Anna Velas-Suarin

Is that armrest mine? (Some Simple Reminders When Flying)

I think it’s about time that we take flying etiquette more seriously. As more and more of us are flying all over the world (and even in domestic routes), we should be more sensitive to our fellow flyers who come from different time zones, persuasions, professions, cultural backgrounds and…yes, eccentricities.

Let me enumerate those things that, I think, should always be remembered when flying:

1. Armrest. It is difficult for airplane manufacturers/designers to consider that people want both armchairs on their sides, right? With planes that have 3 seats lumped together, this could be a major concern. Should the one in the middle take both armrests because he was stuck in the middle? The answer is no. I think the general rule is that one person should have one armrest to claim. So that means, the one in the middle should claim only one armrest, unless he politely asks either of the persons on his side if he may be allowed to use an extra side, for special reasons (i.e. recent injury). For those on either sides of the center seat, they should be sensitive enough NOT to claim the armrests on both their sides because that means depriving the one in the middle BOTH his armrests (not leaving him with even one armrest!)

Is this armrest mine? Try to negotiate if you have a special need like a recent injury. (Photo credits: The Wall Street Journal)

2. Trips to the lavatory. While people may be nice enough to stand from their seats so that you can visit the lavatory inside the plane, don’t over-exert this kindness by not relieving yourself prior to your flights. Go to the Men’s/Ladies Rooms prior to your flights so that you lessen the chances (or the number) of trips to the lavatory inside the plane. If you know that you really must go to the lavatory often, ask for an aisle seat when checking-in (this is what I do especially if I know that I drank too much fluid before my flight to avoid dehydration). Check-in early so you can have your choice seat.

3. Use of lavatory. I would usually want to avoid using the lavatory in planes because they often smell after an hour or two of flight. But since we all need to relieve ourselves at some point especially in long flights, remember to clean the place up after use – most especially the toilet seat! Wipe them clean with tissue paper provided in abundance there. Not just once but thoroughly. I used to bring alcohol with me so I can wipe the toilet seat before and after use but because of security issues in airports nowadays, I don’t think I’d ever be allowed to bring a bottle of sanitary alcohol again. For the male passengers, please take notice of this rule because admittedly, it’s harder for men to “aim” at their target so they would more often leave mess on the toilet seats (ugh). Please, we love the sexy stuffs you are made of but please be nice to us when sharing the toilet. (wink!)

4. Overhead space. The rule is not to bring too much hand-carry bags that you would already be using more than what should be yours in the overhead bin (or under-the-seat space). Just bring a small bag and maybe your laptop bag. If you are in a short trip and would rather not check-in, make sure that your luggage would fit in the overhead bin. It is very insensitive to use more space than what is normally allowed for one passenger. Remember that you are not the only one who has space requirements. Don’t you find it absolutely insensitive that some of our fellow passengers carry so much that you have to go far down the aisle just so you can put your bag in the overhead bin? This happened to me several times and I really find it quite inconsiderate.

5. Heavy overhead bags. Related to No. 3 rule above. While people would be kind enough to help you carry your stuffs to the overhead bin, remember that heavy objects may just suddenly fly and hurt anyone on their path. If you really must bring this heavy stuff with you, ask a steward or stewardess to help you carry it up on the bin.

6. Space underneath seats. The only space available for you under the seat is the one across you, not under you. Again, don’t carry so much hand-carry that you usurp the spaces meant for others.

7. Seat space. Respect the seat space of others so do avoid leaning on them unnecessarily or worse, putting your head on the side of their seats. Ok, you may fall asleep or accidentally fall on the sides along the way but just make sure that your hair smells nice! 🙂 The same rule applies in reclining seats. Try not to recline the seat up to the maximum angle or try not to recline your seat at all. If you really want to sleep and needs to recline the seat–after all, it is your right–I think it is always better to kindly inform the one seated behind you. Most will be impressed with such a considerate gesture and would likely smile and say, “Go ahead!” The thing is, it is better to allow more leg and personal space for those behind us particularly if we are not even sleepy. If the one infront of you seems to have reclined his seat too much and you find it really bothering, say so politely and don’t act like a teenager by banging on the back of his seat just to stress your point. Most will accede to requests when asked in a nice way.

