Unspoken rules of seat etiquette

Unspoken rules of seat etiquette

“When you’re on an airplane, there’s a thing called ‘plane etiquette’ and it goes like this: Window [seat] gets an armrest and a wall, middle gets two armrests, aisle gets an armrest and a little bit of extra leg.

“We are not … animals, we live in a society.”

For international comedian Jim Jefferies, seat etiquette isn’t a science but simply a list of unspoken rules passed down from traveller to traveller that serve as a guideline on how to behave properly when on planes, trains, buses and the like. For some, such courtesies – like who gets dibs on the two middle armrests – are common sense. But for others, confusion and panic set in as they try to calculate whether they’re being taken advantage of by their airborne neighbours.

So how do you avoid becoming a loathsome rule-breaker?

Don’t lean back in economy class

We all know that, with little space left in between seats on public transport, you can only recline your chair about an inch or so if you’re lucky. So if you’re not travelling for long, it’s best to leave well enough alone and keep your seat ahead so you don’t hit the knee, laptop or small child of the person behind you. During a meal, there should be no reclining at all as you’ll just make the already-difficult task of balancing your tray all the more stressful.

If, however, you can’t live without that small, added comfort, the best thing to do is give the passenger behind you a heads up and ask if you’re in the clear to lean back. When reclining, be courteous and move slowly so you don’t upset any food or drink.

Shoes on or off? You decide

A good rule of thumb is to leave your shoes on your feet if your trip is under three hours long, but no one knows your howling dogs better than you, so the choice is yours. Your decision should be based on your own foot odour, so if you know your feet will reek, be considerate and leave them on. If not, let freedom reign!

Just be sure to move your shoes out of the way of others and, most importantly, always wear your socks; going barefoot is cause for banishment.  

Switching and giving up seats

Consider swapping seats to allow a family to sit together, do not hog the view from the window seat and, when your compartment is full, always offer up your seat to any pregnant women, young children, the elderly and those with a physical disability.

If you’re looking to strike up a conversation with someone sitting two seats over, never try to talk over the person sitting in the middle. A quick exchange is acceptable, but anything longer than simple pleasantries and you should ask the middle person to switch seats. More often than not, they’re happy to oblige, but if you’d like to soften them up, be sure to ask if they’d prefer to have the window or aisle seat and execute accordingly.  

Please, stand up

No one wants to awkwardly climb overtop of you when going to the bathroom, so don’t make them. There isn’t enough room to comfortably squeeze through by simply leaning your legs over to the side or contorting your body like an acrobat, so whether you’re in the Gillette Stadium or a small plane flying off the coast, always stand up when letting someone get back to their seat.

Avoid being a kicker or grabber

This isn’t exclusive to restless kids and bratty teenagers, and is in fact one of the most overlooked aspects of seat etiquette. You should always be aware of the seat in front of you, because there’s nothing more annoying than dealing with someone kicking the back of your chair over the course of a seven-hour flight, and is the quickest way to burn out someone’s short fuse.

Your feet should always be planted on the ground; you shouldn’t be pushing or straining against the back of someone’s chair; and, when leaving or returning to your seat, do not grab or lean on the chair in front of you.

Considerate sleeping

Sleeping can be such a hassle when you have limited space to get comfortable. The best thing to help ensure your good rest and your neighbour’s piece of mind is to bring a travel pillow so you can sleep without invading other people’s space.

If you have an extra seat to cosy into, then you should absolutely take advantage, but be mindful of your neighbours and make sure you’re not stretched out so far that you’re pushing your boundaries or blocking any access to the aisle.

Exit efficiently

Watching people exit a bus, plane or train is like watching a stampede of elementary kids bolting out of class at the sound of the last bell: A chaotic nightmare.

It is always best to avoid jamming up the aisles when trying to exit, so you should remain seated until the person in the row ahead of you has left their seat. Gather all of your belongings before moving into the aisle, empty any stowaway luggage as quickly as possible and keep the line moving.

Whatever you’re trying to do, remember to be courteous. Before doing anything that may infringe on someone else’s travel needs, think about how you would feel if the tables were reversed. While most believe these rules of etiquette are sacred, it’s important to keep in mind that if any are violated, you should keep your cool, be polite and try to be as discreet as possible in order to avoid a confrontation. Erring on the side of caution is always best practice.

And remember: We are not animals, we live in a society.

Gina Alward
Travel blogger for thehereandwow.com and member of the Travel Media Association of Canada. Follow her adventures on twitter (@ginaalward), Facebook (The Here and Wow) and Instagram (@thehereandwow).

Note: This article has been adapted from its original, published by Telegraph-Journal on Dec. 30, 2016. Dates have been updated to reflect 2018 schedule. Click here for link.
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