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How to Avoid a Fight on an Airplane: Flight Etiquette

By Biki John | Last updated on

Here at AirHelp, we believe that violence is never the answer. However, if there’s anything to be learned about the infamous airplane fight that forced an emergency landing for a Transavia flight in Europe, not every flier shares our calm disposition.

In this particular incident, the fight broke out mid-air because of a passenger’s flatulence problem. Not pleasant.

If you’ve travelled enough times, you’re bound to have had an airplane experience you’d rather forget.

After a cumbersome boarding process, have you collapsed with relief in your seat only to have your euphoria squashed by the person in front of you reclining their seat so far back that you can count every hair follicle on their head?

Traveled on a long-haul flight and arrived at your destination with your ears bleeding because of a loud and talkative passenger?

Noise pollution is one of the worst crimes that can be committed in the small confined space of a cabin. Have you heard about the airplane fight that broke out when two intoxicated women refused to stop playing their loud music? Not only did a noisy brawl ensue, the flight attendant ended up getting hit.

Want to avoid an airplane fight? Avoid these airplane crimes.

1. Don’t Recline with Careless Abandon
2. Don’t Hog the Overhead Bin
3. Don’t be a Chatterbox
4. Don’t Get Wasted

Why the Airplane Fights—Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The concept of bringing people from different nationalities, ages and walks of life and loading them in the small confines of an airplane tends to bring out the worst and best of people.

If you want to avoid a Fight Club situation mid-flight, there are key airplane etiquette rules that you should follow. These flight tips will ensure you travel safely and don’t ruin the air travel experience of your fellow fliers.

Based on speaking to travel experts and from our own airplane experiences, here are the key mistakes you shouldn’t make.

Don’t Recline Your Seat Fully Back During Meal-times

Travel blogger Diane Keeler is of the opinion that unless you’re 5ft 10—”never recline”.

If the heated discussions (and fights) that have flared up in airplanes whilst cruising at an altitude of so-and-so feet are anything to go by, the question of how far back and when to recline one’s plane seat is quite the debatable topic.

Which side of the fence you stand on is likely to be influenced by how tall you are and how much leg room you need for comfort.

Flight Etiquette
On one side of the ring, there are passengers who believe that paying for their ticket gives them the right to recline back as far as they please. In contrast, there are fliers who believe this way of thinking is inconsiderate.

Perhaps the best way to call a truce is to agree that whilst meals are being served, everyone should have their seat fully upright to allow passengers to eat their meals as comfortably as possible.

According to The Travel Wizard because the average seat pitch on a short-haul flight is only 31 inches, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. This means that if you want to recline you should be strategic about it and give the person behind you a heads up when you are about to recline, to avoid any messy surprises. Fail to do this and you might be the recipient of ‘recline rage’.

Avoid Putting Your Carry-on in an Overhead Bin That is Not Above Your Seat

Whilst some fliers treat the overhead bin with a first come, first serve attitude, storing their luggage in the compartment of their choice regardless of their seat number, for many fliers this is a major no-no.

When asked about one of the flight commandments a traveller should never break Travel guru Patrick Smith had one major plea: do not place your carry-on bags in the first empty compartment bin that you come to.

“It drives me crazy when I see a guy shoving his 26-inch TUMI into a bin above row 5, then continuing on to his assigned seat in row 52. Those seated in the front must now travel backward to stow their belongings, then return upstream, against the flow of traffic. Then, after landing, these same people have to fight their way rearward again while everybody is trying to exit.”

Airplane Manners

How can this chaos be avoided? Quite simply, store your baggage in your own overhead bin space unless there are unforeseen circumstances.

The Airplane is not Where to Make your New Best Friend

A survey by the corporate travel management company Egencia showed that 24% of business travelers like to network on a plane. Apparently, when faced with a chatterbox, 38% of fliers put their headphones on to listen to music and 15% feign sleep.

Some fliers are more open to talking to their seat companion than others, in order to gauge if the person next to you is open to conversation or not, read their body language.

When you speak to them, do they turn to you when they respond or do they look away?

Are their answers curt or do they seem willing to have a conversation?

Do they have their headphones on? Can you see their yawns are getting wider with shorter spaces in between?

Some air travellers like to keep schtum during their journey. Others see an airplane flight as a great opportunity to get some shut-eye.

Respect the signals your seatmate gives you and don’t take it personally if your willingness to talk isn’t reciprocated.

Go Easy on the Free Booze—Don’t Get Intoxicated

There is the popular belief that the high altitude we experience during air travel causes us to get drunk quicker. But is there any scientific proof in that?

The science experts at Gizmodo believe that when we consume alcohol, it disrupts our body’s absorption of oxygen. It follows that if a plane is flying high, the cabin will have less oxygen in the air and the situation will be made worse for your body if you add alcohol into the mix.

However, Travel + Leisure advise that there is no need for alarm if you want a sensible drink during your flight because “an airplane cabin has plenty of air”. Furthermore, “you would have to be floating outside the airplane, maybe hanging out on the wing, without any access to oxygen”, to be oxygen-starved.

Phew! So we can relax with a glass of wine whilst we settle in to watch our in-flight movie.

Airplane Fight

Mark Twain was of the opinion that, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough”. The passengers who have suffered being witnesses to frightening airplane fights caused by drunk passengers would beg to differ. To make the situation worse, some fliers have had to suffer the inconvenience of having their flights diverted to eject intoxicated passengers.

When it comes to drinking during your flight, use your common sense and don’t exceed your limit.

Don’t Go Commando on Someone’s Child

Picture this, you are on a long-haul flight after an exhausting day of travel and when you arrive at your final destination, you have many more miles before you can sleep. So you are desperate to catch some z’s on the plane. However, your plans of deep slumber are disturbed by the rhythmic kicks you can feel on the back of your chair.The child behind you is having the time of his life at your expense. What do you do?

Whatever you do, as tempting as it is, don’t reprimand the child. The Business Insider believes it is, “not your place to correct the behavior of a stranger’s child, and you’re likely to annoy the only people who can stop the kicking of your seat”.

Airplane Fight

Remember, when you express your wishes to the child’s parents, “you can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.

For your next flight, if you avoid these flight etiquette crimes, you’re unlikely to enter a game of fisticuffs with your fellow passengers.
Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as $700 in compensation if your flight has been delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last three years.