In-Flight Experience Security Travel Etiquette

11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

When we board a plane, the goal is simple: to get to our destination as safely and pleasantly as possible. But sometimes we get in our own way. To be a safer and more courteous traveler, don’t make the following 11 airplane mistakes.

Avoiding some of these behaviors will keep you from getting on your fellow flyers’ nerves; avoiding others could even save your life. Read on to learn what not to do on a plane.

Don’t Try a New Medication for the First Time

Where would you rather be when you discover that Ambien makes you hallucinate or that you’re allergic to your new iron supplement—at home, with easy access to your doctor and a local hospital, or in a metal tube hurtling 35,000 feet above the Pacific? Never take a medicine in flight that you haven’t already taken for a test run at home.

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Don’t Tune Out the Safety Briefing

I know—the briefing is boring, you’ve heard it a million times, and you already know how to buckle a seatbelt. As tedious as it seems, though, the information could save your life one day. At the very least, take a few seconds to figure out where the nearest emergency exit is and how many rows away it is from your seat. (In a dark or smoky cabin, you’ll want to be able to count the rows by touching the seats as you make your way toward an exit.)

Don’t Joke About Bombs

No one is going to laugh at your one-liner about guns, weapons, or anything else that could be taken as threatening—particularly not the flight attendants, who have the power to remove you from a flight if they think there’s even the slightest chance you might pose a security risk. (Note: The same advice goes for customs people and TSA agents.)

Don’t Recline Your Seat During Mealtimes

One of the biggest debates in the travel world is whether it’s okay to recline your seat. Whichever side of the issue you take, I think all of us can agree that once the food and drink carts start rolling down the aisles, it’s only courteous to make sure your seat is upright so the person behind you can have full access to his or her tray.

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Don’t Drink Too Much

No one will complain if you have a glass of wine with dinner, but over-indulging in alcohol can have consequences ranging from dehydration to even getting kicked off the plane for disorderly behavior. Remember: No one wants to sit next to the guy who reeks of alcohol, passes out on your shoulder, or throws up on your shoes.

& When You Need to Stay Hydrated…

Collapsible Water Bottle Silicone Foldable Travel Water Bottle

Perfect for traveling through an airport or even outside, this water bottle folds into half the size to create more storage for you.

Don’t Eat Stinky Food

Speaking of mealtimes, give your seatmates a break—don’t show up for your flight with a tuna sandwich or a plate of onion rings. Not only will they stink while you’re eating them, but they’ll also ensure that you have bad breath for the rest of the flight.

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Don’t Abuse the Flight Attendant Call Button

The flight attendants’ first priority is to keep you safe, not to cater to your every whim, so use discretion when deciding when to hit that call button. If you’re feeling ill, or you’re thirsty on an overnight flight when the lights are out and getting up would wake your sleeping seatmates, feel free to hit the button. If the flight attendants are already serving dinner and you decide you need a drink right now, suck it up and be patient.

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Don’t Put Your Carry-on in an Overhead Bin Where You’re Not Sitting

As pet peeves go, this is one of my biggest—when the person in 33A puts her carry-on in the bin above row 16, ensuring that there won’t be enough space for the people actually sitting in row 16 to stow their own bags. This means people in the front of the plane end up having to put their bags toward the back, which leads to passengers trying to go against the stream of traffic when it comes time to deplane. Do everyone a favor and use your own overhead bin space unless there’s no alternative.

Don’t Put a Bag Overhead If It Can Go Under the Seat

In other carry-on shenanigans, please don’t be the person who puts your rolling suitcase and your backpack and your coat into the overhead bin on a full flight. Leave space for other people’s stuff by putting your personal item under the seat in front of you, and squeezing your coat into the empty spaces left after everyone else has fit their larger bags into the bin.

In Addition to Your Carry-On…

The Essential Overnight Bag from Madewell

When we travel, we want to maximize our packing storage, so why not opt-in for this beautifully affordable duffle from Madewell.

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Don’t Inflict Your feet on Other Passengers

I have no problem with people slipping off their shoes to be more comfortable on a long flight—with a few important exceptions.

First, your feet should be as unobtrusive as possible to everyone else (so don’t prop them on top of a seatback, or wriggle them into the gap between the wall of the plane and the poor person in the seat in front of you who just wants to lean against the window without getting a faceful of your bare toes). Second, put your shoes back on before you go to the lavatory (because ew). And finally, if you know you’re prone to bromodosis—the polite scientific term for smelly feet—be considerate of your fellow passengers and leave your shoes on.

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Don’t Infringe on Your Neighbors’ Space (or Screen)

With airplane seats getting smaller and smaller, passengers with broad shoulders or long legs almost can’t help spilling over the bounds of their seats at some point. But I’m speaking out against intentional (and obnoxious) behaviors like manspreading, hogging the armrests, or flipping your ponytail over the back of your seat so it obscures the video screen of the person behind you. Your neighbors paid for their space, too; respect it.

Make You and Your Neighbor’s Flight More Enjoyable

Travel Shelf for Airplanes from Amazon

This innovative tool lets the lucky-window-seater create a mini shelf for drinks, electronics and snacks to create more room without the hassle of the tray attached to the seat in front.

Which airplane mistakes would you add to this list?

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Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at

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