Airplane Etiquette: 8 Things Every Considerate Traveler Does When Flying

See recent posts by Maria Teresa Hart

Austrian Airlines/Flickr

Austrian Airlines/Flickr

What is it about flying? The rules of civility seem to get canceled as frequently as flights in a storm. As travel editors and frequent flyers, we’ve seen it all, from drunken rowdiness to nail-clipping. And that’s why a considerate traveler is an absolute godsend. These are the thoughtful, compassionate folks who make everyone’s flight a bit smoother thanks to their courtesy. We’re taking the time to applaud all the behavior that makes them the perfect seatmate. Here are eight things every considerate traveler does when flying.

1. They use the overhead bin above their seat.



The delicate balance of overhead luggage space gets severely disrupted when travelers just throw their bags in the compartment closest to the door, kicking off a domino effect of displaced suitcases all around. That’s why considerate travelers will make the effort to lug their carry-on down the aisle to their seat, even if it’s all the way to 37B, so they’re not shortchanging the person in 4A. 

2. They know when to stop talking.

Being seated next to the guy who just won’t stop talking is a fate worse than being in the middle seat. (A note to the chatty: Please don’t expect your fellow passengers to be your in-flight entertainment.) Considerate travelers will offer a nice hello, maybe a few pleasantries, and then they’ll shut up. You’ll never feel pressured into pulling out a novel or headphones just to escape a monologue about their grandkids.  

3. They recline their seat gently.

Photo by Karl Baron via Flickr

Karl Baron/Flickr

If the first thing you do when you get to your seat is jam it back without care for those behind you, you are not a member of the considerate travelers club. Without knowing it, you could be slamming down on someone’s laptop, hot beverage, or both. (Never a good combo.) That’s why thoughtful travelers will slowly glide their chair back, and maybe spare a few degrees for the person behind them. And if the seat is jerky or jammed, they’ll give the person behind them a heads up before their pushback. 

4. They keep their shoes on.

The airplane cabin is still a public space, not a rec room. But you wouldn’t know it from the amount of travelers that feel A-OK about yanking off their footwear, even putting their feet up — sock holes on full display. Considerate travelers know to keep their shoes on, and they’ll wear comfy, slip-on kicks that can handle a long flight and any foot swelling.  

5. They thank flight attendants, repeatedly.

Austrian Airlines/Flickr

Austrian Airlines/Flickr

Think travel is exhausting? Try being a flight attendant. While you doze off or lose yourself in a movie, they’re on their feet at all hours dealing with every in-flight snafu. A little kindness goes a long way. For every single beverage or snack doled out, considerate travelers will extend a genuine and heartfelt “thank you” — with eye contact and a smile. (Tip: This is also the secret to scoring free bonus snacks.)

6. They offer snacks to seatmates.

Consider this extra credit, but if you’re traveling with airplane snacks or a little airborne picnic, there’s something ultra nice about extending a square of chocolate or offering a chip or two to a seatmate, especially on flights where food service is limited or airlines charge a lot. The same goes for a stick of gum or a mint. 

7. They stand without using the headrest as leverage.

Photo by chinaoffseason via Flickr


Inconsiderate travelers don’t see a headrest in front of them, they see a pulley system that can get them to their feet. Considerate travelers, on the other hand, always remember that someone’s head is resting there, and when they stand, they’ll push off from their armrests and their own seat, so the person in front of them isn’t jostled. Naturally, the elderly or those with mobility issues get a pass, though an apology should still be offered if you shake someone in an effort to stand.

8. They switch seats with separated families.

There isn’t a ton of difference between seat 17D and 19D, which is why considerate travelers will step in to help couples and families sit together and offer to swap. The most saintly among us will even give up treasured window seats or bulkhead legroom, so families can sit together, too.

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