The Dos And Don’ts Of Flying Without Being A Jerk


Here at Uproxx, we love to travel. Meaning we love to go places all around the world that are not our homes. But the actual “traveling” part — waiting in line, sitting too close to chatty, drunk, or smelly humans, being told that all the pilots disappeared when the plane flew through some sort of wormhole — can be pretty tiresome. Even for the most seasoned traveler, days of racing from one flight to the next are exhausting, annoying, and often filled with so much bureaucratic incompetence that it feels like the world of Catch-22 might not be a bad alternative.

While we will always marvel at the fact that that we can literally go to the other side of the world in LESS THAN A DAY, the small, entitled child in us still wants to whine about it. I mean ugh. Do we have to take off our shoes? And why the hell is turbulence delaying drink service? Yes, I’m out of my seat — I want a glass of Sauv Blanc now.

Though certain aspects of the whole flying experience are out of our control (blizzards! tiny seats! the smell the person before us left in the bathroom the one time we attempted the mile high club!), we can all make the process at least a little better for each other. Because, like most public spaces, there are some unwritten rules. A social contract that deserves to be honored. These are just general guidelines, of course. There are exceptions and, I know, I can’t make you do anything. I mean, I can use mind control to slowly and painfully force you to agree with me and also decide to bawk like a chicken every time you hear the word, ‘tomato.” But it’s a lot of work. So I’d rather you just like, read the article.

These are the dos and don’ts of air travel in the modern age.

1. DO get to the airport early.

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The Situation:

You are a super seasoned traveler and (as such) have timed your trip down to the second. You know how many minutes it takes to get to the airport. You’re checked in. You have a sleek, small carry on in which you’ve packed exactly what you need and nothing more. You’ve never worn shoes. You require no liquids. You can unhinge your jaw and swallow your entire body so that you also fit compactly into the overhead bin. YOU ARE A TRAVELING GOD AND EVERYONE ELSE IS AN IDIOT IN COMPARISON. (The only competitor for the throne, in your mind, is George Clooney in Up In The Air — a movie which you often reference without ever understanding its themes.)

Why You Should Still Pad in Some Extra Time:

Bear with me here. As I said, I am aware of your traveling prowess. But, unfortunately, you are not the only person flying on any given day. And I remain convinced that 90 percent of our unpleasantness in airports could be solved by getting there 20-30 minutes early. Sure, you can’t always do that. Sometimes you’re rushing from work or hit terrible traffic on the way or whatever. But there are so many times when we could get there earlier but don’t, due to bad planning or laziness. Like knowing that if you take the 4 pm flight it’s going to be stressful getting there from work while booking the 5 would make things less so. Or packing the night before, or watching that new episode of Game of Thrones in your Lyft instead of at home…Just do whatever you need to do to leave 30 minutes earlier.

Because here’s the thing: When you have plenty of time, you care less. And when you’re not giving the dirty, eye-rolling sighs to every Tom, Dick, and Harry, they get less flustered and everyone has a more pleasant experience. What’s the worst case scenario of having to arrive a little earlier? You’re at your gate a tiny bit sooner? Embrace the non-frenzied life. Relax! Get a glass of wine. Read a magazine. Get the work done that you promised your partner you’d do before you left for the trip because this time you’re going to relax the whole trip, you swear. It’s going to make all of us feel a little more zen.

2. DON’T get frustrated by people who are slow in airport security.

The Situation:

The person in front of you didn’t know to take off their shoes. They didn’t pull their laptop out. JESUS CHRIST WHY ARE THEY GOING SO SLOW HAVE THEY NEVER FLOWN ON A GODDAMN AIRPLANE BEFORE?

Why You Should Be A Little More Patient:

You know what? Maybe they haven’t ever flown on a goddamn airplane before. So, it’s their first time. What a special day for them. How lucky you are to witness this! Or maybe they don’t speak English well and couldn’t understand that their laptop needed to be in a separate tray. Or maybe they’re traveling with their kids and every part of that is a nightmare. I promise, ultimately, they will not spend hours and hours untying their shoes. They are holding you up for 30-60 seconds. Max. You will live.

And if you can’t live. Get TSA-Precheck. It weeds out a lot of those people who annoy you. Otherwise, you can help them if they are struggling to figure out which tray they need. Or just. be. patient. See if you can name the capital in every state in your head. Because the thing is, if you did not follow the advice above and arrived at the airport super late, it’s not “woman who didn’t know a laptop had to go into a separate tray”s fault. She didn’t go into your house and physically prevent you from leaving on time. Unless she did. And look, I still think that’s kind of on you for giving a stranger a key to your house.

