I love making airport friends. Everyone has a story. They’re coming from somewhere and going to somewhere, and best of all every conversation has an expiration date. You can talk about anything you want and know that you’ll probably never have to see these people again. There’s a literal “plane to catch.”
One of my favorite things about air travel is that there is an entirely different code of etiquette than you experience in regular life. You can drink by yourself and sleep in public, it’s the same reason I love the beach. Unfortunately, much like the beach, you always meet a unique selection of weirdos that don’t quite understand boundaries.
While the rules are a bit more lax than in other areas of society, there are still general rules of politeness that should be adhered to and no where is this more important than once seated on the airplane. You’re about to spend at least a few hours in uncomfortably close quarters with a stranger, here are 5 rules to follow to make this as pleasant an experience as possible.
- Introduce yourself– This much conversation is just polite. “Hi, how are you? Where are you from? How was your trip?” All appropriate niceties.
- Know when to stop talking– earbuds, closed eyes, or a book are all indications that this person is not in the mood for idle chit chat.
- Drink in moderation– especially if you’re in the middle seat. Drinking makes you fun, drinking too much makes you have to climb over the poor aisle seat chap every 10 minutes to run to the lavatory.
- Share the arm rest– We’re all in this together. Unfortunately most of us can’t afford to fly first class, that’s why there are 8 seats up there and 20 million in coach. Share the arm rest, and if you’re sitting by a stranger, keep it down. It’s not much, but that little piece of metal is all that’s maintaining a sense of personal space between us, not to mention that’s how I lean my seat back.
- Be odor conscious– Don’t be the smelly guy on the plane. This is easier on short flights than international ones, after 10+ hours on a plane it’s hard for anyone to feel super fresh, but do what you can. Wear deodorant and avoid smelly foods.
The grey area– Here’s one that I don’t have a good answer for. You get on the plane. You sit where you are assigned. You’ve stowed your carry on luggage. You’ve introduced yourself to your seat buddy. Then the aircraft doors close and you look around and notice the plane is empty enough for everyone to have their own row. Do you move? Is that rude? It’s something that’s better for everyone, but I still have a hard time with it. I flew from Detroit to Amsterdam directly beside someone, while next to at least 5 empty rows because we were both too proud to move. So, I don’t know what the etiquette is on that.
We’ve all had bad seat buddies, from the old lady that won’t stop talking about her cat themed mystery novels to the crying children that won’t stop kicking your seat. Here are some of my personal worst and weirdest seat buddy experiences. Learn from them and don’t be “that guy.”
- This is my most recent seat buddy experience and I alluded to it a bit in the code of conduct above. I’m in the aisle seat, he’s in the center. He’s a large Dutch man and we’re both flying from Amsterdam to Boston, quite a long flight. Part of me hugely respects him, he had what had to be close to 8 or 9 glasses of red wine and watched Disney movies the entire way. In any other situation he may have been my soul mate, however in this situation, he just made me stand up so he could go to the lavatory every 10 minutes. Not great. I understand where he’s coming from. It was a KLM flight and the wine is free, why not? I had quite a few glasses myself. I however asked for wine every time a flight attendant came by and offered drinks, he pushed the button and called for the flight attendant to bring him wine. That’s the difference. That being said, had he been in an aisle seat, I would have been in love.
- I once flew out of Shreveport to Nashville on a plane full of beauty pageant contestants. I sat by one of the teenage girls and her mom. When the flight attendant handed out the tiny bags of pretzels, the mom literally slapped them out of her daughters hand and gave her an apple from her purse. That has nothing to do with airplane specific etiquette, you’re just an annoying person.
- I don’t remember the specifics of this flight, but it had to have been in or out of Nashville. I introduced myself when I sat down, we chatted a bit, and I explained that I’m an airplane sleeper. I just am. I’ve found what I believe to be the perfect combination of bloody marys and dramamine that allows me to fall asleep before take off and wake up during landing, at least for domestic flights. This gentleman decided it was appropriate to nudge me every few minutes to wake me up and tell me things like “you wasn’t kidding when you said you sleep on planes.” Not okay. The only reason to wake me up is for snacks or if you need to get out to go to the restroom.
- That was not as bad as the young girl from Texas who sat next to me on a flight from Orlando to Philadelphia. She woke me up every few minutes to read bible verses aloud. She also hugged me at baggage claim.
- I had the misfortune of flying Southwest from Nashville to Orlando with all of the Nashville winners of the Bud Light Party Cruise. Yikes. Many of them had fashioned their own cowboy hats out of Bud Light cases and every 10 minutes a few of them would loudly frat boy grunt “Bud Light” and the plane would cheer.
(photo by John P. of Onemansblog.com)
- I saved the best for last. I was 17 years old on a school trip to Australia. This particular flight, from Auckland to Brisbane, I sat by a gentleman from California who must have been in his 30s. During this flight he asked if he could look through my purse, made inappropriate remarks about the high school aged girls I was traveling with, loudly speculated as to the sexual preference of my chaperone’s husband, called me Jennifer Jason Leigh (a reference I still don’t quite understand), and gave me a hand massage. Best of all, I got a “don’t talk to strangers” talk from the chaperones when we landed.
Of course seat buddies are not all bad, there are some that are very courteous. I have made some great airplane friends and it really makes a huge difference on a long uncomfortable flight.
The overall best way to be an outstanding seat buddy, buy me a drink! This rule works both on the plane and at the airport by the way. A person I normally would have rolled my eyes at, on what again must have been a flight to or from Nashville, said “I don’t drink, but Southwest sent me these vouchers. Do you want them?” I do drink and I do sense the judgement here, but you still just became my favorite person.
So there you have it, some great ways to make people not hate you in a confined space.