The Unwritten Rules of Flying

The Unwritten Rules of Flying

By Jaqueline Junginger・Last updated on April 16, 2021

We all know the written rules of the airport — Check-in luggage should not exceed 23kg, no smoking on board, and don’t bring fruits and vegetables that might accidentally unleash a plague upon your travel destination (always check with customs first!).

However, there are a few unwritten rules too — rules that everyone should follow just to make the plane ride a little more bearable. Air travel is stressful, and the last thing you want to do is to get on each other’s nerves. So please, keep these in mind the next time find yourself in the air.

  1. Alcohol Time is Any Time (But Don’t Get Drunk) 
  2. Don’t Take Off Your Socks
  3. Use Headphones at All Times
  4. Don’t Talk Someone’s Ear Off
  5. Traveling with Kids? Keep it Down.
  6. Don’t Be a Fidgeter
  7. Obey the Armrest Hierarchy
  8. Stay Put When Taking Off/ Landing
  9. Spare Fellow Passengers from Noxious Fumes
  10. Hold in the Farts!

Unwritten Flying Rule 1: Alcohol Time is Any Time (But Don’t Get Drunk)

Glass of Beer
Image by Mabel Amber

Airports are probably the only places in the world where you can have a drink at 7 in the morning without anyone batting an eye. It may be 7 am at the airport, but your brain is still several time zones behind. It’s always 5 o’clock somewhere!

Just, you know, don’t get drunk. That’s a faux pas.

Travel photographer and drone expert, Chase Guttman at shares his experience with a passenger who’s had just a little bit too much to drink:

Perhaps the most amusing thing I’ve seen is an intoxicated passenger on a flight from Costa Rica. He was stumbling around and spilling orange juice on countless rows of passengers asleep in the aisle seats. When he finally returned to his seat, he realized his drink was mostly gone and proceeded to stagger back through the cabin until he reached the galley. He then kept screaming, “I need my orange jjjuuuiiiccee!” after the flight attendant refused to serve him.”


Unwritten Flying Rule 2: Don’t Take Off Your Socks

Socks with a hole
Image by Conger Design on Pixabay

Don’t take off your socks. Just don’t do it! Shoes are fine but keep those socks on unless you want to draw the silent ire of your fellow passengers. It doesn’t matter if you think your feet don’t smell or if you have a cute pedicure — no one wants to see you traipsing down the aisle barefoot!

Travel lover, Varpu Pöyry at, thinks it’s best to double up on the socks instead — they keep your feet warm and prevent nasty smells from wafting through the cabin.

“Finns usually put wool socks on top of their normal socks when it’s a long flight. They keep our feet toasty warm. Sidenote, do always wear shoes at the lavatory, no matter how clean it looks!”

Actually, on second thought, you may want to keep your shoes on too. Andre Arriaza of shares his hapless encounter with a shoeless passenger:

“Before the plane took off, we noticed a very strong smell. The flight attendants got really nervous and the plane was put on standby as they worried that it was a bomb! They searched everywhere, and when one of them looked below my seat, she realized that the man sitting behind me just had terrible smelling feet.”

But if you absolutely have to take off your shoes, a flight attendant who was recently interviewed by Marco Ferrai of suggests:

Bring a pair of slippers, like the disposable ones from the hotel. Walking barefoot on the plane is not the best, especially in the toilets.”

It begs the question though: Why are there so many people going to the toilet without shoes?!

Unwritten Flying Rule 3: Use Headphones at All Times

Image by Kaboompics

The roar of the plane engine is bad enough, so don’t add to it by blaring Despacito on your tinny phone speakers mid-flight. For the sanity of your fellow passengers, wear headphones at all times.

Travel blogger, Rishabh Shah, who is one-half of the Gypsy Couple, says:

Do not use your phone speakers on a flight. Ever. It’s simply not done. There are several thousand brands of headphones and earphones available, both cheap and expensive to suit your requirements. We do not want to listen to you catching up on your sitcoms, funny clips, or even your cute nephew saying his first few words.”

Unwritten Flying Rule 4: Don’t Talk Someone’s Ear Off

Man talking through a can
Image by Ryan McGuire

Yes, air travel can be lonely, but if someone is clearly not interested in listening, don’t start sharing pics of your 20 furbabies waiting for you at home. Fido may be cute, but few people want to hear the intricacies of how fast he learned the “fetch” command when there’s still 5 hours left to go on the flight.