3. DO be ready to go through the line if you’ve literally ever flown on an airplane before.

The Situation:

You’re reading an absolutely wonderful article on your favorite website,, by this amazing, talented writer with soft skin like a baby and Oh. Shit. Are you already at the front of the line?! Oh man, now you have to take off your jacket. And your shoes! Your shoes are still on and they can only be opened with a key you keep in a suitcase that you keep inside the first suitcase. That suitcase also needs a key.

Why You Should Be Ready Early:

As much as I think we should all practice a little more patience and empathy in our day to day lives, we all make things smoother if we’re prepared and ready to go. You know you’re going to have to do this. The supervolcano in Yellowstone is unlikely to go off before you get up there, thus saving you from ever having to unbuckle your sandals. So just do it when a few people are ahead of you. Get your laptop out, take off your shoes, kiss everyone you love and wait for the supervolcano shoeless — and then just in case that doesn’t happen (leading to all of our deaths), you won’t hold up the line with your shoes on like a fool.

4. DO know the airline’s policies and be polite but insistent when gate attendants try to tell you something different.

The Situation:

So, your flight was delayed because of an issue with the landing equipment or a bathroom door that wouldn’t close and they just thought, 15 minutes before takeoff IS THE BEST TIME TO ADDRESS IT. Now, you’ve already been sitting in the airport for five hours and IT happens. You’re canceled. And they can’t get you on a new flight until tomorrow. You’re tired and frustrated. The gate attendants are also tired and frustrated. All you want to do is not be in an airport anymore. So when the rude woman at the counter doesn’t offer a hotel, you assume it’s because you aren’t entitled to one.

Why You Should Stand At the Counter a Little While Longer:

Know the airline’s policies and insist, politely, that the airport staff sticks to them. If your flight is canceled or delayed because of a technical problem and not weather, you are more than likely owed a hotel room, a food credit, and a shuttle to and from the airport. They may have to give you a credit for things in checked bags if you need to rebuy them overnight too (toiletries, etc). And they also may have to book you on a flight on another airline if they have no flights available.

While these things should be automatic, most of the time that I’ve been eligible for a room, I have not been offered one until I asked for it. Even if you aren’t eligible, being super polite and asking for a voucher when you’re stuck never hurts. Also, it sometimes works. You freaking paid for this flight. So though you should never yell at gate attendants, sometimes they are the ones being jerks and making you feel like even asking for help is a pain. You’ve gotta nope out of that. It is their literal job to rebook you and provide services under their airline’s policies.

5. DON’T queue up and stand in front of people Until. Your. Zone. Is. Called.

The Situation:

It’s a herd mentality thing. For some reason, even when we know we have an assigned seat, we get anxious we aren’t going to get on. We’re boarding! (we think in a panic) And all start crowding closer and closer to the door, a few us reaching and moaning, “brains”.

Why You Should Just Stay Seated:

It is exceedingly annoying when your boarding group has been called and you realize you are standing in a line that is not, in fact, a line, but a bunch of looky-loos who just love watching the parade of sensible black carry-ons. They have zones for a reason. Standing grouped by the door will not make it go any faster, and usually delays everyone ahead of you from getting on in a timely fashion. Sit. Wait. Think about all the state capitals you can name in your head (again! you’re getting better!).

If you just can’t wait, I recommend inheriting millions of dollars from a relative you’ve never heard of and always flying first class. Makes things way easier, you know?

6. DO help people with their bags.

The Situation:

The little old lady in front of you packed her entire bowling ball set in her carry-on and has now spent a full two minutes trying to lift it all over her head. WHY DIDN’T SHE CHECK IT??? You scream, falling to your knees, and raising your hands up to the heavens. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

Why You Should Give An Extra Hand:

No one ever has to help another person lift up their bag, and if you’re yelling at the screen, “IT’S NOT MY JOB” — you’re right. Certainly, if someone asks you to help and you have a medical issue, just say, “Oh sorry, I have a back issue.” Hell, you can say that even if you don’t want to help them because you hate their smug face, free country.

But as I see it you have two options: You can help them, do your good deed for the day, and things will move faster, or you can not, but then you don’t get to be rude or roll your eyes or sigh and make them feel bad. Yeah, maybe their bag is too heavy. But also, maybe they didn’t have the 30 dollars to check a bag, are on their way to a funeral, and they just happened to be born with lower muscle tone than you. You don’t know what they are going through. So, feel good about your muscular, sexy physique and let’s all get on with our day.

