Airplane etiquette from Jezebel’s Etiquette Monster

wingOne of the reasons I started this blog a bazillion years ago was to help people with etiquette while they’re traveling, especially while in the air. When you’re stuck in a flying metal tube with two hundred strangers it never hurts to be a little nicer to your fellow passengers! But I also love reading about airplane etiquette trainwrecks, where people are so rude it’s hard to believe. So last month when I saw a post on Jezebel titled “How rude am I allowed  to be on an airplane?” I had to read it immediately.

Alas, the question was not quite a s scandalous as I had hoped. Basically, is it okay to request a different seat if you end of next to someone you don’t  want to sit next to, in this case a person of size. The answer was, of course, if there are open seats it’s always okay (in fact, kind of expected) to seek a different  seat as long as you aren’t a jerk about it.

Then the author,  Madeleine Davies, gave a rundown of her top airplane  etiquette rules, including some of my favorites. Things like, don’t ask to trade seats to be next to someone unless you’re offering up a better seat. Don’t put your coats in the overhead bin until everyone’s suitcases are up there (yesssss). And my fave, don’t wear strong  scents on board (applause).

While it’s awesome to feel validated for my years of ranting talking about travel etiquette, I don’t fully agree with one of  her rules. She says that when  someone is sitting in the middle seat that you  should share the armrests equally. I think that you should just surrender the armrest fully to the middle person. Aside from that, it’s like we are long-lost etiquette-loving twins.

While normally I try to stay away from comments, these  are pretty enjoyable. One comment that stood out was that people will try to intimidate her into surrendering some  of  her space by pressing against her. This actually surprised me–maybe after a decade of frequent travel I have less of an aversion to touching  people? I’ve just always kind of felt like that was part of the deal with flying, that you are closer than you would normally be to people and sometimes that involves touching arms or legs. This comment was echoed several times, so maybe I’m just the weird one here! Although now that I think about it people do definitely try to claim the armrest. Hmmm.

Readers, what is your experience?  Do you think people try to intimidate others into giving  up space? Or is touching just part of flying? Do you have other favorite etiquette tips that the article didn’t mention?


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  1. Totally agree with you that the middle seat person should at least have both the arm rests!

  2. As a person of size, I usually check in with the gate attendants to see if there is anyone seated next to me and to let them know that it’s best to seat someone next to me as a last resort. I sometimes get attitude, but usually they are grateful to know ahead of time.

  3. I had the middle seat recently, and both armrests! It was actually more comfortable than most window seat experiences I’ve had. I’m wondering if Virgin Australia has made the middle seat larger…?

  4. Interesting item about touching the pax next to you. I was on a UA 737 some years ago in the very last row, window seat. That row has I think 16.5″ wide narrow seats. I was in shoulder & upper arm contact with the guy next to me for 3 hours. It was tolerable, but unusual. There was just no place to go. At all.

    I find any sort of leg contact just too strange, however. Guys, don’t manspread. OK?? Yes the middle seat is bad. But that doesn’t mean your knee can go past the leg of my tray table. You are in my not too enormous window seat space at that point.

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