now I know why. Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that airplane bathrooms are not the cleanest, and that’s not water on the floor.
Unless you’re on an overnight flight, there’s really no reason to take your shoes off either. And don’t get me started on toenail clipping in public. Ugh.
“While I understand having to take your shoes off for long-haul and overnight flights (my feet are very prone to swelling), please please leave your socks on! There is no reason for your bare feet to be out. And if your feet tend to sweat and smell, consider leaving your shoes on and simply loosen the laces.” — Stephanie C.
“By all means, loosen the laces or buckles, but please leave your shoes on!” — Marilyn K.
“I was on a long flight, and a man walked into the bathroom barefoot. I cringed. Yuck.” — Alyx R.
2. Bringing on bags that are too big for the overhead bin
Although we celebrate the carry-on, avoiding checked bags has resulted in some serious overpacking for carry-on bags. With airlines constantly changing the size restrictions, it’s best to keep your carry-on as small as possible. Plus, it’s easier to lift into the overhead bins.
“Where do I start…. people who bring on bags that are too big for the overhead and put them in sideways. People who have to put their bag in the overhead rows behind where they are sitting then insist on pushing through everyone when the plane lands.” — Pat L.
“The overhead situation is becoming ridiculous. Not just one person but several had massive carry-ons which had to be checked, because the bins weren’t big enough, thereby causing chaos to those behind trying to board.” — Joy F.
“I think part of the fault here lies with the airlines. They allow only a small number of free bags, so people abuse the definition of “carry-on.” – Paula L.
“I was recently on a flight where I had to gate-check my perfectly suitable carry-on bag because there was no more room left in the overhead bins. That was all fine with me until I boarded the plane and saw bin after bin filled with people’s small backpacks and handbags that were meant to be placed under the seat in front of them. I thought the flight attendants would be more on top of that but they didn’t seem to care at all.” — Stephanie C.
“People who wear large backpacks down the aisle, turn, and almost knock me out without realizing it.” – Carolyn R.
, but e3. Farting with abandon
It has to be said: please don’t fart on planes. An easy way to avoid flatulence is by avoiding gas-producing foods, chewing gum, sodas and carbonated drinks like beer before and during the trip. Here’s a list of foods to avoid from HealthLine.
On flights, we are even more sensitive to smells and there are some things we just don’t want to endure. Some smells can even trigger an allergic reaction.
“People who fart with abandon.” — Jill E.
“I had one next to me from Sydney to Bangkok, the drunker he got, the more came out his exhaust, prince charming.” — Christine J.
“About 20 minutes into my two-hour flight the baby had a dirty diaper. I was sitting on the aisle and offered to get up so she could change the baby.” — Pat L.
“Take a bath or shower and for heaven’s sake no perfume or cologne! — Tracy T.
4. Taking a selfie when boarding the plane
It’s exciting to be traveling again, but we’d like to suggest that instead of taking a selfie when you get on the plane, do it when you’re seated. Your fans will still be there, waiting….
“When someone feels the need to take a selfie when boarding the plane… really…. LOVE that! 🙃” — Laura S.
5. Not wearing a mask when sick
This flying pet peeve has emerged as a result of the pandemic, but it’ fair to say that many of us were already anxious about this before. And while mask restrictions have been lifted, it’s just good etiquette to protect others by wearing a mask if you’re sick. Unlike other public spaces, on a plane, we can’t move away. I keep a mask with me at all times now so that I can put it on if someone is coughing or sneezing near me. If you’re sick, please stay home!
“I always cringe when I hear someone behind me sneezing and/or coughing and you don’t know whether they covered or not (this was also pre-covid for me).” — Bonnie M.
“Not wearing masks on a flight (I know of one woman who travelled while still positive with Covid, no screening at any of the airports and only 30% of the flight wore masks). It just seems that people are getting more and more self-centred.” — Maurene M.
Flying can be beautiful when we all cooperate / Photo by biasciolialessandro on Envato
6. Noisemakers: The snorers, loud talkers, and open-mouth gum chewers
Let’s face it, there’s enough noise on a plane without listening to snoring, electronics and gum-chewing.
