Airport Travel Etiquette 101: Do's and Don'ts for Flying the Friendly Skies

a group of people around a table
Etiquette 101: Airport Travel's Do's and Don'ts Getty Images/Michael Stillwell.

"The no-fly list keeps getting longer and longer," a tik-tok user commented under a photo of a passenger lighting a cigarette, seemingly mid-nap, on an airplane in flight. After being waved down by a fellow passenger, a flight attendant quickly rushed over to have the vice put out with those around them looking with concern and annoyance.

But, this unpleasant experience is no isolated event. A quick click on #noflylist on TikTok opens a seemingly ceaseless page filled with airport unruliness: passengers playing music out loud during a flight, arguments erupting due to luggage placements, and other incidents of passengers not complying with instructions provided by flight attendants and security guards. With Thanksgiving and other holiday travel quickly approaching, how should one conduct themselves in a way that is respectful to other passengers and those trying to help them reach their destination? The aforementioned are the extreme incidents of poor airport conduct, but there are a plethora of travel faux-pas that should still be avoided despite them not necessarily resulting in your name being placed on the no-fly list.

"Etiquette is integral to maintaining a sense of decorum and civility in an airport," flight attendant Francesca Sampeur, tells Town & Country. "Traveling can be stressful around peak times like the holidays. Everyone on board has the same goal of getting to their specific destination and as flight crew, our number one priority is safety. That goal is more easily accomplished when passengers adhere to our instructions and FAA regulations with etiquette in mind."

One Personal Bag and One Carry On. Period.

"In my experience, the most common point of contention is passengers needing to check bags during boarding due to limited overhead bin space," Sampeur says. "A passenger will board with an irate tone and elevated voice when expressing discontent with having to check their bag."

Typically, airlines allow for one personal bag and one carry-on on airplanes. While there are practical reasons that should be considered, such as limited overhead space, attempting to squeeze more than what is allowed ruins the flow of traffic while boarding making the experience unpleasant and elongated since those boarding later have no option but to check in their bag. The solution? Check to see if your carry-ons fit the standard (usually, airlines can asses them at the front desk) and ensure that a personal item is, indeed, a personal item, usually a bag that can fit a laptop such as a tote bag or small backpack.

A Waiting Area is Not a Makeshift Business Office.

After going through check-in and security lines, the waiting area of a flight should seem like a pleasant sigh of relief. But, is that peace disrupted when work, specifically other's, comes knocking? "Once, there was this guy near me on a full Zoom meeting without headphones in," a frequent traveler tells T&C. "Sometimes, it seems like they want you to know that they are working. They want to signal that they are busy people very loudly. Everyone else will be reading a book or sitting there patiently and all of a sudden you are involuntarily sitting in on a business meeting."

There are two types of travelers: the first are the ones who totally use the inaccessibility to wifi as an excuse to fully relax, free of emails and Slack messages. The second are those who take long flights as an opportunity to tackle work and fully focus. Both are valid, but it is inconsiderate when the latter's work affairs audibly disrupt others. "I think the best thing is to take phone calls away from heavily populated waiting areas. In major airports, there are usually little nooks with fewer people that should be used or even hallways."

Always Use Headphones.

Watching a soccer game to pass by time? Or a new album by an artist you love? Great. Keep it to yourself. Like the aforementioned, fellow passengers shouldn't have to succumb to the ways you choose to pass time by, especially if there is potential for audible disruption. There was a video that went viral online earlier this year that showed two passengers playing music out loud on a plane in flight using a speaker. While the two gleefully danced to their tunes, nearby passengers covered their ears with their hands and looked on upset.

To Sampeur's point, traveling is already stressful and these disruptions only promote the possibility of disputes rather than avoiding them.

To Recline or Not to Recline?

"On my way to study abroad, I was on AirFrance in coach and was surrounded by what could be described as a school trip of high schoolers," Marge Rose tells T&C. "Any time I put my seat back to recline, the one behind me would shove my seat forward and yell. I told them, 'This is an eight-hour flight and I would like to put my seat back to sleep.' He didn't understand and continued on, and the flight attendant said there was nothing she could do." Recently, a viral video on Tik-Tok showed a woman making the case that she "has the right to recline her seat back" after someone behind her kept attempting to do the same as what happened to Molloy.

So, what should one do? Seats are able to recline for a reason and those in them should have the right to get comfortable. The best practice is to forewarn the person behind you that you are reclining just so they are aware and can clear, say, their TV tray beforehand to prevent spills that can occur. Some argue that it depends on the flight length, but does flight length determine how tired someone might be and their desire to sit back and relax? If it's a real pet peeve, it might be helpful to remember: economy class seats always have reclining seats, and first-class seats are always available for purchase.

Airport Dress Code?

We are long away from the age of glamorous commercial air travel in the 1950s and 1960s: men wore suits and ties, and women wore dresses and pinned-up hair. That was a product of the times, sure, but I imagine that the sartorial choices of passengers added to the significance of air travel. In the modern world, sweats and sneakers are often the choices of passengers. Sure, comfort should be thought of while traveling, but why does it seem that comfort on an airplane doesn't equate to effort?

interior view of a commercial passenger plane shows, in the foreground, a couple as they enjoy their meal next to a smiling elderly woman, while behind them, a flight attendant pours a glass of wine for a man who sits next to a couple who toast each other with full glasses, 1950s photo by frederic lewisgetty images
Flight in the 1950s. Frederic Lewis

"I take pride in my appearance and believe that travel ensembles should always be put together," Sampeur says. "Seeing people travel in their sleepwear, for example, believe demonstrates a lack of etiquette for the travel experience." She doesn't suggest overthinking it, either. "Putting effort into your appearance with wardrobe staples, such as a nice pair of slacks or jeans, closed-toed footwear is enough."

Another editor at Town & Country strongly agrees that putting some sort of effort into airplane dress adds to the overall experience."I think going on a flight should be comfortable but there is no need to show up ready for bed!" he says. "It just brings the whole experience for everyone else down a few notches, you know?"

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