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Airplane Etiquette - your unwritten rules for air travel

Airplane Etiquette: The Unwritten Rules for Traveling on a Plane

by Jeremy B

Like the In N Out secret menu, there is a secret list of unwritten rules for traveling on a plane. The savviest travelers (often business travelers) know and follow these guidelines for proper airplane etiquette while the huddled masses are often completely oblivious or simply too selfish to care. Here is our irreverent take on the unwritten travel rules.

If you’ve ever been stuck in a middle seat fighting for arm rests or grossed out at someone trimming their toenails you’ve had the unlucky experience of flying with people NOT following proper airplane etiquette.

In this article we share 21 Unwritten Rules for Traveling on a Plane – your guide to proper airplane etiquette.

As noted earlier, this is a highly irreverent take. Sarcasm level = 10. I am sure someone will be offended…

However, there is some truth here intermingled between our blinding wit. If you employ these rules while traveling your fellow passengers will thank you (well, probably not, but at least no one will be scowling at you!) and all of our trips will go a little smoother!

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The 21 Unwritten Travel Rules for Travel Etiquette

21 Unwritten Rules for Traveling on a Plane – your guide to proper airplane etiquette

I’ve arranged this list in no particular order (except for the first and last unwritten plane rules which I believe are some of the more important ones.

So let’s get to it! Here are the 21 Unwritten Travel Rules – your guide to airplane etiquette!

Number 1: Middle seat gets the arm rests

No one likes getting stuck in a middle seat on an airplane. I don’t care who you are, it sucks. That’s why unwritten travel rule #1 is that the middle seat passenger gets first right of refusal for the arm rests.

The theory is that whatever travel god they’ve ticked off for this flight is fine with them getting both of the inside arm rests as compensation for their karmic failure.

If you are on the window or aisle don’t even question it. Just give ’em up.

If you are stuck in the middle and your fellow travelers are not giving ’em to ya it might be time for an elbow war. Take what’s yours! #Victory!

Unwritten Travel Rule: Keep your arms off the inside arm rests. They belong the poor soul trapped in the middle seat for the next 6 hours.

Number 2: Don’t recline your seat

I honestly don’t know why airplane seats recline. I mean the airliners have crunched us all into such a small space to begin with the reclining feature literally only makes it worse for every single person except the dude in the front row.

In all seriousness, an unwritten travel rule (and good airplane etiquette!) is to never take advantage of the reclining feature of your seat. Be courteous to your fellow travelers behind you.

One exception, however, is the middle seat. All bets are off there. If you are stuck in a middle seat…get what’s yours and screw the poor fellow behind you. 🙂

Unwritten Travel Rule: Don’t recline your seat!

Number 3: Don’t bring hot food on the plane

That Sbarro pizza stays in the food court buddy. Do not bring it on the plane. We are all stuck in an aluminum can for the next 5 hours and we do not want to smell your stinky supreme pizza for all of it.

Cold food? That’s ok – just not stinky.

Unwritten Travel Rule: No hot food ever!

Number 4: You have no obligation to switch seats so Evan and Maddy can sit together on their honeymoon.

Evan and Maddy are idiots (and poor). They didn’t think to book seats together and tried to save a few bucks and now they both have middle seats in different parts of the plane.

And now they want you to switch to a middle seat for the next 6 hours.

Sorry. Not Sorry.

Your failure to plan is not my problem. You are stuck Evan. And don’t try to send Carli over with a cute smile to soften me up. It ain’t happening.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Just because someone wants you to switch seats so they can “sit together” doesn’t mean you have to. Exceptions include parents / kids or elderly and handicapped. Otherwise…a polite but firm no, plop your headphones on and fire up another episode of Better Call Saul.

Number 5: Always be charging.

You are hopelessly addicted to your phone. I know you are. I am too. It’s cool. But one of the biggest unwritten travel rules of all time is: ABC. Always Be Charging!

Unwritten Travel Rule: Charge whenever you can. Have a spare minute? Plug it in! Better yet, bring a portable power charger. You can read my review of the Anker PowerCore 20100 here. It’s a solid and affordable choice. (Check the Price)

Number 6: Keep your nasty feet in their socks (and ideally their shoes) – and by the way no pedicures or manicures!

I am grossed out even writing this stuff. Keep your shoes on (especially if your feet stink). And for godsakes don’t give yourself a pedicure or manicure.

Unwritten Travel Rule: The travel etiquette god says it’s cool if we kidney punch you for clipping your toe nails on the plane. You’ve been warned. We will give you a stern look for having stinky man-feet.

Number 7: Push your own bags/bins through the X-Ray machine

Listen, I don’t want to get your bomb residue on my hands by pushing your grimy bag through the machine. Do it yourself.

Also, I am lazy.

Unwritten Travel Rule: You gotta push your own bags through the conveyor. I am pretty sure it’s like semi-law, but it’s also good travel etiquette.