As I write this article on a flight to Calgary, I can hear the gurgling sound of a man snoring floating through the air. It’s so loud that everyone on the plane is looking around to see where the noise is emanating from. Strangely, despite being bumped in the aisle, he slept the entire flight, even through to the bumpy landing. And his family was sitting next to him, and did nothing, which makes me think this is a chronic issue. For prolific snorers, there’s a product called Breathe Right nasal strips, which can be found at any pharmacy and is probably available at the airport.
For those who want to use gaming devices and watch movies on iPads, we recommend wireless bluetooth headphones like these ones from Beats or Apple earbuds.
“Sitting next to a person, who is snoring LOUDLY like a chainsaw…” D Jay Clark
“Open-mouth chewers, particularly chewing gum (like, GAAAAH!), most especially if I am NOT eating.” — Berta G.
“People who talk on their phones loudly up until the instant they are reminded for the second or third time by the flight attendant and then resume the second the plane touches down.” — Karen G.
“There’s no excuse for acting as if you’re the only person on the plane and playing noisy video games, watching movies with the sound on!”
7. Kicking the back of your seat
Of all the flying pet peeves, kicking the seat was the one that everyone agrees on. It’s easily the most preventable but it requires the active participation of partners, parents or grandparents who, like mine, make sure that children realize they are on a plane, not in their own home.
“People who continually kick the back of your seat, or if they are in front of you, constantly adjusting their seat. Could we all just pay a little more attention to our surroundings, and the other humans in the world? It only takes a little bit of patience and consideration.” — Susan S.
“Children kicking the back of your seat and the parents let it go.” — Maurene Mc.
“People who fidget the entire flight, parents who don’t stop their kids from kicking the seat in front of them (I love kids but I was ready to strangle both him and his mother).” — Karen G.
“Kicking seats really bugs me. I try to prebook a seat in front of a single pre-booked seat.” — Anna W.
8. Reclining a seat abruptly, particularly at mealtimes
I’ve noticed some airlines are starting to ask that passengers don’t recline their seat during meals. No surprise given how small these spaces have become. I really appreciate it when one of the announcements is to remind people there is a person sitting just a few inches behind them.
As someone who often writes on a plane, I’ve had my computer abruptly smushed between the tray and the seat. Not to mention the surprise of having a headrest whip into your head when you’re immersed in a movie.
Good news: there’s an easy way to solve this: turn around, and simply let the person behind you know that you’re about to recline your chair.
“I don’t think people should put their seats back when food is being served.” — Linda E.
Most plane seats are about 16 inches wide / Photo from Envato
9. Invading your ever-dwindling space
Since the beginning of the 21st century until 2018, the average seat width has decreased from 18.5 to as little as 16.1 inches. In 2016, the average distance between seat rows had declined to 79 centimetres (31 in), from over 89 centimetres (35 in), while the average seat width had shrank to 43 centimetres (17 in) from 46 centimetres (18 in) in the previous two decades.
With the decrease in seat size, it takes a little more effort to keep our bodies to that confined space. This can result in the spreading of one’s arms and legs into the seat beside you, not to mention the armrest.
“I’ve had the misfortune of sitting beside a man who felt it necessary to have his legs spread wide, with his knee and foot totally in my space and our legs accidentally touching throughout. It was very awkward and uncomfortable, to say the least.” — Stephanie C.
“People who drink too much on international flights, then fall asleep sideways invading my space. This one got a swift elbow to propel him back – several times.” — Joy F.
“People who assume the center seat, if empty, belongs solely to them; and if someone is sitting there, people who sling themselves over the shared armrest. I am tall, and I have also had people in the seat ahead of me glare at me because my legs are up against their seat back, as if there is something I can do about it.“ — Marti S.
“Last fall I flew from San Francisco to Heathrow to Delhi, so it was two 10-hr flights with only a few hours break in between. I try not to disturb my fellow passengers if I have to get up … but, folks, on a 10-hr flight, everyone needs to use the facilities at least once, and most of the passengers are NOT in an aisle seat, so don’t act like I’m imposing on you if I need to make a restroom run.” — Paula L.
