The 10 Commandments of Air Travel

Unless you travel by private jet, you're going to encounter a lot of other people on your flight - and you may discover some interesting habits. But flying in a plane full of strangers can be a breeze if you all follow the golden rule: "Treat others how you would like to be treated." Here's a definitive list of the 10 commandments of air travel.

1. Thy row number is the law to board; thou shalt not skip the line before passengers who should go first.
2. Thou shalt not move thy seat back and forward in vain.
3. Thou shalt not misuse the overhead luggage bins.
4. Remember thy personal hygiene by keeping it holy.
5. Honor thy flight attendants.
6. Thou shalt not go to the restroom barefoot.
7. Thou shalt not inflict thy feet upon other passengers.
8. Thou shalt not steal someone else’s assigned seat.
9. Thou shalt not be so unruly or disruptive as to cause thy neighbors discomfort.
10. Thou shalt not covet, bump, kick or push anything in thy neighbor’s personal space.

1. Thy Row Number Is the Law to Board; Thou Shalt Not Skip the Line Before Passengers Who Should Go First.

It's natural to want to settle in your seat as soon as possible, but the flight experience becomes much smoother if people board the plane when - and only when - their row is announced. Lingering around the boarding gate will only stress out the airline staff and your fellow passengers, so it's best to line up when the queue process actually begins.

The point is to get on as quickly and efficiently as possible so everyone can leave on time. Picture this: You're boarding a single-aisle aircraft. A passenger in row 7 is holding up the entire line because they're struggling to put their trolley bag in the overhead bin, even though rows 20 and after were called to board first. Frustrating, right? If you push in the line to board ahead of others, it slows things down for everyone.

The same thing goes for disembarking the plane. The closer a person is to the exit, the stronger their claim is to leave the plane. Be courteous and wait for those in front of you before moving ahead. And please, don't be that person who jumps up to grab their bag as soon as the plane has landed.

2. Thou Shalt Not Move Thy Seat Backward and Forward in Vain.

The space between seats has slowly been reduced on many airlines. It's understandable that you would want to create more space for yourself if you're in a plane for longer than a few hours. But constantly adjusting your seat's position can prove to be annoying and inconsiderate.

There's an art to reclining your seat. Don't suddenly adjust it so that it knocks everything off the tray behind you. Look behind and go slowly. The person might be resting their head against your seat or using their tray table. You wouldn't want to get a concussion or have hot coffee spilt on your lap, so don't put others at risk. And speaking of coffee, remember to keep your seat upright when food and drinks are served.

As a general rule of thumb, reclining is fine if you've got a long flight ahead of you. But keep in mind that no one wants a headrest in their face, so try to avoid reclining your seat the whole way. This can set off a chain reaction of annoyed passengers with limited space, all the way to the last row where the unlucky passengers can't even recline their seats.

3. Thou Shalt Not Misuse the Overhead Luggage Bins.

The secret's out - airlines make a lot of money by charging for checked luggage. To save cash, a lot of people squeeze everything in their carry-on and then squeeze it further in the overhead luggage bins. This trend means that luggage space is now a precious commodity.

You can make the whole process smoother by sticking to the airline luggage restrictions. The standard is one piece within specific dimensions (22 x 14 x 9 inches for both American Airlines and Delta Airlines), plus in some cases one personal item such as a small handbag or laptop. If you follow the airline's rules and use the overhead space wisely, your things will fit in nice and easy and you won't sentence another passenger to putting their luggage in the hold.

If it's a full flight, giving your handbag or coat its own special space in the overhead bin is like letting it have its own seat on a bus when other people are standing. Don't do it unless you know for sure that everyone else has fit their larger bags above. Leave space for other people's belongings by storing your smaller personal items under the seat in front of you. This will also save you from constantly getting up during the flight.

4. Remember Thy Personal Hygiene by Keeping It Holy.

The stress of air travel means we forget a few things sometimes - even the best of us might forget to pack a toothbrush. But don't let your personal hygiene suffer. A few easy steps can make the trip more comfortable for you and the people around you: Remember your deodorant, keep your socks on, brush your teeth or use mouthwash before your flight and cover your mouth/nose when coughing or sneezing.

In February 2018 it was reported that a plane had to make an emergency landing when a flight broke out over a passenger's flatulence problem. While the situation makes a funny headline, it's pretty horrible to experience it mid-air. If you've got to go, do so in the toilet (but please refer to Commandment 6).

Now onto food. No matter how much you don't want to eat - or pay for - the plane food, don't bring stinky food on the plane. And this may be oddly specific, but I can confidently give this advice because someone did it on one of my flights: Never bring a boiled egg on a plane. Not only can the chemical reactions triggered in boiled eggs cause them to smell like farts, eating the eggs can cause you to create your own natural and smelly reaction down there.