Number 8: You should be able to lift your on freakin’ bag

Don’t put me in the awkward position of having to calculate the odds you are a super feminist-pussy-hat-wearing-AOC-voting-gal, who doesn’t need a man to lift your 14-ton overstuffed hard case carry on in the 3 seconds I see you struggling to lift your behemoth suitcase into the space we all know it won’t fit (while in the meantime, me offering to lift your bag simultaneously keeps the entire female gender under man’s thumb in this one symbolic act…).

Let’s all just assume that you can lift your own bag unless you are CLEARLY over the age of say 60.


Or (#unpopularopinionhere), we could all just agree that it’s cool to be gentlemanly again. And not like think that’s keeping someone down. But whatevs…

Unwritten Travel Rule: If you can’t lift your own bag…pack less!

Number 9: Don’t expect people to crawl over you to get to the middle / window seat (get up you lazy arse) and don’t try to crawl over people.

I will get up. You don’t need to crawl over me. Seriously.

And if you are thinking I am gonna crawl over year think again, pal. Not happening. Get your lazy arse up and let me through.

Unwritten Travel Rule: No airplane lap dances.

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21 Unwritten Travel Rules for Proper Travel Etiquette - Infographic

Number 10: It’s ok to wake up a fellow passenger to go to bathroom if they are blocking you – but literally for no other reason.

If I am sleeping do not wake me. That is, unless you gotta pee. That’s fine I get it. I have a bladder the size of squirrel so no worries man. But literally for no other reason am I too be awaken.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Don’t be polite – wake the person up before you pee on their shoe. Travel Etiquette says wakey wakey before you drippy drippy.

Number 11: Don’t get drunk on a plane

I don’t care what Dierks Bentley says. Don’t get drunk on a plane. It’s a total dierk…er dick move. Not only that it’s probably expensive. Booze ain’t cheap.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Don’t be a Dierk. Have one. Maybe 2. Then grab a water.

Number 12: Don’t be a dick to the parents who’s kid is crying (but you can say something if they are just being a pill)

Listen, man. Kids don’t like traveling much more than you do. They think they do, but they don’t. And little kids are squirrelly little fellas. If YOU don’t like being couped up in a metal tube for 5 hours how do you little Timmy feels?

If the kid is crying…don’t be a dick. See Rule 21.

That said, if the kid is being an obnoxious little twerp and his/her parents are doing nothing about it feel free to give that everyone-gets-a-trophy parent a piece of your mind.

Or at least the stink eye.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Kids are kids. You probably cried your little eyes out at 4 years old when your family took your Branson, MO for vacation. Give the kid (and his parents!) a break.

Number 13: Your knees stay within your space! Stop the manspread!

We all must band together and stop the curse that is pervading our skies.

What curse do I speak of, you ask?


Yeah, you heard that right. Manspreading.

We get it. You gotta air the boys out. Fine. But keep your ever lovin’ knees in your little airline seat area and stay out of mine!

I don’t want to play knees-ies with you the whole flight, but I will use this ACL-repaired robo-knee I have an knock your knobby little hipster knee back over to your space.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Let’s all start a travel etiquette petition: Stop the manspread!

Number 14: The area under your seat is not yours – it belongs to the traveler behind you!

The space under YOUR seat is not your own. Repeat after me: The space under your seat is not your own. Even in you are in the first seat!

It belongs the size 15 boots on the fella behind you. Stow your bag in the overhead bin or where YOUR feet are…mmmkkkk!

Unwritten Travel Rule: The space under your seat is not your own!

Number 15: If you are a snorer stay awake…

Unwritten Travel Rule: Stay awake on the plane if your wife won’t sleep in the same room as you anymore because your snoring is WWII-like. Trust me…we might open that emergency exit and toss you.

Number 16: Don’t look at porn on the plane…come on man.

Dude…come on! Can’t you just wait until you get back to your hotel????

Unwritten Travel Rule: I literally have no reason to write anything here. You should get it by now.

Number 17: Keep your seatbelt on as much as possible

Unless you like bouncing off the top of the airplane when we take our final dive into the mountain and go out in a flaming blaze of glory, keep your seatbelt on as much as possible.

That way you face your death like a man…and keep the urine your seat is filling with as we spiral to our deaths contained in your seating area and out of mine!

Unwritten Travel Rule: Keep that seatbelt on – even when the seatbelt sign is off!

Number 18: Always use headphones

Why yes, I would love to listen to an entire season of Friends on this flight. By all means, please don’t invest $13.00 in a pair of headphones so that all of us can enjoy the melodic beats of the latest house DJ you are listening to.

Oh, and of course, we’d love to hear ever beep and boop of your Mario Kart game. Please don’t let us stop you.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Always bring (and use!) headphones with your electronics.

Like these:

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Number 19: Never store your bags behind you

Don’t be the douche bag (pardon the pun) who stows his bag behind his seat!

No, I don’t want to hand you your bag. And no, I am not interested in letting you swim UPSTREAM to retrieve you bag. You can just wait. Wait like the sad sack you are. Wait like the bad planner you are. Wait!

Unwritten Travel Rule: Never, ever store your bags behind you. Better to check ’em! LOL.

