Talking about manners on planes always makes me feel like a doddering inhabitant of Downton Abbey, gasping sniffily about how standards are slipping to my equally doddering friends. But let’s be real: these days flying is more akin to a local bus than a transatlantic voyage on the Queen Elizabeth 2, so comparing some notional golden age of travel when flying was only for the super rich is unfair. There are, however, still a few ways in which flying would be better if we could all just be a little more thoughtful, a little more mindful of flying etiquette, and realize how our own behaviour affects others when travelling.
Bags: know what you’re allowed and don’t be a binhog
Marshalling carry-on bags is a colossal headache for everyone, and airlines don’t help since it feels like every single one has a different policy. So read the ticket rules carefully, and make sure you know what you’re allowed to bring.
If you’re allowed just a 'small personal item,' don’t try and chance it on the size, especially on low-cost airlines where the infamous bag sizer comes out.
If you get a bag plus a personal item, then your bag should go overhead and your personal item should go underneath the seat in front of you. (Not, for the love of Howard Hughes, underneath your neighbour’s seat.) Don’t take up all the bin space with your coat either.
If you’re in the aisle or window seat, perhaps don’t get all your stuff out during boarding until anyone who might need to get past you has boarded. Consider using the time you’re waiting to board on the jetway to have your reading material, phone charger or whatever else you might need handy so you’re not blocking the aisles.
And consider whether it might be easier – and better flying etiquette – to check a bag. Yes, I’m one of those weird frequent travellers who often checks a piece of luggage: since I travel so much internationally rather than domestically I rarely find that I have much of a wait after immigration and customs, and I just can’t abide either the plastic waste of buying little bottles of all my toiletries or decanting them from bigger bottles before I leave.
Armrests: there’s one simple rule
In economy, the middle seat passenger gets both armrests. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Aisle passengers, though, be aware: your aisle-side armrest may well slide up by pressing a switch or flipping a catch that’s hidden somewhere near the mechanism. This not only gives you a bit of extra wiggle room, it lets you rotate at the waist to let the middle and/or window seat passenger slip past without having to get up into the aisle.
Feet: keep them secret, keep them safe
Nobody, repeat nobody, wants to see your toes up close. If you must take your shoes off on a longer flight, keep your socks on and ideally bring a fresh pair as a courtesy to everyone around you. Bear in mind also that you can cause offense in many cultures by pointing your feet or showing parts of them, so just keep ‘em socked and on the floor. (And oh my, not on the bulkhead wall like some sort of animal cocking its leg.)
And keep them to yourself! This is especially important for those of us flying in economy class. I’ve lost track of the number of appalled faces I’ve seen online where travellers discover an errant foot snaking, unsocked, behind their seat to rest on the rear of their armrest.
Look, planes are pretty gross, germwise, and the floors are the worst. If you must come in open-toed shoes, whether it’s resort-wear sandals or a fun little wedge for the weekend, please keep them on: it’s not just that your feet are gross, it’s that they’ve probably picked up some additional horror from the floors. And perhaps consider whether a light athleisure combo shoe — terrible name, great idea — might suit your travels better than that gladiator sandal.
Clothes: let’s be realistic
It’s 2019, and it’s unreasonable to expect a three-piece suit or a formal two-piece in wrinkle-resistent Crimplene from the days of chateaubriand-and-caviar flying in today's peanuts-if-you’re-lucky.
Leggings are pants, shorts are fine in summer, and nobody should be fainting over the shocking sight of an uncovered shoulder. (Qantas is still likely to say you can’t come in the lounge wearing the footwear variously known as flipflops, thongs or jandals, though, and I can’t recommend wearing these to fly for reasons of safety and hygiene.)
That said, let’s try to be as courteous to other passengers as we would like them to be towards us. Perhaps choose a short that goes all the way down the thigh to avoid spending several hours with the side of your bare leg pressed up against that of your closest neighbour. Let’s travel in our second-nicest pair of shorts rather than our second-rattiest. But, in general, let’s just keep our own thoughts about other people’s bodies to ourselves, shall we?
The bottom line: think like a nana
Treat flying etiquette like staying at your friend’s nice grandparents’ house: make yourself comfortable, but don’t put your feet on the table, be thoughtful about your behaviour, and don’t wander around in your skivvies.