Travel etiquette: Should passengers turn their phones on silent while flying?

At the start of my marathon flying adventure last week I thought the next flying etiquette post would be about the Bose earbudswoman that sprayed perfume a few rows in front of me. But on my return I was distracted by something else… (But don’t worry. The perfume rant will come soon!)

Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about using speaker phone in public? The general consensus was that speaker phone should be saved for private spaces. But what about other cell phone noises? I’m not talking about the occasional text message notification or phone ringing (although a lot of that gets pretty darn annoying too!) but other noises. Typing clicks, games, movies….

Okay. Here was the situation last week. I was supposed to go home on Thursday but due to the snow in New York had to stay until Friday. There were tons of cancelled flights and stranded travelers, and people were pissy. On the first leg a teenager was sitting in the middle seat in the row behind me, and right after landing he started playing a game. How do I know? Because I heard every ding and click, from every single move he made with the game. Eventually after about twenty minutes the person next to him said, “Would you mind putting that on silent?” The teenager said, “It’s not that loud,” and proceeded to continue playing for the rest of the flight.

Then on my second flight the woman sitting next to me was using the internet to exchange voice messages with someone in Italian. Every few minutes she would play a message, then record a response and send it. All without headphones.

Finally, while we were taxiing to the gate a man in the row ahead of me started sending emails or text messages, with the key clicks on. I don’t know what information he was sending that was so critical, but he typed for a solid five to seven minutes with a click for every character.

In general, I feel like during flights you just don’t have much control over your environment so it’s up to you to provide for your comfort. Bring an eye mask if you want to block out light, a scarf or blanket if you think you’ll get cold, and headphones if you want to block out sound. That being said, I turn my phone on silent as soon as I get on the plane. No one wants to hear what I’m doing, and since my phone is either in my pocket or on my tray I am still alerted when I get a message. And for heaven’s sake, no one wants to hear you playing a game!! There is no need whatsoever for game noises to be heard in public—either turn them off or use headphones.

The bottom line: No one can force you to put your phone on silent during, but it’s polite to consider the impact you’re having on others nearby. At the same time, since you can’t force those around you to be silent, bring headphones so you can block out unwanted noise.

Readers, do you turn your phone on silent during travel? Do you think key-click noises are annoying?

Be sure to check out my page with the best travel toiletries according to readers.


Have a travel question or suggestion? Send it to RW

Follow Road Warriorette on TwitterFacebook, and Pinterest!

This post may include affiliate links. Thanks for your support!



  1. Not that my earbuds were blasting out the latest Taylor Swift tunes but I’m sitting in my seat while the drink and snack service is going on. I don’t want anything. Yet the flight attendant taps me on the shoulder and shoves the snack card in my face! “you care for anything?” That has never happened before!

  2. I get pretty annoyed when people don’t turn their phone on silent in public. I mean, it happens sometimes that your phone makes a sound without you expecting it. Maybe it was on silent and Facebook decided to play a video on it’s own. But typing with the click sounds on, playing games and listening to videos? Come on! Turn it on silent!

    So yeah, it annoys me! Haha!

  3. Sat through a four hour flight with a kid in front of me watching some horribly irritating child show on loud volume. My own headphone video watching could not drown out the irritating noise. Dancing dinosaurs on my own TV are bad enough, but in a confined space…. The entire plane really does not want to sing along. Headphones for that child please!

  4. Absolutely, it’s only common courtesy to be silent in ANY activity we engage in on a plane. Why? As you said, it’s a confined space, and our neighbors have very little, if any control over their surroundings. On “dry land”, they could move to another spot, or even turn their chair to mitigate the noise.

    And let me go on record with my opinion that headphones are NOT an acceptable solution for the victim of noisemakers. Why should I have to wear a piece of equipment just because someone is impolite? (Obviously, headphones will help, and I wouldn’t stubbornly refuse to use them; I just think the burden of the solution should not lie on the innocent party.)

    Can’t wait to read about the perfume attack!

  5. I am a frequent traveler and nothing irritates me more than lack of courtesy for others around you and awareness of your environment. No one buys a seat on a plane to listen to anyone else’s -anything-.

    Bottom line, if you’re utilizing an electronic device on a form of public transportation, you should also be using headphones. Simple.

  6. That teenager was obviously not brought up well. I predict he will not thrive in his job when he eventually has to work. That kind of arrogant entitlement mentality should have been rooted out by his parents long before he reached that age.

  7. To longtime reader: definitely not an isolated incident. I think most people know to not use speakerphone, but I am constantly amazed how oblivious people are to the sounds of their arcade-style games disturbing everyone around them.

  8. You’ve hit one of my hot-buttons! I CANNOT STAND this kind of discourtesy. ME putting on headphones is NOT a solution to someone else’s rudeness. And if your child will not tolerate headphones, then they are too young to spend a whole flight watching a movie, and you should be entertaining it in other ways.

    Text notifications, ringing phones, music, game sounds – none of these have a place on planes! None! There’s a reason that in-flight entertainment comes only in headphones. It’s because there’d be air-rage every thirty seconds if it didn’t! Your teenage game-player needs to be taught common courtesy, and I don’t understand why, if you heard that exchange, you didn’t turn around and support the complainer. If enough of you had, perhaps he would have got the message. These are not moments to be silent and hope someone else will take up the baton.

  9. When I flew with my toddler years ago, the flight attendant told us he couldn’t watch his portable DVD player without headphones and we were taking up an entire row so no one was next to him. He put on headphones, no big deal. I think this is absolutely something a flight attendant could/should address on behalf of other passengers.

  10. This is something that is not uncommon in many countries. I have sat on buses and had 3 different people playing different types of music and the football game. Flight attendants should advise people that anything that makes noise should be on silent or you should have headphones for it, end of story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.