7. DO decline to switch seats if you don’t want to.

The Situation:

A couple comes up to you in your comfy aisle seat that you paid good money for and asks you to switch so they can sit together. “We literally just met in a dark room and then got married without ever having spoken,” they say. “We need this precious time in your aisle seat to get to know each other.”

“He’s off to war, tomorrow,” she says, batting her lashes. “Please. It’s the only time I’ll ever see him.”

“She can predict the future and I for sure die out there,” he says, grimly. “Not because of the war. It’s unrelated, but still…way dead.”

“Don’t worry,” they chime in unison, “we have a middle seat for you in the back to trade! Directly by the bathroom.”

“I have some stomach issues,” he says, “so I’ll be back there a lot talking to you. Pleeeease.”

Why You Shouldn’t Feel the Pressure:

There are a couple of times when I would strongly suggest you switch, like when a couple gets separated and has a lap child. This is honestly more for your comfort than theirs. Or you will have a toddler crawling onto your lap. But most of the time, if someone is not offering you a comparable switch (aisle for aisle, similar parts of the plane) you do not have to switch. You don’t have to give a reason, just politely say, “Imma pass. Sorry about that.”

It’s your seat. They’re the jerks if they complain, and honestly, they’ll live. Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

Pro tip: if you’re terrified of looking like a bad guy, you can say, “I really need to sit on the aisle because I get up a lot, but we can ask the flight attendant if there are any aisle seats unclaimed.” That way, it’s on them to grab a flight attendant. Maybe you’ll get upgraded. Maybe they’ll say nothing else is available. But at least then you can shrug and the whole thing is off your shoulders. You did everything you could to help them. You’re a hero.

8. DON’T — when separated from your dearest travel companion — yell across the aisle at one another the entire flight.

The Situation:

The asshole in 4C refused to switch seats and now your girlfriend, boyfriend, support peacock is three feet away from you. THIS IS A NIGHTMARE.

Why You Should Just Like…Watch a Movie:

I was recently on a flight where a couple in the row behind me were in separate middle seats. They yelled back and forth, threw each other gum, told stories and then asked their partner to corroborate details. “Well, THAT was when Jim went to Florida. Babe! Remember when you went to Florida? What was the name of that hotel???”

I wanted to drown them in the tiny, tiny airplane toilet. Nobody likes to sit by strangers, and it sucks that you can’t tell the same stories to each other over and over again, but please just take the time to relax and nap or watch a movie. YOU’RE GOING TO THE SAME PLACE.

Or you know what? Don’t do any of that and just weep softly the entire time. I don’t care. Just don’t make us listen to you yell.

9. DON’T recline your seat without asking.

The Situation:

This one is very controversial and we are not all of one mind on this. The ultimate question: do you recline your seat? Or is that humanity’s greatest crime?

Why You Should Check In With the Person Behind You About It:

Okay, I have listened to everyone in the entire universe and made a decision. Do not recline your seat unless your flight is over four hours and you are going to sleep. And I know. I know. You paid for your seat. But so did they and also, we live in a society and sometimes we must be nice to people. For tall people, it can be very uncomfortable to have your seat driving their kneecaps into their chin.

I will allow for some nuance here, however. If your health or comfort and/or mental sanity involve you reclining your seat, here’s what you have to do. Turn around and ask the person behind you if they would mind if you recline your seat. They’ll most likely say it’s fine and if they have a genuine reason — like when the seat reclines it hits their knees and is really painful — you’ll get to have that info as you make your decision.

10. DO give the middle seat both armrests.

The Situation:

You like to put your arms on both armrests even though you are on the aisle or window and you’re every man that I’ve ever sat next to on an airplane while in the middle seat and BOTH OF YOU ARE GOING TO DO IT ANYWAY.

Why You Should Not Try to Take Poor Middle’s Only Comfort:

Middle seat gets both armrests. That’s sky law. THAT. IS. SKY. LAW.

And no, I’m not just as comfortable with my arms folded upon my chest like a dead lady in a coffin just because I’m smaller. DON’T MAKE ME HAVE TO JOSTLE YOUR ELBOWS OFF OR SHARE WITH YOUR ELBOWS BRUSHING UP AGAINST MINE. THE NEWS CYCLE HAS ME VERY UPSET AND I WILL MAKE SOME SORT OF SHANK OUT OF THE IN FLIGHT MAGAZINE AND CUT YOU. Please and Thank you.

11. DON’T open your window on very early morning flights.

The Situation:

It’s 5 am, isn’t the world beautiful! You wake up at 3 am every day anyway just to greet mother earth and all of her creatures and you want to open the window wide, let the sun stream in upon our faces, and rejoice at creation while looking down at the world we’ve inherited! “Good morning clouds!”