Katie Thompson, at Katie Lingo shares her experience with an overly chatty seatmate:

“I once had a young woman start talking to me really passionately about nails — in extreme detail! She could clearly see from the first two minutes that my nails were unkempt, chewed and had never been near a nail salon in my life. Even so, she incessantly scrolled through all of her photo feeds to show me the jobs she’d done and was very insistent that I didn’t wear acrylic nails. She then went on to comment on my “stubby thumbs” and assured me I could still get my nails done — I had to nod and smile even though it was clear I wasn’t interested!! Thankfully we landed soon after…”

And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to pick up a fellow passenger! Airlines aren’t dating services! Dating coach Trish McDermott at Meetopolis (an actual dating service) says:

No uninvited lingering in the aisle in order to make small talk with a fellow passenger who just isn’t into you. Everyone will be forced to watch you strike out.”

Unwritten Flying Rule 5: Traveling with Kids? Keep it Down.

Child having a tantrum
Image by PublicDomainPictures

Look, being a parent is hard, and flying with a small child makes the job even harder. Even then, you owe it to your fellow travelers to at least try and keep the peace. Remember that toddler who made the news last year for screaming for 8 hours straight during a flight from Germany to New York? It’s not a good look.

Travel blogger, Demi Johnson of Around the World With Her shares her experience with unruly children on board:

My pet peeve is spending the entirety of the journey having someone constantly bumping, hitting or moving their seat back. It drives me up the wall! This is usually done by a screaming toddler, whose parents make no effort to stop them as they karate kick the hell out of the seat in front. Bonus points if the child stands up, leans over the top of your seat and puts his sticky fingers in your hair. The worst part is, I always just sit and endure it because I’m far too polite to say anything!”

Parenting expert, Talya Stone of the blog, Motherhood: The Real Deal, offers the following tips to parents flying with kids.

“Never, ever allow your child to kick the seat in front of them because let’s face it —  constant kicking of your seat is enough to send Mother Teresa into a rage!
Instead, parents should:

-Help educate their children about what flying in an airplane is really like (no it’s not as exciting as in the cartoons!) by watching YouTube videos on the topic.

-Make friends with other parents on the flight —  because you are going to need some allies to help you get through this!

-Bring plenty of activities to keep your littles entertained —  coloring books, stickers, iPads, stuffed toys, surprise toys from the dollar store, snacks, magic painting books and whatever you can to while away the hours and keep you and them as close to sane as possible.

-Ride out the storm — nobody ever said flying with children would be easy!”

Unwritten Flying Rule 6: Don’t Be a Fidgeter

Fidget cube
Image by Myriam’s Fotos on Pixabay

We get it, sitting for hours at a time in a cramped space is exhausting and sometimes, the Fidget Cube just isn’t cutting it. But please keep the fidgeting to a minimum. We’re all on the same boat — er, plane — and you shuffling about can really start grating on other travelers.

Rishi Kapoor of Nanak Flights shares this sentiment:

There is nothing worse than when you’re on an overnight flight and you’re trying to have a casual nap on the fold-out tray, and the guy in front of you keeps shuffling around in his seat.”

Travel blogger, Sheree Hooker of Winging the World has similar experiences with passengers who stretch and exercise on the plane:

“One of my pet peeves about air travel are the people that I have not-so-affectionately named ‘the overzealous stretchers’. Of course, it is important to maintain blood flow and limit the chance of blood clots during flight. However, you do not need to take to the aisles like you are giving a yoga class. Speaking from experience, squeezing past someone doing sun salutations in the walkway when you’re gunning for the toilet is just downright annoying. And this is without being the person in the aisle seat who gets a close-up crotch shot whenever somebody has to worm their way past. For goodness sake, please just exercise in your seat like everyone else!”

Unwritten Flying Rule 7: Obey the Armrest Hierarchy

Plane window seat
Image by Free Photos on Pixabay

Everyone agrees that the worst seat on the plane is the middle seat. You are trapped between two passengers, have a lousy view, and forced to jump over another passenger just to go to the toilet. But at least you have an armrest — two to be exact. Well, only if your seatmate isn’t silently waging a turf war with you to claim your arm’s domain.

No, there’s a hierarchy to these things:

Middle Seat — Gets full, unobstructed access to both armrests

Window Seat — Gets to enjoy the view

Aisle seat — Gets easy access to the aisle and toilet

Steve Long of The Travel Brief says:

“If you have an aisle or window seat, you only get one armrest. When I get the middle seat, it seems like I usually end up engaging in this awkward tug of war where I would get pushed out of the armrest inch by inch. Sometimes I try to be assertive and push back, but most of the time I don’t want to seem rude. Look, you already get to stretch your legs in the aisle or lean against the window to nap while us middle seaters get neither, let’s not be too greedy, ok?”

Charles Snider, Co-founder of American Geode, and a frequent traveler agrees:

If you are in the aisle seat, or the window seat, give up your interior armrest to the sorry fellow passenger who got the middle seat. It’s the least you can do for this person who has to stare straight ahead, can’t come and go readily, and has no place to rest their head. It should be a universal flying rule, let the person in the middle seat have full, free access to both his or her armrests!”

