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Emyr Thomas Headshot

Travel Guide: How to Travel by Plane

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With the summer travel season upon us and fears of ash clouds, strikes and bad weather looming, I have written this guide to airplane etiquette with advice on making flying as smooth and stress-free as possible.

Flying was once a glamorous and stylish affair: passengers wore their best outfits, families would come to the airport to wave them goodbye, and pilots and air hostesses were revered for having the best jobs in the world. To be able to fly also meant that you had arrived; you were one of the chosen few who could afford the privilege.

Today, flying is considered a fundamental right to be enjoyed by the masses, and, somewhere along the turbulent line, what was demure and gracious has become raging and ragged.

The rule for air travel, much like life in general, is that politeness and consideration will go a long way in ensuring a smooth, relaxed journey.

At the Airport

With the long line at check-in and the long wait at security, the flying experience can get off on the wrong foot, but getting annoyed and raising an angry voice will only make the situation worse. In most cases, airport staff are friendly and helpful: Security staff are there for that very function, our security, and it's not the check-in desk's fault that an airplane has been delayed or cancelled, however upsetting or disruptive it is to our plans.

Going through security can be extremely tiresome, but the process could be far less traumatic if we prepare ourselves whilst in the queue - remove all keys, coins, watches, belts and laptops in advance, ready to place in to the tray, and please abide by the rules for liquids and sharp objects as they're there for our safety.


On arrival at the gate, please stay seated until your boarding group has been called, especially if you have an allocated seat. You won't be allowed on the plane any quicker and you'll merely be making the whole process more tedious and time consuming for all. If you're fortunate enough to turn left into first class when embarking, please refrain from any smug glances at those in cattle class and the 'do you know who I am?' line is also best avoided.

Once onboard, the scrimmage begins to find enough space for carry-on luggage. Contrary to popular belief, we don't have the right to the space above our allocated seat, therefore if it is full, the flight attendant will have to find a space elsewhere in the plane. This is, of course, a slight annoyance, but as long as you remove anything essential, you shouldn't need to have access to your luggage during the flight.

A common issue before take-off is with other passengers asking to switch seats. If you are travelling alone and don't mind moving, then it's a very kind gesture -- especially if a child is involved. Window and aisle seats are highly coveted prizes on a flight, but please choose your seat wisely -- if you are someone who tends to get up from your seat frequently, try not to select a window seat as, not only will it cause disruption for those seated next to you, but it's also a pain for you.

Take a Seat

You should, by now, be comfortable in your seat and about to press the recline button. It's advisable to keep your chair upright unless you really have to lower it, as space is already limited. However, it's safe to assume that most people will want to recline, especially on long haul journeys, but remember to inform the person behind you that you're about to recline - there are few things worse than an extortionately expensive gin and tonic ending up on your lap.

It should also be noted that there's no law or magic formula for your armrest - your neighbour is just as entitled to it as you are, so my only advice is to be respectful and share it equally - keep your elbows tucked in and any bags or magazine on your side of the seat. In a recent TripAdvisor survey of 3,200 US travellers, 25% reported that leg room was their biggest issue with air travel, with 30% wanting more leg room and 38% wanting bigger seats.

If you need to get up from your seat, try to find the most appropriate and least disruptive time to do it, which is usually not when the cabin crew are serving food. When leaving your seat, try not to hold on to the headrest of the passenger in front of you, as they may be one of the lucky ones who manage to sleep for the whole journey.

Eating Onboard

We are all acutely aware that airplane food is far from haute cuisine, but we are all in the same boat, so to speak, and complaining about it excessively won't help. It might be worth buying food that is easy to transport at the airport, which you can then enjoy during the flight, but please refrain from strong odors and flavors.

Small Talk

If you are travelling alone, it can be quite a lonely experience and it might seem natural to engage your neighbour in conversation. Sporadic small talk is fine, but don't tell countless stories, especially if your neighbor does not reciprocate, as most people prefer to travel in silence with a good book or movie.

Funny Business

We seem to forget that we are in public when flying, but it's important to remember that, even when flying during the night, we're not in our own homes and, as such, we should behave appropriately. A fumble under the covers might be a regular treat at home and it may seem a great idea with the free champagne fuelling the adrenaline of being at 35,000 feet, but on a plane and in court, it is considered public indecency. Just ask the couple from Dallas who were charged with outraging public decency and subsequently fined after getting amorous in their seats on a flight to Manchester in 1999.

Get Connected

With wifi becoming a real possibility on future flights, it introduces the awkward issue of controlling what people access, with one person's idea of inappropriate being different from the next. 45% of respondents said that they would not complain if their neighbour visited inappropriate websites, but I'm sure this may change if the type of website contributed to increasing occurrences of the aforementioned amorous activities.

Child-Friendly Zone?

One of the most contentious issues most of us face when flying concerns children. Nobody wants to endure a crying baby for the whole flight, least of all the parents, therefore a certain amount of leeway should be given, but parents should always enforce enough discipline to ensure that children don't run wildly around the plane or kick the seat of the passengers in front of them. Children are easily distracted at the best of times, therefore make sure you bring ample sources of amusement such as colouring books or DVDs.

In-flight Fragrance

Personal hygiene is a big issue when in such a confined space, therefore always make sure that you are considerate to those around you. A good tip is to shower before travelling to the airport, visit the bathroom to freshen up during the flight and please keep your shoes and socks on! 68% of the survey respondents were concerned by germs and viruses when travelling, with 26% now carrying antibacterial hand creams.

Air Rage

One of the most troubling issues about being on a plane is that, not only are we in such a confined space, but we must remain in it until the end of the journey, where we have little control over the behaviour of others. In the year to March 2009, the Department of Transport reported that there were almost 3,500 incidents of disruptive behaviour on UK flights, 44 of which were deemed to be serious, with alcohol being cited as the main cause in 37% of these cases. Director Kevin Smith was recently left with a case of air rage after being asked to leave a plane for being too fat. He won't be too happy to learn that 74% of US plane passengers think that large passengers should have to buy two seats to accommodate their size.


Having landed safely, the allure of the beach or the sunset cocktails can be too much for some and the disembarking process can become a big tussle, with the aisles becoming blocked with a mass of people and luggage. There's no need to jump up as soon as the plane lands as the mere minutes that could possibly be saved does not justify the inconvenience and lack of consideration for others.

It's true that flying can often be a trying experience, but it can also be a great opportunity to relax, watch a movie, catch up on the week's news and enjoy a drink, all in the safe knowledge that you are being transported to an idyllic beach setting or to visit a much loved friend or relative.

Everyone onboard needs to play their part to try to ensure a pleasant flying experience, and with a little bit of care, consideration and politeness we can make flying more enjoyable for us all, and maybe throw a splash of glamor in as well.