Plane etiquette tips from the Queen of Travel Catriona Rowntree

by Thursday, July 11, 2019

Did you hear the story about the guy who asked the ‘boomer’ to swap plane seats so he could sit next to his girlfriend and was ticked off when the man refused? Well it seems to have polarised our fellow travellers: is he a brat, or entitled to be ticked off? Opinions aside, I was asked to do a series of radio interviews offering my top tips on plane etiquette and whilst you’re entitled to disagree I thought I’d share my top tips with you…

  1. Be prepared before you board. Have your boarding pass and passport, if required, ready and don’t be late. As Elin Hildebrand said ‘to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, to be late is to be forgotten.’ No plane at a major airport these days waits for you.
  2. Never ask to jump the queue at security unless you’re going to miss your connecting flight, be patient, have those aerosols and liquids over 100 ml separate and if you can’t lift your own luggage, don’t carry it on.
  3. Board in an orderly manner. There is a reason why flights around the world follow a code of boarding in sections, allowing people in wheelchairs or with a disability to board at certain times…it’s quicker! Don’t use the front steps if you’re seated down the back, say ‘excuse me please’ if you stuff this up and don’t hit a person in the noggen with your bag when going down the aisle. Respect.
  4. Store bags vertically and safely. Once someone’s magnum of champagne rolled out and hit me square on the head.
  5. Never recline before take off. Ask permission of the person behind you when you do and it’s generally accepted that it’s not cool to recline on a flight under three hours. Why? Because the trickle effect of pain you will set off when you squeeze people of space is so not worth it.
  6. Dress with respect. Travelling generally means you will be sharing space with people of various religions, cultures and backgrounds. Do NOT shame the family name. When your mini-skirt flies up as you ascend the plane stairs and there is a Muslim family behind you, or anyone for that matter, it’s just inappropriate. Wearing your Onesie to the airport when you’re over the age of 12 makes you look like a twit. Sure be comfy but dress like you belong in Business Class, you’re worth it.

  7. The middle seat gets the armrest. Let’s face it, you’re up the creek without a paddle if you land the middle seat, so be kind and if you’ve bagged the window or aisle, ease off the centre armrest.
  8. Ask permission if you’d like to change seats. This really ticks the crew off, it messes with security, on a smaller plane it effects the ‘weight/balance’ and is just plain annoying. Always ask first, but don’t expect a positive answer and this applies to you asking a passenger to change seats. An exception to this rule are parents being separated from their children which often happens. But if someone has paid for or earned that seat, you are not entitled to expect them to move.
  9. Control your kids. Kicking the chair in front, phones or devices not on silent, pulling the hair of the TV Presenter in front is never cute. Avoid giving your child sugar, try to get them to board towards the end so they can burn off energy and if they’re young they must have something to suck on for the ascent or descent as their little ears will hurt like hell. It is NEVER ok to change your baby’s nappy in the seat and when you do it in the loos, NEVER leave the dirty nappy on the bench. Double bag it and put it in the bin.
  10. It’s never ok to fart on a plane…unless you’re walking through First Class to Economy. Kidding! But if you’re gassy, go to the loo mate.
  11. Beware the foods you take onboard. Don’t bring on hot, smelly or messy food. Heaven help the passenger who peels a banana onboard and expect to be told off if you paint your nails. The smell has nowhere to escape to!
  12. Personal space must be respected. We are all tired, we are all slightly uncomfortable, so be respectful to your fellow passengers personal space during your flight. If you’re slightly larger, be mindful not to squish the person next to you for 7 hours, always wear deodorant and pay for extra space beforehand if you require it.
  13. Don’t get drunk, just don’t. Alcohol does double duty when at elevation and whilst you may think you’re funny, it’s not to others. The crew have a ‘duty of care’ to not serve you drinks when they think you’re being inappropriate. Speaking of which, don’t get ‘overly amorous’ on board. Have some dignity.
  14. Respect thy flight attendants. This can make or break your flight and this rule applies to security attendants too. They’re just doing their jobs, making their life a misery does no one any favours and could get you either kicked off a flight or moved from your seat if you don’t comply. Turn your phone on Flight Mode, don’t talk during the safety demo, take your headphones and sunglasses off during the exiting row briefing and NEVER poke or click your fingers to the crew. This ain’t a restaurant.
  15. The aisle is not your personal yoga studio. I don’t care how many followers you have on Instagram, don’t do a downward dog in the aisle, don’t take 100 selfies as you never know who’s in the background, never photograph another passenger and keep the aisle space clear. I do make an exception for parents letting their children walk up and down. Those bubbas need to burn off energy somehow and as long as they’re not smacking you in the face in the process, let them walk it off.
  16. Don’t stand up until the seatbelt sign goes off. You will not get off the plane any faster and it’s also for your safety. There’s an acceptable process when leaving the plane. Don’t scrunch up to the front, don’t jump that queue and don’t pester the passenger who wants to linger in their seat. Be calm, the sun will rise tomorrow.
  17. Never wake a sleeping passenger; especially if they’ve got an eye mask on that says ‘Mother of Boys’, we treasure our sleep. If you snore loudly the flight attendants may wake you so as not to bother others and I feel your pain if you accidentally fall asleep on the person next to you…no mercy if you dribble.
  18. Don’t take your shoes off, feet stink and don’t wear bare feet into the loo, there are bugs on the floor.
  19. Go to the loo in the terminal before you embark. For some reason, the moment people board they bombard those tiny toots, the terminal is generally cleaner and easier.
  20. The last tip goes to my 9 year old son, when I asked him what he’d add he said ‘just be kind’. If only it were that easy, but plane travel is so much more enjoyable when we choose kindness.

PS I am writing this whilst flying and have double checked the opinions of the flight attendants, and all of them said ‘I could write a book on this’. Sadly, I’ve personally experienced all the above bad behaviour and ask you to refer back to the final point. Bon Voyage!

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