Why You Should Keep It Shut:

I get it. You are window seat. It is your dominion and destiny to control all of its parts including the window shade. But I’m trying to sleep. In fact, everyone is trying to sleep. And on flights before 9 am, you gotta keep it down, friend. Because your child-like wonder of being able to see cars BUT SMALLER is not an acceptable reason for the rest of us to have glare in our faces and not be able to snooze for a bit.*

*A single caveat.

12. DO smile at babies and tired parents.

The Situation:

A mom or dad or support peacock is walking a tired, cranky baby up and down the aisle with a look in their eyes that says, “I might be okay with the supervolcano in Yellowstone going off just about now.”

Why You Should Give Them a Little Smile:

They are doing their best. They are stressed out. And the most stressful part is that they’re worried about upsetting everyone around them. When you smile at them or the baby, or give a little word of encouragement or joke, “I’d be crying right now too if it was socially acceptable!” — you help someone feel a tiny bit better about a crappy day.

Be the niceness you wish to see in the world because it might be you one day. And it’s roughhhhh.

13. DON’T hold people hostage and force them into a conversation.

The Situation:

Why don’t people CHAT more? You’re stuck in these little seats for a couple of hours, maybe it’s time to make a new friend.

Why You Shouldn’t Talk To Me:

Oh sorry did I say, me? I meant me. me. Me. Me. Huh, why does that autocorrect keep happening? Oh, I know why — it’s because I NEVER WANT YOU TO TALK TO ME.

Like in any public situation, follow social cues. Just because you are seated closely, do not assume that means you get to invade someone’s space on every level. If they have headphones on, if they are reading/working/sleeping/watching a movie etc. Do. Not. Bother. Them.

And if you ask me “what my book is about” while I am trying to read, I swear I will force open the emergency exit door and throw you off the plane even if it brings us all of spiraling right into Yellowstone’s supervolcano.

*Quick rule of thumb for bothering strangers and forcing them to talk to you*

Do not do it at the airport bar. Do not do it in your shared uber car. Do not do it on the plane. Do not do it (on a layover) in Spokane. Do not do it on the shuttle. Do not share a great rebuttal. Do not do it in your seats. “Not that lady, she’s wearing Beats!”

Do not do it in the aisle. Do not assume it will make us smile. Do not think you’re “just being nice.” Not this time, no way, no dice.

14. DO bring a delicious snack so you aren’t hungry. Being hungry makes us all monsters!

The Situation:

It’s never fun to realize you’re starving and have to buy a 16 dollar “hummus plate” on the airplane that consists of one cracker, three baby carrots, and a thimble full of hummus. You want to feel full and happy.

Rules of Airplane Food:

I am not going to say don’t do any hot food because I don’t think all hot foods are off limits. Hot fish clearly is, but others work just fine. I think a quesadilla is probably okay. Simple chicken and veggie dishes. Fine. A slice of pizza isn’t terrible. Don’t overdo it on the toppings, but few people are genuinely disgusted by the smell of pizza. A hot breakfast sandwich is rarely a deal breaker.

Meanwhile, there are definitely cold foods that are disgusting on a plane. Like. Egg. salad. Like tuna salad. And even some Ceasar salads. (Though most salads are a very respectable choice to bring on an airplane.) What are the ideal choices? Simple sandwiches. Granola bars. Fruit, cheese sticks, crackers. A burrito is solid, but only if you eat it right away and not like a messy, disgusting idiot. Pretzels, not weird chips in which you’ll have to lick your fingers.


15. After landing, DO sit until it’s your turn to step into the aisle.

The Situation:

We landed! We landed! This Hell is over and we landed! I’m gonna stand and just be ready. NBD, I just want to be ready to leave!

Why You Should Sit Until Just Before Your Turn:

I know, after landing we all are surged with the kind of nervous energy that makes it feel like we’ll never get off the plane. And we want to. Dear God, we’ve never wanted anything so much. It’s like we all end up on some sort of bath salt in which it feels like there are bugs crawling under our skin when we land and the extra five minutes of taxi-ing or waiting for people ahead of us to deplane makes us want to tear our skin off while screaming. But standing doesn’t make it go faster, pushing into the aisle isn’t going to make the people ahead move quicker, and you’re making everyone around you more anxious. Plus, I don’t need your butt in my face while I’m still sitting.

Just be patient. Wait your turn. Be nice. We’re all about to get out of this experience together.