Follow these tricks for dealing with poor behavior to make your time in transit a little smoother.
Crowded airplane cabins, limited overhead bin space and declining service and amenities in coach can aggravate even the most seasoned of fliers. But coping with fellow passengers' lapses in decorum -- from seat-kicking to armrest hogging -- is enough to bring any flier's frustrations to a boil and make tactfully dealing with unruly demeanor a difficult task. After all, "etiquette is not black and white," says Jacqueline Whitmore, an international etiquette expert and former flight attendant. Still, there are ways to diffuse stress-inducing situations and set a positive example for others. That's why U.S. News sought guidance from experts to help you handle common in-flight faux pas, be courteous and carry on.
Give up the armrest.
Experts agree passengers in the middle seat deserve the armrest. "Technically everyone gets a half," says Daniel Post Senning, the great-grandson of Emily Post and co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast. However, it's a shared space, and best to defer to the person in the middle seat as those in the aisle and window seats have more recourse, he explains. He recommends exercising situational awareness, patience and understanding. While the person in the aisle seat has the luxury of getting up easily and the person in the window seat can look out the window, it's important to recognize that for middle-seat passengers, "this is their one and only benefit," Whitmore adds.
Traveling and putting ourselves in an unfamiliar setting is "a time we have our antenna up," Senning says. If you find yourself frustrated by someone else's rude behavior, it's essential to remind yourself that "the most effective thing you can do is manage yourself," he explains. By preparing in advance, managing expectations and exercising patience, you better cope in what's likely to be a "high-stress environment," he says. Come prepared to help others, he adds. The test of good etiquette isn't how you perform when others are behaving well, he explains. "The real test is when someone is not being courteous or polite."
If someone kicks the back of your seat, practice patience.
With reduced legroom, it's important to remember that the person behind you has limited space, Senning says. If someone is repeatedly kicking your seat, it's likely unintentional, he adds. "Give them the benefit of the doubt," he cautions. Instead of turning around with a reproachful look, politely check in with the passenger (or his or her parents if the culprit is a child), he says. He recommends using tactful words, like, "Pardon me, can you please not kick the back of my seat?" Whitmore also recommends behaving in a polite, rather than combative, manner. If the problem persists, alert a flight attendant, she says.
If you need to stretch, mind your surroundings.
"It's really irritating when people do their yoga poses in front of the lavatory and emergency exits," Whitmore says, noting that these areas should be kept clear. And though etiquette surrounding in-flight stretching is a gray area, it's best to follow instructions from flight attendants, and walk up and down the aisle at ideal times, she explains. As Senning puts it, "There's a difference between standing at the bathroom and doing a quick mountain pose versus Warrior 3 in an aisle." According to Senning, the litmus test before striking a pose is questioning whether it would be functional (or agitating) if others did the same. Consider how you'll impact others, he adds.
If a seatmate is blaring disruptive music or videos, tell a flight attendant.
"In-flight silence is golden and so rarely achieved. Passengers seem unaware that you are not allowed to play your YouTube videos out loud without headphones or children's iPad games ..." explains Betty Thesky, a flight attendant and the author of "Betty in the Sky With a Suitcase: Hilarious Stories of Air Travel by the World's Favorite Flight Attendant." She's no stranger to receiving unpleasant glances after asking passengers to use headphones. "Their look says, 'Other people don't like my videos?'" she notes. If a fellow passenger refuses to lower their volume after the flight crew addresses the issue, using your own noise-canceling headphones can go a long way for an improved experience.
Deal with personal hygiene and odors with diplomacy.
Odors can permeate the whole aircraft, whether it's a scented hand lotion or a smelly sandwich, Whitmore says. In uncomfortable situations, such as a seatmate painting her nails or taking off her shoes, you can't go wrong reporting your concern to the flight attendant and politely asking the crew to be seated elsewhere if there's room on the plane. "Personal grooming in general is best left on terra firma," Thesky says. And if you happen to have a cold or be seated next to someone sneezing and coughing, remember to "keep your hands below your shoulders," Senning says, noting it's a helpful tactic in germ-filled environments.
Stay aware of personal space and boundaries.
"Physical contact can be really tricky," Senning says. If you can't catch your seatmate's gaze to get their attention, or if the person sitting next to you is in the aisle seat and you need to use the lavatory, it's best to give them a light tap on the shoulder paired with an "Excuse me" or "Pardon me," he advises. And if you're in the window seat, strategize when you move about the cabin, Whitmore says. "Time your getting up when your seatmates are awake," she says. And if a fellow passenger is asleep, keep in mind it's "worse to crawl over them" than wake them before getting up, she adds.
Don't monopolize overhead bin space.
"Listen to the flight attendant," Senning cautions. If an attendant tells you that your suitcase is too big, be polite and check it, he says, noting that it's especially aggravating to take a big bag to the back of the plane to place in an overhead bin and disrupt the boarding process. Also, if you see someone who needs help while boarding, "offer to lend a hand if you're an experienced traveler," he adds. Whitmore also recommends offering to assist the elderly, a parent with a small child and disabled fliers with their bags while boarding or deplaning.
Prioritize your safety.
If a person starts behaving in a combative manner, an attendant will try to rectify the situation, and if the issue escalates, alert the pilot to divert the plane, Whitmore explains. As a passenger, it's best to excuse yourself and not get involved, she cautions. "You're not there to be the airplane police," she says. And if someone tries to engage you in a heated argument, remember "it's almost impossible to argue with someone who won't argue," Senning says. "My mother would say sometimes discretion is the better part of valor," he adds, noting a willingness to disengage can be your most effective tool.
Liz Weiss is the Travel editor for Consumer Advice at U.S. News, where she writes and edits consumer-focused travel content that offers trip-planning inspiration and helps consumers make smarter travel decisions. She has been covering the travel industry for nearly five years at U.S. News & World Report. She also manages the En Route blog, and has been interviewed on a variety of outlets, including MarketWatch and Fortune. Prior to joining the Consumer Advice team, Liz oversaw the development and content creation for U.S. News Travel's Best Cruises, Best Travel Rewards and Best Vacations franchises. A native of Washington, D.C., she received a bachelor's degree from George Washington University. You can follow Liz on Twitter or email her at email@example.com.