Rules of Etiquette for Airplane Passengers

flight etiquette
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Flight Etiquette

The sabermetricians of FiveThirtyEight have applied their statistical talents to fields other than baseball and one example of their analysis of numbers is the below piece about what respondents indicated was unacceptable behavior on planes.flight etiquette

It seems as though, in the name of safety, there ought to be a set of rules called “Rules of Etiquette for Airplane Passengers.” This behavior code could be printed on a card included in the seatback pocket. More and more new fliers are getting on board flights for the first time and really do not have a frame of reference, thus the FiveThirtyEight paper may form the basis for an AirTiquette?

Recently there’s been a lot written about behavior on commercial flights. Some pundits have ascribed the air rage phenomenon to a variety of environmental factors, such as unsafe seating densities, even advocating that minimum “seat pitch” standards should be established by the FAA, perhaps based on the basis of “comfort”. Another bit of wisdom from academia found fault with the existence of First Class seats in the front of the aircraft; the scholars hypothesized that the coach passengers were incited to “rage” by walking through the upper class. The FiveThirtyEight research points to interpersonal behavior as a possible source of these inflight kerfuffles.

The survey asked the audience to identify what actions by other passengers created issues for them. The answers are revealing:

flight etiquette

1. 82% of the respondents indicated that unruly children posed a problem. The more granular data exonerated “babies” and then next level of numbers found that those with children under 18 were more tolerant of juvenile outbursts than those without.

  • AirTiquette #1 rule: Airlines should segregate the seating of passengers with and without children.
    NOTE: This rule is consistent with the recent Congressional proposal to mandate the carriers to put them in contiguous seats.

flight etiquette2. 73% of the surveyed complain about seat mates who “wake them up” to go for a walk.

flight etiquette

  • AirTiquette #2 rule: before falling asleep ask the person sitting closer to the window to go to the blue room now.

3. 41% felt it rude to recline the seat back. Even more (70%) urged that all seats be locked permanently upright position. Even greater depth of the numbers reveals that they felt that “passengers should not recline if the flier behind them asks them not to.” Seating habits were quantified as follows:

  • 16 percent always recline,
  • 20 percent usually do,
  • 14 percent recline about half the time,
  • 30 percent do only once in a while, and 20 percent never recline.

NOTE airlines should consider restricting the seat backs.

  • AirTiquette #3 rule: you should ask the person in the seat behind if you can recline.
    NOTE: the airlines should consider installing lights and back up beepers like trucks. 

4. Control of seat arms and window shade—the numbers are revealing:

  • 14 percent of fliers said that, in a row with three seats, the person seated in the middle got both arm rests.
  • 10 percent of respondents said whoever puts their arm on the arm rest first gets it;
  • 2 percent think the people in the aisle and window seats get both arm rests
  • 67 percent think they should be shared.
  • 5 percent responded “other” and wrote in responses such as “whoever is largest” or “the youngest child” or “me.”
  • 42 percent of respondents acknowledged that the person in the window seat should control the shade,
  • 58 percent thought everyone should have a say in the shade’s status.

flight etiquette

  • AirTiquette #4 rule: before seating in a three seat row, delineations of rights and privileges on an inter-seat basis must be discussed, negotiated and agreed to! 

6. 16 percent of respondents had used personal electronics during take-off and landing in violation of the direction of flight attendants.

flight etiquette

The FiveThirtyEight article is meant to be amusing, but its numbers demonstrate that there are wide ranges of what passengers expect to be acceptable behavior. Miss Manners has yet to publish the definitive Rules of Etiquette; so while you wait for such a pronouncement on proper inflight behavior, you might use our 5 Rules of AirTiquette as a conversation starter with your flight mates.


ARTICLE: 41 Percent Of Fliers Think You’re Rude If You Recline Your Seat

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