Etiquette on planes: The 16 rules of air travel every passenger should know

Plane travel has changed. It used to be that you could smoke cigarettes in the cabin. Kids could go up the front and spend time in the cockpit. It would take you four or five hops to get from Sydney to London.

But modern air travel has put a stop to all of that. The rules have changed. The style of air travel has changed, the cost of air travel has changed, the frequency has changed, and the enjoyment has changed.

As such, it might be time to review the unwritten rules for passengers travelling the world by plane. If you want to be a good flyer, a respectful and courteous flyer who expects everyone around you to do the same, these are the rules to follow.

Don't turn up too early

Airlines play it on the safe side – they tell you to be at the airport three hours before an international flight; at least one hour before domestic. And in some countries that's necessary, given the security procedures. In Australia, however, it's not, particularly if you're already checked in and don't have luggage. Do yourself a favour and spend less time clogging up the airport.

Don't take the mickey with your luggage

Modern-day air travel has changed the luggage game, with plenty of carriers charging extra to check a bag, and limiting hand-luggage by weight and size. That also means loads of people are trying to get away with dragging far too much on board, filling up the overhead bins and forcing others to store things at their feet. Help us all out and just play by the rules.

Don't queue up to board too early

P6BTR5 Easyjet passengers in queue / queuing / queues / waiting to board a plane at departure gate 15 at Malta International Airport. (91) Passengers queue for boarding

Photo: Alamy

It drives me nuts when you see a queue forming at the boarding gate with 15 minutes or even half an hour before it actually opens. The more people who queue, the more others are forced to join it to make sure they'll have space in the overhead lockers once on board. It means everyone spends far longer standing in a line than they really need to. Just sit down until you're called – it's better for everyone.

Wear a shirt with sleeves

You don't have to dress up for air travel like you're going out for dinner. But at the same time, blokes of the world, no one really wants to be rubbing up against your bare, sweaty shoulders when they go to take a seat. Wear a shirt with sleeves.

Reclining is for long-haul (or people with bad backs)

The issue of seat reclining gets people pretty hot under the collar, but to me it's pretty simple: unless you have a medical reason for reclining your seat, don't do it on short domestic flights. On long-haul journeys, keep your seat upright during meal times, and take-off and landing. The rest of the time, you have the right to recline whenever you want.

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Treat cabin crew like real people

The staff who serve you in the sky are real people who are just doing a job – be courteous to them and you'll be amazed at how you're treated in return.

Keep your kids under control

I have a huge amount of sympathy for anyone travelling with children, who will inevitably get stir-crazy in the air. That's rough. But still, as a parent you have to at least try to deal with it. Make an attempt to keep your kids under control – tell them to stop kicking the seat in front of them, for example – and your fellow passengers will love you for it.

Don't glare at babies

I've been travelling with a baby for about a year now, and the vast majority of fellow passengers have been kind and understanding. A few, however, clearly feel babies have no place on planes, and have glared obviously at my kid the whole flight. Ah… it wasn't his decision. Direct all glares my way, tough guy.

Don't listen to anything without headphones

No one else wants to hear your podcast or your video game or your terrible music choices. I'm still stunned that people actually do this.

Keep your socks on

B1KFT7 Man's bare feet on a plane, view from above.
tra24-online-worst Worst passengers to sit next to

Photo: Alamy

This is the cold reality of modern air travel: hundreds of us all have to share a small metal tube for hours and hours on end. That experience is made far more pleasurable if people can keep their socks on and not stink the whole place up.

See also: Four-year-old hero hilariously calls out woman for 'stinky' bare feet on plane

Don't pull the back of people's seats

This is another one that drives me crazy. When you're getting in and out of your seat, yes it's squeezy, but it's really annoying to use the seat in front of you for balance. There's someone sitting in that chair. They get yanked violently backwards when you do that. If you need to hold onto something, use your own seat.

Don't get smashed

Alcohol is free on full-service airlines, and it's readily available. But this isn't a frat party. Go easy on the booze.

Don't stand up too early

You can tell a lot about a country by how quickly everyone lunges for the overhead lockers once the plane touches down. I've been to some parts of the sub-continent where people are pulling down huge sacks of goods before the wheels have even hit the tarmac. Guys, you're not going to get off the plane any sooner. Relax.

Don't push to get off

Clearly these are also the people who honk their horns in traffic jams. We get that you're frustrated, and everyone wants to go. There's also a reason the queue hasn't shuffled forward yet. So just hang out back there patiently and stop pushing me in the back.

Stand back from the carousel

Generic Sydney Airport, T2 Domestic Terminal, Virgin, arrivals. carousel, luggage, baggage, passengers, tourists, tourism. Tuesday 8th January 2008 AFR photo Louie Douvis AFR FIRST USE ONLY SPECIALX 77385

Photo: Louie Douvis

Another personal bugbear. If everyone could just stand a few paces back from the baggage carousel, rather than banging their shins and trolleys right up against it, collecting luggage would be a far more pleasant experience.

Relax

You could pretty much take away all of the other rules and just introduce this one: relax. Try to take things easy when you fly. Expect the unexpected. Cut your fellow passengers plenty of slack. Take your time. If everyone does that, modern-day air travel becomes far more enjoyable.

What are your rules for modern air travel? What are your personal bugbears? Any of mine you disagree with?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: Upgrades, annoying passengers: The truth about being a flight attendant

See also: The reason why your emotions and senses go crazy on planes

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