8. Conversations. Admittedly, this is my biggest irritation. I know I am sometimes guilty of this but ok, I try very hard to keep quiet in most of my flights. Please, if you have this urgent need to divulge your secrets and escapades to your seatmate, please do so in hush-hush voices or better, yet, just wait until you’re in the airport. Some people stayed up all night preparing their presentations prior to a conference and they are really dying for a nap so be nice and be quiet. Once, I was coming from a long trip (Toronto to Manila via Narita) and my fellow passengers who must be so excited to come home were shrieking like hyenas during the flight–not to disrespect the hyenas, of course, but you get the drift. It can really be a test of one’s patience to stop himself from screaming. We understand the excitement but remember that people need their peace and quiet especially if you just came from Japan and the others came from Canada, a country in a different time zone!

9. The value of waiting. Wait, wait, wait until all people have passed the aisle before you fix your things on the overhead particularly if it will take you more than two minutes. This is also one of many passengers’ irritations. I have always noticed that people just want to grab the first space available in the overhead bins that they take their sweetest time to fix their stuffs when there is already a long line of passengers waiting to pass through the aisle. It is better to remain patient particularly if your seat is on the aisle’s side. You have more time to fix your things later. Allow people to pass through first.

10. Drinking alcohol. Of course, many people want to take advantage of the free liquors served on board international flights. However, a glass or two should be set as one’s maximum. It’s no longer cute when you start to smell. And bad smell lingers in the air. Some are even allergic to them. Be sensitive to the smell buds of others, ok? Besides, you don’t want people greeting you in the airport smelling you like you just came out of a beer joint, right? 🙂

Smelly feet = smelly air inside the cabin. Deodorize your feet and be a nice co-passenger! (Photo credits:

11. Shoes. As much as possible, please do not take off your shoes while inside an airplane unless you are very sure that your feet do not smell (which is rarely the case particularly if you’ve been wearing them for several hours already). Oftentimes, shoes = smelly feet. I have been on a recent trip and someone beside me took off his shoes and the smell that floated in the air seconds afterwards was truly unforgettable. Remember that shoes are mostly made with materials such as leather, plastic, foam resin (such as the material used in Crocs), etc. and these cause your feet to perspire profusely and then smell after some time. If you really must take off your shoes for comfort particularly in long-haul flights, wear shoes that allow you to wear socks (cotton socks are better in absorbing perspiration). You can sprinkle your feet with an effective foot powder and deodorizer (preferably those made of essential oils such as sage and lavender) before wearing your socks. There is an effective Pinoy brand of underarm/foot powder called “Milcu” and this is ideal for long-haul travels (I am not an endorser of this brand but I like the product). Even ordinary talcum powder for babies may also work to lessen perspiration and smell. There are many online articles on home remedies for smelly feet problem so you may want to check on those articles, too, for general hygiene.

12. Kids. I know that it is sometimes necessary to bring the kids but ensure that the older kids (maybe aged 4 up) are given proper orientation (“Do’s and Dont’s”) prior to the flight. Give them incentives if they behaved nicely in the flight (i.e. their favorite toy or games). Stress to them that being quiet is the No. 1 rule when flying. Kids’ voices and laughters can be cute but please, not during flights when people want to steal a nap, read, or review their work presentations. For babies and toddlers, ask your doctors how to alleviate their miseries (e.g., pains in the ears) during flights so they don’t cry hysterically during flights. Keep young babies relaxed by cuddling them and whispering nicely into their ears so that they can eventually fall asleep after take-off. This is not the time to excite them with new toys or tricks. Reserve that when you’re already in your destination.

13. Cellphone use. I like to put this in BIG BOLD letters but I don’t like to sound like I am shouting (wink!). Please, don’t turn on your cellphones while the plane is still trying to park upon landing. It is also quite irritating when fellow passengers would all reach for their cellphones and start calling or texting EVEN IF the stewardess just announced that aviation rules prohibit use of cellular phones inside the cabin. Just wait until you reach the terminal before you call your “sundo” or your driver. They know you are arriving and they will not leave simply because your call/text came in a minute or two later.

14. Politeness and helpfulness. Kindness begets kindness so don’t forget this rule even when flying. I know it’s hard to be nice when you only have two hours of sleep and you’re still half-way through your reports. But think of how nice it will be to wake up from your nap and you realized that the sweet ‘motherly’ woman beside you reserved a glass of water for you or picked up your book that fell on the floor while you were sleeping. Do the same thing for others but don’t overdo it that your seatmate would think you’re an scam artist trying to gain her sympathy. 🙂

Please forward this to your friends/families who travel a lot so we can make a contribution to making flying a truly enjoyable experience. For those in the airline industry, maybe you can reproduce copies of this and include in your inflight magazines. 🙂

[Re-post of a blog dated February 5, 2007 (from my previous site).]


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