Air Travel Do’s and Don’ts – CF Etiquette on “Better Kansas City”

All of your burning etiquette questions for air travel answered below! If I missed some, email me at Would love to hear your questions!

Honestly, is it okay for me to bring my lunch onto a plane? I see so many people doing it.

  • The short answer – yes, of course – but with a huge caveat.
  • Your first rule of etiquette is to always do what is considerate. So make a considerate lunch choice that will not create a smell others may not care for.
  • Skip the tuna salad sandwich for a turkey sandwich instead, or go for a salad instead of something hot.
  • Be sure to give your trash to a flight attendant as soon as possible so it is no longer lingering in your row.
  • And as always, the same rules of consideration apply as if you were at a dinner table i.e. chew with your mouth closed and don’t talk with your mouth full.

What if the person next to me is eating something that I cannot stand to look at or smell? What do I do?

  • If it is not feasible for you to politely move to another seat (as planes are often completely full), the best thing to do is take your mind off of it by putting on your headphones and diving into a book or work.
  • It wouldn’t be considerate to make the person feel uncomfortable about their food choice, even if it is bothering you or others around you.
  • Once they are finished eating, you can politely offer to hand their trash to the flight attendant or “throw it away” while you are up.
  • If the situation becomes unbearable for any reason, you can discreetly discuss it with a flight attendant, who may be able to offer some remedies. They have certainly seen it all!

Can I recline my seat?

  • Unless you are on a very long cross-country or international flight, the best etiquette rule of thumb is not to recline your seat.
  • There is very little space these days for leg room, and reclining seats just takes that much more away from the person behind you.
  • If you are on a very long flight (i.e. international flight) and will be reclining your seat for sleep or otherwise, make sure the person behind you is not in the middle of eating their dinner on the tray table before you recline.
  • You can even take that extra step of consideration, and ask them if its okay if you recline your seat for awhile.

Who gets the armrest? Is it whoever gets there first? And what about the person in the middle?

  • Since the middle seat is typically least desirable, the etiquette armrest rule of thumb is that the person in the middle gets both of the inside armrests, the aisle passenger gets the aisle armrest, and the window passenger gets the window armrest

I always seem to sit near someone talking on their Bluetooth or hands-free phone, is that acceptable on planes now? It drives me crazy, what can I do?

  • Under the etiquette principles of consideration and respect, it is definitely NOT okay to speak on your cell phone in a hands-free setting on the plane.
  • It invites everyone else into your conversation, even when they would prefer not to be.
  • If you must talk on your cell phone on the plane, be brief, and keep the volume of your voice at a minimum.
  • If you are seated next to someone talking loudly on hands-free, you may feel free to politely talk to them when they are not on a call, and ask if they wouldn’t mind talking a bit more quietly as you are trying to read, baby is asleep, etc.
  • People are usually unaware of how loud they are talking, and don’t really mean to!

How do I escape a conversation with the person next to me? I don’t want to be rude, but I’d like to read during the flight.

  • It’s a polite thing to exchange pleasantries when you sit down next to a person on a plane. In fact, it’s just plain good manners to make eye contact and say “hello” to them.
  • However, if it evokes a conversation that begins to go on a little longer than you might like, a polite way to excuse yourself from the conversation is to say something like, “I’m so enjoying talking with you, but my apologies I have a deadline for work I’ve unfortunately got to get working on now. Let me know if my typing bothers you!”
  • No matter what you say, though, make sure it is honest. The person next to you will easily be able to tell if you are playing solitaire on the computer as opposed to writing a work email.

I once had a passenger tell me my bag was in her overhead compartment space, and that I need to move it. Is there assigned overhead bag space?

  • No, overhead bag areas are first come first serve.
  • The polite thing to do is to put your bag directly over your seat, but if that space is no longer available, you may feel free to try and locate another space near your seat, or ask a flight attendant to find a space for you.
  • The key is to find a place for your bag that is the least disruptive to other passengers when you are trying to disembark.

Best Rule of Etiquette for Air Travel – Use the Flight Attendants! You don’t have to be the one to address the issue. They are trained to do it in a polite way, and know how to handle it if a situation were to escalate in grumpiness!

Etiquette Alerts

Sign up to receieve etiquette tips, event announcements, and other news.

We will never share your information with any third party.

Golden Pineapple

Upcoming Classes

Submit your email and get the latest class offerings delivered straight to your inbox!

We will never share your information with any third party.