The 10 Rules of Flight Etiquette

by Crissandra Ayroso
woman rolling carry on on airplane

It might be hard to imagine but from time to time, Canadians can lose their cool. For a country that says “sorry,” when they’re bumped in to, and has a worldwide reputation of being friendly, it’s hard to picture a Canadian being… what’s the opposite of polite? Who knows, it’s not really something we’re familiar with. Except on airplanes.

It turns out that some Canadians can be surprisingly inappropriate, misbehaving and even lewd up in the sky. And aren’t sorry about it.

In a report by Transport Canada, there were 170 incidents in 2015 that involved unruly passengers. These incidents involved everything from disruptive behaviour, offensive language, to serious threats posed to cabin personnel, crew members and fellow passengers. It would be remiss to say that a lot of these incidents did not involve intoxication; but alcohol or not, it is possible to avoid being the cause of, or the source of, air rage in an enclosed body of metal. Here are a few golden rules on flight etiquette to consider for your next flight:

1. Don’t get wasted

I’ve been on flights that were long enough to get drunk, pass out, and wake up hungover with enough time leftover to consider doing it all over again. The key is to know your limit. Any more of those adorable complimentary two-serving sized bottles of wine would have pushed me in to blind-wasted territory, which is an absolute faux-pas. Do you remember what it’s like to be the sober designated driver commanding your drunk friends around? It’s that fun. Enjoy responsibly.

cocktail on the airplane

In 2014, two Toronto-area women made headlines in a Sunwing incident on a flight from Toronto to Cuba. After consuming a significant amount of their duty-free alcohol, a physical altercation between the pair escalated the endangered safety of fellow passengers and crew members. Escorted by two NORAD fighter jets, the plane was forced to turn around. The two were arrested upon arrival. Don’t be THAT passenger.


2. Recline with care

With a seat pitch that too often works against us, we’re in danger of having a seat-back screen suddenly meet with our faces. And as much as we adore getting up close and personal with the leading ladies and gentleman of Hollywood, we just can’t like this… not like this.

Remember to keep your seats upright during take-off and landing, and while in the air, be sure to recline slowly for your neighbour’s face’s sake. This also works the other way around, as a passenger facing a seat-back screen, pay attention to how hard you’re pressing that play button. The head rests aren’t feel-proof for the neighbour in front of you, so remember to click mindfully.


3. Mind your carry-ons

As someone who thoroughly takes advantage of the two carry-on allowance (one personal and one standard), this means 1) hauling two carry-on sized items down a narrow aisle on the way to my seat, followed by, 2) stowing said pieces above my head in the overhead compartment, as well as underneath the seat in front of me. Three separate, lateral, possibly deadly moves.

Sounds simple right? But how do you do this without slugging every one of your fellow passengers left, right and centre of you with your travel satchels without leaving behind a path of destruction?

Carry both pieces with your hands in front and behind you to make yourself as narrow as possible, allowing you to be aware and conscious of the space around yourself and your carry-ons. When you get to your row, put both pieces down by your feet. Place your smaller item on your seat and, as you mind the space around your elbows, carefully lift your carry-on above your head in to the overhead compartment above your row. If you can’t do this easily by yourself, ask someone near you or the closest flight attendant politely for some assistance. When you’re ready to sit, take your smaller carry-on and put it underneath the seat in front of you. So easy.


4. Don’t hold up the line

woman stowing carry on in overhead bin

There’s nothing quite more excruciating than being stuck in the aisle behind someone who has tricked themselves into believing their bag will squeeze into the overhead compartment. Everyone can see the bag is too big; you, me and definitely the flight attendant. If you ever find yourself attempting to push a square peg into a round hole – or in this case an oversized bag into a small cabin space – stop, accept the reality and check your bag in. It’s usually free of charge.


5. Respect the armrest

This one is easy. If you have the middle seat, you get both armrests.


6. Mind your bathroom breaks

This one’s not always easy to control, but if you’re seated on the inside, try to time your bathroom breaks to coordinate with your aisle and middle seat neighbours. This strategic timing saves your seatmates from the trouble of getting up more times than necessary – and in addition, potentially blocking the drink cart from reaching fellow thirsty passengers. It’s not always possible to do this, but it’s an action that can go a long way with your neighbours.


7. Practise basic hygiene

In a closed space where you’re shoulder to shoulder with your neighbours, it would be especially courteous to ensure that you’ve showered before your flight, applied an extra layer of deodorant (crucial for long-haul flights), and left the perfume/cologne at home or packed away in your carry-on. For many, flights are already stressful, the last thing you want to do is be the smelly straw that broke the camel’s back. Regardless of whether you’re giving them air or need to stretch your legs out, bare feet should never be seen on planes. If foot swelling annoys you, invest in comfy footwear such as slippers for the flight.


8. Respect your neighbour

Introduce yourself to your neighbours, yes, but if they seem like the kind of flyers that prefer to keep to themselves, be sure to respect that. No one asked to sit next to Chatty Cathy.


9. Be mindful of children

child colouring on an airplane
For apprehensive parents anxious over how well their little ones will receive a flight, bring books, toys and games onboard to keep them entertained. Be patient and anticipate their behaviour, as well as one possibly can. This is also especially important to keep in mind for fellow passengers that did not come with little ones.


10. Respect the crew

service button on an aircraft

Call buttons are for emergencies, and there’s no need to treat flight attendants with anything other than respect. It’s not the end of the world if your choice of chicken or beef has run out, and there is certainly no excuse to take it out on the host or hostess. After all, they’ll be the ones putting your safety first in the unlikely event of an emergency.