Airplane etiquette rules: Pilot reveals 11 insider tips

The experts have spoken! Pilot reveals whether you should REALLY switch seats on a plane if asked – as he shares his ultimate list of do’s and don’ts for airplane travel

  • The flight pro has been piloting for 10 years and works for one of the top carriers
  • He says footwear is important, as people vomit on the carpet and pee in the loo 
  • Never rush when the plane lands, he says it is quicker to exit calmly row by row 

The debate around plane etiquette continues to rumble but a commercial pilot is out to set the record straight once and for all. 

Speaking anonymously to, the flight expert, who has been piloting for 10 years and currently works for one of the world’s biggest carriers, touches on some of the most hotly debated passenger bugbears. 

From giving up seats to other passengers to the most appropriate flight footwear to how to pack luggage into an overhead locker, the frequent flyer offers his verdict on a spread of hot topics.

Take a flight down to see how you can alter your onboard habits for a smoother, lower-stress ride. 

Sit with your feet down and arms in front of you

A longtime commercial pilot says passengers should respect the people around them and sit upright with their feet on the floor and their arms in front of the body (stock image)

The seat is designed for a single seating style. This means feet on the floor, not up in the air and resting on the seat in front, and arms in front of the body. The seat is designed to keep you safe in the worst turbulence and in the unlikely event of an incident. If you can’t get your seat belt across your lap, you are sitting the wrong way.

ALWAYS wear footwear around the plane 

The floor in the main cabin is vacuumed but not mopped. People vomit on these materials daily so it’s a good idea to wear shoes. For extra comfort, you could slip into slippers or flipflops. Always wear footwear to the bathroom as the liquid on the floor is most likely not water. Treat it as if you are at a hostel, and a dirty one at that.

If the crew are on rest they will always have at least flip flops or disposable slippers to walk around the aircraft.

Visit the galley instead of pressing the bell

Just stop being lazy, get out of your seat and go to the galley to request items from cabin crew. This will benefit both parties. If you ring the call bell and ask for something from your seat, it is highly likely that someone around you will also put in a request. This means your order will take longer.

The first time, it is always best to go to the galley. The crew might tell you to press the call bell next time to prevent crowding in that area but at least then you know and you will have built up some rapport.  

If you’ve paid for your seat, DON’T give it up 

In the age of the internet, this is a tough one. Most people who are organized and know where they want to sit pick their seats weeks or months before a flight. If people want to make sure they sit together they should pay the extra money to make that happen instead of expecting others to move. 

Passengers should also never ask to swap aisle seats for middle seats as that’s just ridiculous.  My top tip is to stock up on some chocolate in duty-free to sweeten the deals if need be.

‘Always wear footwear to the bathroom as the liquid on the floor is most likely not water,’ the flying expert says (stock image)

When it comes to touchscreen TVs, the pilot says ‘you should use as little as force as possible’

Request a special meal as soon as you board if you haven’t pre-ordered

If you’re looking for a special meal that you haven’t ordered make sure you ask the crew straight away once you’re in the air. Just go to the galley and explain your situation and usually they’ll be able to help you out. They often make extra vegetarian meals, so there should always be something spare. 

If you’re traveling long haul and have dietary needs, it is worth stocking up on treats at the airport. If you ask nicely, the crew will be more than willing to store the food in the fridge and heat it up!

Store bags in the overhead bins, wheels facing the window  

Overhead bins are a tough one in the age of low-cost flights as no one wants to check their bags in and pay the premium. If you can, store your bag in the overhead bin with the wheels facing the window, this will make the most of the space and you can usually fit two to three weekend suitcases in this way. 

If you’re one of the last to board the aircraft, look for places to store your bag straight away. This is because 95 per cent of the time there’s not going to be space near your seat. Just because there’s an overhead bin above your seat it doesn’t mean it’s reserved for you. It’s first come first served.

Use as little force as possible with the touchscreen TVs

When it comes to touchscreen TVs, you should use as little as force as possible. The last thing you want to do is to break the screen and have no entertainment for the rest of the flight. If the person in front of you can feel you pressing the screen you’re pressing far too hard! As soon as you get a disgruntled look from the person in front, calm your tapping down. 

If you can, the flying pro says it is best to store your bag in the overhead bin with the wheels facing the window as this will make the most of the space

‘If you’re looking for a special meal that you haven’t ordered, make sure you ask the crew straight away once you’re in the air,’ the pilot says

DON’T stand up as soon as the plane lands

Just wait your turn when the plane lands. If you’re in a rush, the one or two minutes isn’t going to help you. Running through the airport will. Be patient and kind. If you disembark row by row in an orderly fashion the plane empties much quicker.

Use a neck pillow to prevent yourself from leaning on others 

Invest in a neck pillow. This will keep you in your personal space as much as possible. Also try sleeping with your limbs under a blanket as this will keep you from moving around too much. If you are sleeping in an aisle seat, give the poor soul in the middle seat the armrest as they are already lacking space.

Cabin crew really appreciate good manners

‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ go a long way on this one. The crew usually deal with hundreds of rude passengers. Be the one who has manners and ask them how their day is going. You will be surprised at the extra freebies that come with manners or light conversations.

Pre-download TV shows for children and book front row seats for babies 

The front rows of cabins have bassinets, so if you have a baby try to book these seats even if you have to pay a premium – they are worth it! For toddlers and young children, bring their car seats on board. The child is used to sitting in this and it will be more comfortable for them to sleep in.

Tablets and smartphones with pre-downloads of their favorite shows are the perfect thing to keep little ones entertained. The crew are always willing to help too, as long as you use your manners. Most cabin crew will happily entertain your child for hours as it helps their shift go quicker too!

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