A Little Bit of Airplane Courtesy Please


In my forty plus years I have traveled on many airplanes, all over the world. The older I get, the crankier I get. Air travel is no longer considered a luxury, where passengers kick back, relax and are pampered along the way. It’s stressful, tiring, long and sometimes, just miserable. Airlines are eking out every last inch of space (and comfort) on their planes, in an attempt to increase profit. Knowing this is the reality today, as passengers, we need to work together to make the experience better. And that begins with some airplane courtesy.

Why are travelers so aggressive? Why, for the most part, do I feel like I am in competition for space, a spot in line or the last drop of coffee, when I’m flying to my destination? After almost three weeks of travel and four different flights during that trip, I learned a few lessons and picked up a few tips. Here I will share some of my thoughts and offer a bit of advice on how we can bring forward some airplane courtesy and hopefully make air travel a better experience for everyone.

I won’t go through the whole airport experience, as that is a blog post unto itself. No doubt the airport experience has been made increasingly stressful because of security, a tighter limit on baggage and the sheer number of people traveling. The main thing I will say about getting through an airport is to give yourself a ton of time. If you think you need our hour, come 90 minutes early. If you think you need two hours, give it almost 3.

Let’s focus here on bringing courtesy to the airplane experience and how we can all work together to make that happen.

Getting on the Plane

The airlines try to bring some order to the onboarding process, but for the most part, they do it really badly. Air Canada, for example, thinks that the business class passengers at the front and Elite members should board first, as a courtesy to them. But why board the front of the aircraft first, creating a log jam? Why not board from back to front, making it smoother for all? And why does the pre-board for passengers with young children or those who need extra assistance also happen after the business class group goes on? Makes no sense.

But since, for the most part, this is how it works, how about everyone stands in an orderly line and allow people space to get through in the order they are called? If I am traveling with my young children, with a stroller and bags, let me through the tight crowd so that I can get on the plane before your zone is called. And when I am walking down the tunnel with my kids, moving slowly, don’t shove me aside and try to pass me. The plane won’t leave any sooner and your seat will still be there.

Once on the plane, try your best to put your hand luggage above in a relatively swift manner and don’t block the aisle. If just one person blocks the aisle no one can board. It slows down the whole process and people get crabby.

Reclining your Seat

This may be the source of most of my crankiness on an airplane and possibly one of the areas where showing some courtesy would go a long way. I just traveled on four different planes on British Airways, where only 1/3 of the plane was, let’s call it, the economy section. The rest of the plane was made up of first class (wide individual pods), business class (smaller pods) and premium economy (regular seats, but wider and more leg room).  The economy seats were small, barely cushioned and had the minimal pitch allowed between seats. I’m a small person and I felt cramped.

Add to the fact that I had a baby on my lap (I’m not paying for a seat for the baby until she turns two, I’m too cheap), I had very little room. So, when the person ahead of me, just after take-off, reclined his seat all the way, I had maybe a few inches between my face and his seat.

Now I will admit, according to the rules, a paying passenger is perfectly within his or her rights to recline the seat. If the seat can recline, one can do it. If it’s a long flight, overnight maybe and the lights are out, okay, recline your seat. But all the way? And right after take-off? Could you show a bit of courtesy and notice that you had a woman behind you with a baby on her lap, with no space? Or at least move the seat back up when the food is served so that my tray didn’t constantly fall on my lap?

We are all on this tightly packed airplane together. If we show some courtesy and work together to be comfortable, it’s a better experience for everyone.

Getting Up and Down and Walking the Aisles

I like to sit in the aisle seat when traveling. I recognize that I have much less personal space on the aisle than the window but I just need to know that I can get up when I need to. Never mind that anytime I see the “vacant” sign show up on the toilet I run there. I’m always worried about being stuck in my seat and having to go. It’s just a personal obsession.

But, my seat is mine. It’s not a spot to lean on when chatting with your friends in the aisle. If you are sitting behind me, it’s not a tool you use to get up and down, pushing me forward or backward. We all have limited personal space on a tightly packed airplane, but show some courtesy for the person in the seat in front of you, especially if that person is asleep.

And on the issue of the aisles, these too have become tighter as airlines cram more seats across the plane. I know the seat and legroom are small, but please try to keep your legs/feet/arms out of the aisle. I don’t want to trip over you or walk into you and get the evil eye from you when I do so.

The Toilet

Every time I get on a plane I calculate how many toilets are on the plane and how many people need to share them. The big planes used for overseas flights have a higher toilet to person ratio, but there are never enough. But I can accept that. What I can’t accept is people abusing the toilets and treating them like their own dumping grounds. Can’t we all show some courtesy and keep them clean?

Some simple suggestions to keep the toilets clean:

  • Wipe the sink area if you spray water everywhere
  • Flush the toilet (I shouldn’t even have to say this, but really?)
  • Pick up any toilet paper or paper towel you drop on the floor and throw it out
  • If you finish the toilet paper, paper towel or soap, ask the flight attendant to load more
  • Use your time efficiently and please, if you can, don’t take too long. Again, the toilet to person ratio isn’t great. No one wants to wait too long to use the facilities.

Getting off the Plane

Once we have landed at our destination, everyone on that plane can’t wait to get off. No matter how aggressive everyone is lining up to get on, it’s nothing on how people behave once the plane has landed and arrived at the gate. We get off front to back, and it always takes a bit of time. So why do people at the middle and back have to jump out of their seats, leap into the aisle and push their way through? There’s nowhere to go. If I am in the row in front of you and I can’t go anywhere, why do you think you can, or why do you think that shoving me out of your way is good behaviour?

The basic courtesy of getting off the plane is to let people off row by row, patiently waiting for the people in front of you to collect their items from under their seats or above and walk forward. If the person needs a few extra moments, be patient. Maybe offer to help them? Smile. Don’t push them aside or jump in front of them. Let them get off the plane. And if we all do this in an orderly and courteous way, the process will probably move much faster.

Some other Quick Tips to show some courtesy:

  • If the touch screen for the audio/video system does not respond immediately to your fingers, don’t pound on it. It will work soon, and remember, pounding the screen means pounding on the back of the person in front of you.
  • If you have the window seat, you don’t have to open or close your blind but be aware of the people around you. People may be sleeping, so lower the blind. If the plane is landing and there’s a great view outside, open the blind and let others look too.
  • The arm rests are for all of us to share. While you may have one on each side of you, remember that you are sharing one (or both) with the person or people beside you. Resting your arms, or worse, pushing your elbows out, can be considered obnoxious.
  • Use your headphones. If you are watching a movie or TV show on your own device, no one else wants to hear it. Put on your headphones and keep them at a moderate sound level so that only you can hear what you are watching.

It’s hard to behave your best when travelling. From beginning to end the process is exhausting. It is my belief that airlines aren’t making it any easier for us. If you are willing and open to spend a bundle of money, it is definitely more pleasant in any and all of first class, business class or premium economy cabins, but that’s not an option for most people. So, my advice is simple, be courteous. We will all be better off.