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How not to behave on an airplane: a passengers’ bill of rights

By admin   13 July 2011 7:52am Europe/London

In our recent survey of behavior on airplanes, Lonely Planet asked readers a series of questions with the intent of establishing some basic guidelines for the traveling community to promote peace on airplanes. Flying can be stressful and tiring enough – we should at least know how to get along with one another. But how can we know what others expect without asking?

After over 5800 responses, we feel that we’ve got a solid grasp on the situation, and there’s good news: travelers generally agree on what is or is not acceptable in-flight behavior.Airplane annoyance word cloud

The most common words used to describe annoying airplane behavior (click for larger version).

The number one annoyance? Other people messing with your seat and personal space – prodding the entertainment console on the seat back, kicking, people pulling themselves up using your headrest, and various types of unreasonable space encroachment were mentioned repeatedly. Noise, unpleasant aromas, unruly children, and thoughtless behavior involving carry-on luggage were also common gripes.

Full results from the survey questions are reported below, but as an initial summary of the findings, we present the democratically-decided Passengers’ Airplane Behavior Bill of Rights:


The Passengers’ Airplane Behavior Bill of Rights

Article I: The right to remove shoes
Passengers shall be allowed to remove shoes from their feet, but only if the aforementioned feet don’t stink or present health risks to other passengers. The right of the passenger to go to the lavatory without shoes shall not be infringed, as it is really your own business should you want to stand in the urine of others.

Article II: Freedom from unreasonable aromatic assault
No passenger shall, in the time of flight, be subjected to unreasonable aromas, be it from powerful perfume, foods redolent of onion, or other fragrance wholly unnecessary whilst on an airplane.

Article III: The right to reasonable light
All passengers shall be allowed the right to use their own overhead light to read when the cabin lights are turned off, as that is its intended use. No passenger shall be unwillingly bothered by the thoughtless opening of window shades during this period; window seat passengers are not delegated the power to blind their fellow passengers.

Article IV: The article of reclension
A well-justified act of reclining one’s seat shall not be prohibited at all times, apart from meal time and other times specified by the flight crew. All instances of reclension shall be preceded by a rearward glance so as not to unwittingly crush the patellas or portable electronic devices of the affected passenger.

Article V: Freedom of no speech
There shall be no requirement for other passengers to listen to you drone on about your child, cat or other subject not directly germane to an immediate inflight emergency situation. The right of other passengers to give you the ‘book-off’ shall not be infringed, nor shall you assist with the answer to 14-across if unprompted.

Article VI: The right to bear armrests
In all cases where an armrest is shared by two adjacent passengers, both parties must respect the right of the other to keep the armrest down. Passengers relegated to a middle seat shall be afforded special status, and aisle and window passengers shall endeavour to accommodate.

Article VII: Conditions of passenger quarters
Passengers shall not be subject to the rubbish of others crammed thoughtlessly into seat-back pockets, or tossed onto the floor in a cavalier fashion. Chewing gum shall not be pressed to any surface affixed to an aircraft.

Article VIII: The right to heed the call of nature
A well-organised attempt to use the lavatory, being necessary for inflight calm and gastrointestinal health, shall not be impeded by aisle passengers sleeping or otherwise. The rights of others waiting to use a lavatory shall supersede the frankly ill-advised wishes of current lavatory users to waste time poking around said lavatory.

Article IX: Provisions concerning use of electronic devices
The assurance of safety shall not be infringed by the desires of others to make one last phone call, update their social network status to brag about their impending holiday, or to plant cauliflower in their virtual farm. Whilst MythBusters and others have debunked most potential dangers of using common electronic devices on planes, safety and calm shall take precedence.

Article X: Cruel and unnecessary aisle clogging
No passenger shall, in the time of disembarking, hastily grab their bag and congest the exit route before actual movement is possible. Likewise, when it comes time to exit, no passenger shall unaccountably act surprised that it is their turn to leave.

Article XI: Freedom from feral children
The right of passengers not to be kicked in the back, have their hair pulled, be presented with unasked-for mucous-moistened objects, or be otherwise assaulted by feral children shall not be infringed. Crying babies cannot be held accountable for their actions, and are therefore exempt.

Article XII: The right of reasonable alcohol consumption
No person, apart from those who are drunk and obnoxious or minors, shall be prohibited from imbibing an alcoholic beverage should they feel that it is a good idea, despite all indications to the contrary.

Article XIII: The right to private media
Reading over others’ shoulders shall not be inflicted, unless achieved in a particularly stealthy fashion causing no annoyance to the book holder. The same shall be true for films and other non-private media.


Full results from the ‘How not to behave on an airplane’ survey:

1. Shoes? 68% say off is okay.

2. Shoes in the lavatory? 88% say on, 12% don’t mind getting their feet wet (so to speak).

3. Highly fragrant foods or body care products – 82% deem them unacceptable on airplanes.

4. Unwelcome aromas on airplanes: stinky feet were ranked the worst of the worst, beating out baby vomit and old cigarettes by a fair margin. Scented lotion was the least unacceptable.

5. You want to read when the cabin lights are turned down, 77% say turn on that overhead light.

6. Reclining your seat is okay to do…

7. The person in front of you reclines their seat with no intention of sleeping – 48% don’t really care, but more than half will either stare angrily or plot small acts of revenge.

8. The person next to you won’t stop talking – only 14% will tell them that they’re not in the mood for a conversation, the majority will try the ‘book-off’ technique or wait patiently.

9. The stranger next to you flips up the shared armrest – 60% will ask them if they don’t mind leaving it down.

10. You’re stuck in the middle seat, and both armrests are already occupied – 57% will try to share, only 4% will invent a rare tropical skin disease to win the armrest war.

11. Trash, rubbish, waste – whatever you call it, it goes in the bin, not the seat back pocket or the floor.

12. In the lavatory, 82% get in and out as quickly as possible, while 18% will freely admit to wasting time.

13. The crew tells you to turn off your electronic devices – 83% of responders are well-behaved and follow directions, 5% push the limit, and 12% simply hide the device.

14. You’ve finished your food, 68% will wait for collection, 32% will try to find somewhere to shove it aside.

15. Drunk people on planes can be fairly obnoxious, and the stats back it up.

16. Reading or watching movies over people’s shoulders – 31% admit to doing it, 69% won’t do it because they hate it when the other 31% do it.

17. The person in the aisle seat is sleeping, but you need to us the lavatory. 43% will gently wake them to get out, 30% will just climb over, and 27% will risk pulling a Tycho Brahe and try to wait it out.

18. Climbing past other passengers, 50% will default to giving them the ass in the face, while 36% will first consider what they look like or how nice they’ve been on the flight so far.

19. Crying babies, are you more sorry for yourself or the parents? The majority were strongly in the ‘sorry for self’ camp, some were split, but parents got only moderate sympathy overall.

20. The child behind you is kicking your seat, 68% will ask the parents to make them stop, and 18% will use this as justification for using birth control.

21. The plane lands and taxis to the gate, 74% will wait patiently for their turn, while 26% want to jump up immediately despite the almost inevitable long wait.