Airport & Airplane Etiquette – What are the Biggest Travel Icks?

Airports and airplanes, while taking us to incredible and mesmerising places, can sometimes stir up a whole batch of travel ‘icks’ that can leave even the most seasoned globetrotter cringing with embarrassment and scratching their head. From rushing to being the first in the queue at boarding to taking your shoes off on the plane.

However, travel experts at SkyParkSecure wanted to question whether these most popular travel ‘icks’ are actually as icky as we think and have paired up with leading etiquette expert Jo Bryant for her opinion on some of the biggest travelling turn-offs.

Seat Swap S.O.S.

Didn’t want to pay for a specific seat and randomly got allocated the dreaded middle seat? Many of us cringe when we see someone begging to swap seats with a random stranger before take off – but others may argue that the aforementioned stranger could also be in the same position and this way both parties can get what they want.

On the best way to tackle the situation – and if you should attempt to change seats at all, Jo explains “Simply not liking where you are sitting isn’t a good enough reason to move – you need to validate your request. For example, if there is a spare bulkhead seat and you are very tall, you could point this out. If it isn’t possible to swap or move, don’t get angry or rude; simply accept it’s a no-go with a smile and good grace.”

Shoes On or Shoes Off?

Nobody likes to see bare, sweaty feet – but that doesn’t stop some people! Jo explains that keeping your shoes on is better manners, but it is also seen as acceptable to take them off for longer flights – there are a few things to ensure beforehand though; “Be sure that your feet are suitable for public viewing (or in socks) and are completely odour free. Keep them to yourself: never put them on the seat or, worst of all, rest them on the armrest of the seat in front.”

To Clap or Not to Clap

It turns out that clapping on a plane is actually one of the biggest travel ‘icks’ for a reason – because it’s rude to the pilots! Jo explains “Applause is not necessary after a landing and is rude to the pilots. If the landing is good, clapping suggests surprise at such skill; if the landing is bad, applause would be insultingly sarcastic.”

Aroma Adventures

We’re all entitled to have our own food preferences – but there’s nothing worse than being on a plane when the person next to you pulls out a tuna sandwich. Jo weighs in on whether being annoyed by this is just being picky – or if it is actually bad manners.

“The confines of the cabin, combined with limited airflow, make smelly food a definite no. If the meals served by the airline are particularly strong smelling, then that is out of passengers’ control, but bringing stinky sandwiches or fast food onboard is inconsiderate and selfish.”

Security Smooth Moves

Going through security is unarguably one of the most stressful parts of going on a flight – and it’s never helped by the person in front of you who seems the have missed every single sign outlining the very clear rules around liquids, what can stay in your bag, and what needs to be taken out.

Jo explains it’s simply good manners to ensure you’re organised as you’re about to go through security “Know where your electronics are, have your liquids bagged and ready, and clear your pockets in advance. Don’t hold everyone up by rummaging through your bag hunting for your tablet or setting off the detectors with your belt. The rules are clear so plan ahead and stick to them.”

Boarding Buddy Blues

Some of us might find ourselves running across the airport as soon as our gate is announced to make sure we’re at the front of the line, whilst others watch from a distance thinking ‘well we’re all going to get one regardless, what’s the point of rushing’ – Jo explains that for this ‘ick’ in particular, it does just come down to personal preference.

“Some people like to be in the queue promptly before the gate opens, whereas others like to board the plane later on. It’s really a matter of personal preference but, either way, queue in an orderly fashion, respect other people’s personal space, and when it comes to flying, holding up the whole plane by boarding last is never going to cut it as being ‘fashionably late’.

Cheers or No Cheers?

The airport bar can be tempting, and having a few drinks before take-off is commonly seen as part of the travelling experience – but it’s never fun when a passenger on a plane has clearly had a few too many.

Jo suggests sipping smartly “A glass or two in departures is fine, but attempting to board if you are worse-for-wear is disrespectful to other passengers and the crew. You risk feeling ill on the flight, being unsteady as you move along the cabin, irritating to fellow passengers or, worse of all, even being denied boarding.”

Talk or Text?

We all deal with flying differently – some of us hate it, whilst some of us might find it relaxing – either way, is it acceptable to try and start small talk with the person sitting next to you, or is it just a bit awkward?

“It is good manners to acknowledge the person next to you but read their body language carefully. It is usually pretty clear whether someone wants to chat or keep themselves to themselves. Be helpful and willing (pass trays/drinks, get up to let them out etc), but be respectful of their personal space and levels of sociability,” Jo explains.

Disembarkation Dance

Like when you’re waiting to board – some people seem to rush to be the first off, whilst some stay in their seats and wait for the rush to slow. “The rule is simple: wait your turn but be ready. Have your things packed up and help others who are trying to reach for bags in the overhead lockers. When it’s time to get off, let people out from some of the rows immediately in front of you as you move down the plane.”

Many anxious flyers can’t wait to get off the plane – but they shouldn’t make it other people’s problem. If this is the case Jo explains it’s best manners to “spend the extra on a seat near the door rather than pushing or barging your way down the aisle.”

Recline Rules

Another age-old, and very divisive ‘ick’ – planes don’t have copious amounts of room, and having the person in front of your recline can feels like even more of your (limited) personal space has been invaded. However, the recline feature is there for a reason – so who is in the right, and who is in the wrong?

Jo explains “It is difficult to ask the person in front of you not to recline their seat – they have every right to do so and, on a long flight, will need the comfort. There are some considerations, however. Don’t recline immediately after take-off, and don’t recline during drink/mealtimes. It’s best to wait to press the button until the cabin lights have been dimmed and the quiet time of the flight is underway. When things start to get busy again – a pre-landing meal, preparation for arrival etc. – then move back to a more upright position to give everyone behind you enough space.”

About Jo Bryant

Jo Bryant is an etiquette expert, working at Debrett’s for over 10 years, and has edited 15 books on etiquette and modern manners. She’s taught British etiquette to groups and individuals all over the world and is no stranger to the media – appearing on the BBC, ITV and featured in the Telegraph, Times, and Guardian.