10. Grabbing on to the back of others’ seats to stand up
Pulling up on the seat in front of you to get up can be a hard habit to break. Fortunately it’s easy to fix simply by pushing up on your own seat and armrests, and propelling your body upwards with your own legs. Think of it as a mini-ab workout.
“People who grab the back of your seat to get up or as they are walking down the aisle and people who rearrange your things in the overhead bin to accommodate their extra bags.” — Louise W.
“Where possible, I try to push on my own seat to get up, rather than pull on the seat in front of me.” — Marion B.
11. Taking over the aisle
On my last flight, I had an aisle seat. I am convinced the aisles have gotten more narrow.
Not only it it hard to walk down an aisle without banging into someone, sitting on the aisle has become more challenging. It goes beyond people and luggage right through the serving cart. In this case, the simple act of resting my arm on the armrest while typing an aricle became a dangerous act, with food carts moving up and down the aisles.
“Extending your legs into the aisle or bringing giant tote bags that extend into what’s supposed to be MY all-too-limited space!” – Paula L.
“The worst and most incredibly annoying thing to me is people who bump past in the aisle, without any care whose head, shoulders, or other body parts they are crashing into. This one makes me crazy!” — Susan S.
12. Opening the overhead bin before the plane stops
This might be more than a flying pet peeve – it’s really a safety issue. Years ago, I was on a flight to New York, sitting on the aisle with my daughter in the middle seat. Before the plane had even stopped at the gate, the man in front of me jumped up and opened the overhead bin. His full metal water bottle fell on my head and sliced it open, almost giving me a concussion. I also lost a lot of blood which traumatized my daughter. Please don’t do this. The warning of ‘items shifting on a flight’ is a real one. Just wait.
“I will never understand the people who get up and try to grab their items before the plane door is even open, especially those sitting in the back of the plane. I thought it was common sense to empty the plane from front to back, but time and time again I have people sitting behind me shoving to get by as I grab my things. It drives me mad!” —Stephanie C.
13. Asking the solo woman to change to a less appealing seat
Last fall, I was on an overnight flight to Venice and had paid to upgrade to a bulkhead so I could sleep. A newlywed couple came on and despite there being three other single men in the row, the groom asked me if I would change with his wife, who had seats to the back, because they were on their honeymoon and “someone” didn’t choose the seats properly so they were sitting apart. My answer was a hard no. Why don’t people ask men travelling alone to move?
I will always change for a parent and child, but not for someone who didn’t plan in advance (and then blames his wife).
“I think these people just don’t bother to book seats or are too cheap to pay and then want to get yours, laughing all the way. I have traded seats once to sit with my husband but it was aisle to aisle on a short hop. If I want more legroom or to sit near the front or a window or aisle, I will book and pay.” — Marilyn T.
How plane travel could be improved
While these flying pet peeves may make us more self-aware, women also have some suggestions to improve the airplane experience.
1: Consider a place for duty-free purchases
“For international flights, I’d like to see a closet on the plane where everyone could stash their Duty Free stuff and pick it up on the way out. On my last international trip, I had a perfectly legal carry-on and a medium-sized shoulder bag — but I decided to spend my remaining currency in the Duty Free shop, so I also had a ginormous shopping bag that turned out to be a real problem storing on the plane.” — Paula L.
2: Allow people with tight connections to get off first
This is possible – I’ve seen it happen on Lufthansa. It takes flight attendants with nerves of steel and the willingness to tell someone to return to their seat.
“People standing up before the plane has gated properly. Sometimes someone needs to get off a plane quickly to make a connection and all those standing have total disregard for anyone else’s needs.” — Joy F.
3. Don’t assume the space above your seat is yours, it’s not
There is always angst when you arrive at your seat and can’t find anywhere for your carry-on. As it becomes more and more popular to travel with carry-on only, this is only going to get worse. Flight attendants do their best to help store your things close to you but it isn’t always possible. Travel light and board early.
Do you have any flying pet peeves that didn’t make it on the list? Share them with us below!
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