How to Fly on an Aeroplane like a Decent Human Being

A recent episode of Back to Work compelled me, someone with a lot of experience flying (…economy), to write a guide of sorts for anyone noble enough to care about other people's feelings on an aeroplane. Here's my set of pointers which will — hopefully — improve your experience whenever you take to the sky.

Don't recline your chair. Ever.

The only thing reclining your chair accomplishes is making the life of the poor passenger behind you slightly more miserable. A chair recline isn't a victimless crime: for every inch you gain, the passenger behind you looses.

The total space for passengers in an aircraft is a zero-sum game. If you work to increase your personal space, you’re just taking away from fellow passengers. And nobody wants that.

"But what if the person in front of me reclines?" No buts. Suck it up like a champ and deal with having less room. In fact, go one further: expect the person in front of you to recline their chair. If everyone on the entire plane reclines, the result is pretty much the same as if nobody reclined. It's really not worth the effort.

Help people with their ridiculous baggage

Yes, I know they bought waaaay too much “Duty Free” alcohol and it's not your problem, but the more this sunburnt, middle-aged passenger with a questionable fashion sense struggles getting their bag in the overhead compartment, the more time the whole plane wastes waiting. And nobody likes waiting.

Help the cabin crew (and every other passenger waiting in line) out by offering to lift, carry or squash someone else's baggage into the overhead compartment. One day you'll be glad when someone else offers to help you.

Don't touch other seats

The rules for seats unoccupied by you are simple: avoid touching them. Even one hand rested on another passenger's seat will make it feel (to them) like the world is about to end.

Hate getting your seat on the plane kicked by young children? Having it lent on by an aging holidaymaker can be even more disruptive. (Just think of the weight difference!)

Use your own seat if you need to steady yourself when standing — and if you need to steady yourself as you're moving through the plane cabin, you chose a bad time to move. Which brings me neatly to…

Choose a good time to move around during the flight

If you realise you need the toilet 15 minutes before the estimated landing time, it's probably best to wait. All that's likely to happen if you get up and start wandering around the aisle dangerously close to the descent is that you'll get caught in turbulence.

And who wants to go to the toilet when everything's shaking?

Be aware of other passengers' senses

What do I mean by this? Well, let's take the sense of smell. That leftover curry you decided to carry on board and proceed to eat really stinks. And perhaps the passengers around you aren't fans of Indian cuisine.

What about the sense of touch? We've dealt with not touching other seats, but the same goes for other passengers. Be aware of the available legroom between you and the fine folks next to you. Are your legs in their Personal Space? Be careful. You probably wouldn't want their legs brushing against yours.

Be aware of your own senses!

Flying drunk is almost certainly not going to end well for you or any of the passengers within earshot of you. Most fliers aren’t there because they enjoy flying: they’re on board to get from A to B with the least amount of hassle possible.

Anything you do to increase hassle in other passengers’ lives will probably result in bad things happening to you. This is just one example:


Other things worth considering

These points didn’t fit into the main article, but that doesn’t make them any less important. In no particular order:

  • Young children + aeroplanes = a bad time
  • Don’t try and repeatedly talk to someone who looks busy
  • Share the damn armrest
  • Don’t mess around with the window blind
  • The cabin crew have a tough job — try and make it easier

I’ve probably forgotten a bunch of important and obvious things. If there’s something you think should be added to this list, you can let me know on twitter or drop me a line. I hope you’re now a better passenger.