5. Honor Thy Flight Attendants.

Have you ever heard of The Waiter Rule? In short, it means that a person's true character can be seen from how they treat staff or service workers. This also extends to how people treat flight attendants. Say hello when you get on the plane and be respectful during the safety demonstration.

Flight attendants work long and odd hours, deal with hundreds of people and are often away from home for long periods of time. In many cases, they're also only paid for the time in the air. So when your aircraft is fully boarded but there's a delay in take-off, don't take it out on the crew. They're still working to serve you, answer your connection questions and apologize for the delay. Make their job easier by being nice.

Most importantly, flight attendants are trained to save your life if something goes wrong. So if they ask you to move your bags or stay in your seat, keep in mind it's for everyone's safety. Follow the rules - they exist for a reason. Keep your seatbelt on when the seatbelt sign is on and make sure your tray table, seat and window cover are all in the right position when the plane starts its descent. And remember - a thank you costs nothing and can make a big difference.

6. Thou Shalt Not Go to the Restroom Barefoot.

It’s not tap water on the bathroom floor.

7. Thou Shalt Not Inflict Thy Feet upon Other Passengers.

Andrea Romano sets the scene perfectly in an article for Travel + Leisure:

You settle in for a long flight. You try to get comfortable. Get your complimentary ginger ale. Put your headphones in. And then, it happens. You see toes. The passenger behind you has officially broken the sacred, cardinal rule of air travel: Never, ever put your bare feet up on a flight.

Foot etiquette on planes means keeping your feet out of touching distance and out of someone's line of sight. No one wants a stranger's toenails in their face. Your feet should be as unobtrusive as possible. Don't block the aisle with your feet and don't rest them between the seat gaps or against someone else's armrest or seat.

Flights can take a toll on our feet, so by all means feel free to slip off your shoes and wiggle your toes. But remember this - the feet have more sweat glands than any other part of the human body, and covering them up with socks and shoes can cause bacteria to build up. If it gets bad enough, it can cause a condition called bromodosis - in other words, smelly feet. If you suffer from this, be considerate and keep your shoes on.

8. Thou Shalt Not Steal Someone Else’s Assigned Seat.

Maybe you've been in this situation: Someone is sitting in your seat and then is surprised - or even annoyed - when you show up and ask them to move. It's not a nice feeling for either party. Double check your ticket for the correct row and seat. Still not sure? Ask someone else to clarify for you. Don't blatantly take an empty seat because it's in a better position.

If you've spotted an empty seat that you'd prefer to sit in, don't assume it's not filled. The passenger could still board last minute, or they may be stuck at the back of the queue. When you're absolutely certain no one has that seat - for instance, the doors have just closed and no one else is coming on the plane - ask the cabin crew first. In smaller planes you might not be allowed to switch seats until after take-off due to weight and balance considerations.

If you really want to switch seats with someone to sit with your travel party or due to health reasons, be friendly and explain your situation. Don't be offended if they refuse - after all, they have their reasons too, and they might have paid extra for their seat. Think about the etiquette for swapping seats on planes.

9. Thou Shalt Not Be so Unruly or Disruptive as to Cause Thy Neighbors Discomfort.

Flying to a new destination can be pretty exciting - or nerve-wracking. But try to compose yourself as if you were in a public space. According to IATA, over 58,000 unruly passenger incidents were reported on flights between 2007 and 2016. Things to steer clear of include (but aren't limited to):

  • Boarding the plane after too many drinks at the airport bar.
  • Getting drunk on the plane.
  • Playing games or listening to music on your phone/tablet without headphones.
  • Talking loudly to your travel companions.
  • Continuing a conversation at the same volume when the lights go down on a red-eye flight.
  • Swearing without a care.
  • Harassing or arguing with other passengers or the flight crew.

On a small scale, these actions annoy those around you. But in extreme cases, you could threaten flight safety and impact everyone on the plane, especially if you're deemed a danger to those on board. Don't become the star of the next "bad passenger" viral video.

10. Thou Shalt Not Covet, Bump, Kick or Push Anything in Thy Neighbor’s Personal Space.

Personal space on planes is shrinking and seats are getting lighter, meaning that the slightest touch can make you feel like you're sitting in a bumper car. Keep in your lane and respect the space and boundaries of your fellow passengers.

Obnoxious behavior such as kicking seats, taking up someone else's legroom and not sharing an armrest are big no-nos (sidenote - the middle seater gets dibs on both armrests). It's also rude to adjust your neighbor's tray table, air-conditioning or reading light.

Don't forget about the passengers behind or in front of you - inconsiderate behavior affects them too. That includes flipping your hair over the headrest and covering their screen, grabbing their headrests when getting in and out of your seat, banging your tray table up and down and digging in the seat pocket.

Whether you're new to flying or a seasoned veteran, it always helps to remember the golden rule and make it your mantra: "Treat others how you would like to be treated."

Jodi ten Bohmer

Jodi ten Bohmer

Content Marketer