Number 20: Never check your bag

The number 1 travel hack of all time is never check your bag. Seriously. Don’t do it. Ever. This is an unwritten rule that must be observed at almost all costs.

Like lost luggage? Check a bag.

Like waiting an extra 30 minutes on the front and back end of your flights? Check a bag.

Like lugging around more crap than you really need? Check a bag.

Like being lampooned in funny travel memes by business road warriors? Check a bag.

If none of that sounds appealing, then pay attention to this unwritten rule for traveling on a plane and NEVER CHECK YOUR BAG.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Never. Check. Your. Bag.

Number 21: Chill the eff out.

Frankly, this is the most important unwritten rule for traveling on a plane: chill out! Listen, air flight is seldom fun. Certainly not for most business travelers. And for the road warriors out there we do this every week.

Bad stuff occasionally happens.

Your plane is delayed. Your pilots are late. The passenger next to you stinks.

And so does the good stuff.

You get the upgrade to first class. No one takes the middle seat. You remember to charge your cell phone.

You gotta just roll with the punches – both good and bad.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even a 5 hour flight with a head cold from NY to LA. It will eventually end. So relax. Have a cream soda. Chill the eff out.

Unwritten Travel Rule: Chill out, traveler.

Final Thoughts on the Unwritten Rules for Traveling on a Plane – your guide to proper airplane etiquette

What’s your favorite unwritten rule for airplane travel? What did we miss? Who did we offend?

Join the conversation and leave us a comment below. Don’t forget to follow us on social media including Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

By the way, if you are interested in more travel tips and travel advice, you might like these great articles:

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Jeanette January 28, 2019 - 10:02 am

SO. MUCH. YES about the middle getting arm rests. If you could print, laminate and place this list on every seat – that’d be great!

The C Boarding Group January 28, 2019 - 10:25 am

Lol…it should be a handout the FAs give upon boarding the plane. Or maybe part of the safety demo. Ha!

Kuddelmuddel88 January 28, 2019 - 4:19 pm

I will say on a on a 8+ hour flight I am okay with seat reclining happening… but at a reasonable time when EVERYONE is trying to get some rest. And most definitely AFTER dinner.
Rule 22: Your red eye across the Atlantic IS NOT the time for your family reunion to be happening over several rows of seats with innocent bystanders (me) stuck in the middle trying to sleep.

The C Boarding Group January 28, 2019 - 4:21 pm

No doubt! That’s a great rule…lol. And yeah, on some of those international flights there can sometimes be a little more leg room so reclining is fine. Good point!

Karstin February 12, 2019 - 4:07 pm

As someone who once spent 4 miserable hours on a redeye sitting two rows back from a bunch of drunk frat boys returning from a Vegas trip I can attest to the ‘don’t get drunk’ rule. I know you think you’re hysterical when you’re hammered. The rest of us would like to feed you tranquilizers and take bets on whether you’ll wake up. Besides, plane alcohol is seriously expensive.

The C Boarding Group February 12, 2019 - 5:09 pm

That sounds terrible!

Tyler March 17, 2019 - 6:42 am

The only one I don’t agree with is the bag checking. I almost always check a bag because I don’t want to have to fight for space with the people bringing their huge carryons that take an entire bin apiece. I don’t sit up front so the time it takes waiting on everyone else to unload their bag means I’m not going to wait on mine at baggage claim. It beats me at least half the time. People and what they call carryons has gotten out of hand. I always thought the airlines should go back to free checked bags and charge for carryons. This way the boarding and deboarding process would go so much faster and they could turn the planes quicker. Sorry rant over.

The C Boarding Group March 17, 2019 - 7:01 am

I agree the carry-on process has gotten out of hand. People bringing huge stuff! But, if you have status on the airline, you board first, and you get your pick of the bins. You get the best of both worlds, the speed of not waiting to check / uncheck a bag, plus no hassle in trying to find a bin.

Dean June 5, 2019 - 6:48 am

1) Always be nice to your flight attendant
2) don’t use the seat in front of you for a handhold to help you get in and out of your seat.

The C Boarding Group June 5, 2019 - 9:13 am

Smart advice!

M Limberg June 5, 2019 - 6:49 am

I get the whole “Don’t check your Bag thing”, but If you check one bag, check them all and save the overhead space for computer bags.

Fly Southwest if you plan to check your bag… Southwest hardly ever loses a bag. I’ve been flying them for years, NEVER LOST A BAG!

I flew another airline, and had to wait at the airport for hours to get my bag…. the airline wouldn’t deliver them to my stop in the middle of nowhere…. and they took my bag off so they could put the baseball team’s equipment on the flight…. PMO!

Another shameless plug for Southwest…. They only fly 737’s. Much more overhead room and bags ride in comfort too…. and they make it to your destination.. So no need to worry about last minute equipment changes… you are certain to get a 737…a great ride.

The C Boarding Group June 5, 2019 - 9:13 am

I love Southwest! Great airline with solid customer service and competitive prices. They’ve only ever lost one bag of mine (the few times I’ve flown with them) and it was my 2nd flight ever with them many years ago.


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