Sitting on an airplane for hours on end can be tough on even the most seasoned of travelers. Maybe you’re hungry or you’re just trying to get comfortable in your seat—and what seems like reasonable behavior to you is earning you side-eye from your seatmate. You can’t treat the airplane like your own personal living room, but what’s okay—and what’s not—when it comes to airplane etiquette? We checked in with travel pros to get their thoughts on those unspoken rules of travel.
Middle seat gets the armrest: Yes or no?
“The middle seat is the least desirable spot on the plane. The unspoken rule is that the passenger stuck there gets both armrests because there is no ability to lean onto the window or have direct aisle access. This does not mean that other passengers cannot share the armrest, but that the middle passenger deserves at least one benefit and that is the comfort of placing their arms there. Frequent travelers are in the know when it comes to this etiquette battle, but the occasional elbow tussle still occurs. Yield them this space the next time you find yourself in this situation.” – Ramsey Qubein
Reclining: Do or don’t?
“When I’m in regular coach I don’t recline unless the person in front of me does. If I’m in the bulkhead or exit row I don’t recline unless it’s a really long flight and need to sleep but if I do recline I always let the person behind me know I’m reclining. No one likes someone who just reclines without notice and does it abruptly. Especially people working on their laptops or have a drink on their tray.” – Johnny Jet
Is it OK to bring hot (smelly) food on an airplane?
“There are no rules against smelly food, but if you don’t want to deal with glares or grunts from seatmates, you might want to refrain from bringing on items that can emit strong scents, such as seafood or Mexican food. Also remember that peeling an orange can be a smelly affair, as can banana peels or apple cores that are not disposed of quickly. If you must bring those on board, then it’s best to consume them when everyone else is eating so your food smell does not stand out. Also, you should be aware of not just smells, but the sounds of certain foods being consumed. Have you ever sat next to a passenger crunching through a crispy apple, a bag of tortilla chips or corn nuts? Not pleasant! I usually stick with a sandwich or prepackaged salad to avoid being an offensive flyer.” – Chris McGinnis
Switching seats with someone who asks: Are you obligated?
“I never feel obligated to switch seats with someone who asks me nicely, but of course I make my decision on a case by case basis. If I’m traveling with my family and we did our due diligence selecting seats together, I will not switch with others, especially since my children are so young (three and four years old). However, if I’m traveling solo that’s a totally different story. On multiple occasions, I’ve swapped seats with people who wanted to sit together as a family or with friends. If the seat-switch is in the general vicinity of where I’m sitting and a similar or better seat (aisle or window for my middle seat), I have no problem. I’d just hate to be 20 rows behind my original seat, since I like to deplane faster. I love making other people happy when I can, and a simple seat switch can sometimes do just that. One couple even sent an unexpected bottle of champagne to my seat mid-flight when I swapped seats with them. It totally made my day!” – Angelina Aucello
Taking your shoes off during the flight: Is this ever OK?
“I think so – maybe not on a short daytime hop, but on an overnight flight it can be. Tricks are to be sure you have on socks, your feet don’t stink and the process doesn’t bother anyone. In business class, socks and even slippers are often provided, so it’s certainly okay at the roomier end of the plane.” – Summer Hull
Can you use the overhead bin space across the aisle from you, or do your bags have to go in the bins directly over your head?
“Assuming there’s space, I always put my carry-on items into the overhead bin directly across the aisle, so I can keep an eye on everything throughout the flight. I know that some airlines designate certain bins for passengers who book a slightly higher class of service but other than that I’m not aware of any restrictions on which bins you’re able to use.” – Zach Honig
Is it OK to hold up the line when people are boarding so that you can get yourself organized in your seat?
“There are only three types of etiquette I care about: golf, elevator, and plane etiquette. This is an example of people having no plane etiquette or just being inconsiderate of others. You should organize yourself before boarding the plane and, if not, then step into the row so others can pass by. It’s a very simple thing but very rude in my opinion. Pack your bag accordingly for what you’ll need when you’re onboard or simply step inside the row. It’s that simple.” – Lee Abbamonte
Is it ever OK to take care of personal hygiene issues in your seat?
“I believe that you shouldn’t doing anything onboard an airplane that you would not do at a restaurant. You would not tweeze your eyebrows, clip your toenails or cover up that zit while out to dinner, so maybe refrain from doing so on a plane. If you absolutely must attend to some personal hygiene needs, go to the bathroom. Our personal space is tested enough on a plane; let’s preserve our dignity and leave those things to behind closed doors.” – Kelley Ferro
Is it OK to talk to your seatmate the entire flight?
“It’s fine to talk to your seatmate the entire flight on the rare occasion that it’s a 100% mutually-desired conversation. I’ve met a few very interesting people on planes and loved our talks and am pretty sure I wasn’t the annoying one keeping it going! Otherwise, if my seatmate is more talkative than I’m in the mood for, I’ll wait for a small break in the conversation and then say something to the effect of: ‘If you don’t mind, I’m going to get a little work done.’ Or ‘watch a movie’. Or ‘close my eyes’. Headphones work well, but I usually try to end the conversation on a nice note before simply tuning out my seatmate!” – Eric Stoen