Unwritten Flying Rule 8: Stay Put When Taking Off/ Landing

Fasten Seatbelt
Image by Picography

Some people are just too impatient to get off their seats as soon as the plane lands or takes off. Don’t be this person.

It doesn’t take much to just stay put and wait a few minutes before moving around — just chill! We know that you’re trying to catch a connecting flight, but turning the disembarking process into relay race is not doing anyone any favors.

Business traveler, Megan Nolan of PivotPoint has a point:

“Dear infrequent air travelers: It is common courtesy that you allow the rows before you depart an aircraft before you. Jumping up out of your seat like an Olympic starters’ pistol just got fired, then blocking the aisle for those in front of you to be able to get their bags is very bad form. Also, when you need to retrieve something from your bag mid-flight, and it’s above someone else’s head, please be aware of the distance between your belly/crotch area and that person’s face. It can be uncomfortable and you might smell a little bit like dust!!!”

The same goes for when the plane takes off — you were just seated! You don’t need to go to the toilet right now (unless you’re having stomach troubles. Then you’re in for a rough ride. Sorry)!

And just because you can now move around, doesn’t mean you have free reign to do so. Be considerate of your fellow passengers. Olyvia Dusold of AlignMii, proposes the “15-minute rule” on shorter flights:

“You are free to move in the first 15 minutes after the ‘move about the cabin’ sign has gone off — use the restroom, get something out of your bag, whatever. But after that 15 minutes every time you ask me, the aisle seat, to move, I have every right to lollygag, give slightly disgruntled looks, and pretend to be very disturbed from a deep slumber. Essentially, I, the aisle seat, am here to help the captain keep this plane orderly by making anyone in my row feel god awkward about getting up. Obviously, if you are in the aisle seat, you do not need to pertain to the 15-minute rule.”

Unwritten Flying Rule 9: Spare Fellow Passengers from Noxious Fumes

Image by Werner 22 Brigitte

The air in the cabin is constantly recirculated — yes, there’s some fresh air mixed in, but pollute the air mid-flight and the smell never seems to go away. So spare your fellow passengers from noxious fumes and don’t take something smelly on board.

For example, travel blogger, Dana Freeman, of Dana Freeman Travels, hates onions on the plane.

“My number one rule is don’t bring food with onions on a plane. There is nothing worse than a passenger opening up that airport sandwich just before and getting a waft of onion B.O.! It lingers for the entire flight.”

Gabrielle Beckford, travel blogger at Packs Light, on the other hand, can’t stand heavy perfumes.

“Ladies, leave your strongest perfume/cologne at home, please. If I’m on a plane I’m willing to die trying to get to Dubai, but not by noxious fumes. Especially cheap, noxious fumes.”

Then there’s Morgan Mandriota of the blog, Hawk + Pearl, who admits to being a reformed plane fumigator:

“Once upon a time, I thought it was a good idea to whip out a bottle of nail polish and start painting my nails on a flight. Three nails in and the flight attendant ran over to me and told me to not to do that. So, yeah, pro-tip from experience: Don’t polish your nails on an airplane (where there’s absolutely no air circulation so the fumes don’t kill you or your fellow passengers).”

Unwritten Flying Rule 10: Hold in the Farts!

Image by Skeeze

Speaking of noxious fumes, hold in your farts! This should go without saying, but somehow people do it anyway. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but you owe it to others to at least hold it in until you get to the bathroom. Don’t just crop dust the aisle while everyone is asleep — believe me, it’s enough to wake up the dead.

Freelance writer, Candice de Beer airs out her farting passenger woes:

Stop silent farting in your seat! Seriously, get up and go to the bathroom. We all know that sitting for prolonged periods can cause a buildup of embarrassing gas, but do you really need to let it go from the comfort of your seat? Think about the people sitting next to you. If they happen to be family and probably won’t care, think about those unlucky passengers behind, and in front of you, especially the unfortunate soul stuck in the window seat. They can’t just get up and make a quick getaway. They’re forced to endure your fumes until it thankfully evaporates. And if you let go of more than one, then you’re just an ****.”

If you have trouble keeping it in, Cuyler of has an alternative to going to the bathroom:

“If you have gas when you travel, invest in some filters for your underwear! Maybe next time, pack it in your carry on to share with a neighbor, or just in case…”

We’re not sure if a fart filter will save other passengers from the incoming stench, but hey, it is worth a try.

Follow the Rules and All Will Be Well

Well, maybe not everything will go according to plan, but follow these unwritten rules and you are sure to make flying just a little bit less hellish than it usually is. Still, the joy of traveling almost makes up for all of the annoyances of flying. Almost.

Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to a much as $700 in compensation. If your flight was delayed, canceled, or overbooked within the last three years.

Top image from Manfred Richter via pixabay

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