The reality of air travel in the 21st century is that flying economy is unpleasant.
Airlines are cutting service and packing planes to improve razor-thin profit margins, while flights aren't getting any shorter. And customers are feeling the pain: A United Airlines flight was recently forced to divert after two passengers got in a fight over a gadget called the Knee Defender that stopped one from reclining her seat.
If you don't have the cash or the points to secure an upgrade, there are ways to make flying more pleasant, but they depend on everyone's cooperation.
We've put together a list of 13 basic rules of etiquette, based on our own flying experiences and some expert opinions. Follow them, and your next flight might just be bearable — as long as everyone else follows them, too.
Alex Davies wrote an earlier version of this story.#1 Remember how security works.
This is all about thinking a few steps ahead, so you get through the screening process as quickly as possible.
Before you get to the X-ray machine, take everything out of your pockets. Put it all in your bag, or the pocket of a coat that you'll put through the machine.
When your belongings come out, collect them quickly and move to a spot where you’re not blocking anyone. Then you can put your shoes and belt on.
#2 Don't hog the overhead bin.
In the era of checked-bag fees, carry-on space is at a premium. If you have two carry-on bags, keep the smaller one at your feet.
And, as the flight attendants will most likely remind you, don't take up someone else's space by putting your bag in the bin horizontally.
#3 Be kind to the flight attendants.
Flight attendants didn't create the rules about stowing tray tables, wearing seat belts, and restoring seatbacks before landing. Giving them a hard time is obnoxious and can delay your takeoff.
At least the FAA ended its longstanding ban on the use of certain electronic devices during takeoff and landing late last year.
#4 If you must recline, do it carefully.
The right to recline one's seat is a topic of debate, but we say, if the seat goes back, take advantage.
Gary Leff, who writes the blog View from the Wing, agrees, but he tells Business Insider that "some courtesy is appropriate." To preserve his own space, he once gave a young girl $5 (with her mother's permission) in exchange for not reclining her seat, an original solution.
If you don't want to open your wallet, make sure to look behind you before you recline. Maybe warn the fellow traveler whose space you are about to invade so that person can hang onto his or her drink or adjust his or her laptop.
And stay upright during meals.
#5 Keep your children in check.
Both flights and misbehaving children can induce headaches. Together, they are almost certain to.
Parents, make an extra effort to keep your kids in check. You may be exhausted, but they are your responsibility.
For passengers with complaints: Talk to the parents, don’t scold the kid. It's not your place to correct the behavior of a stranger's child, and you are more likely to annoy the only people who can stop the kicking of your seat.
NBC Travel columnist James Wysong adds a plea for patience: "Have a heart. Sometimes kids just unravel — no matter how hard you try. Besides, you were a kid once, too."
#6 Don't get hammered.
Having a few drinks is a fine way to pass the time, but keep yourself in check.
You open the door to annoying everyone around you, reeking of booze and needing to get up to use the lavatory every 20 minutes.
And you could end up like the Icelandair passenger who was taped to his seat after drunkenly grabbing women, choking other passengers, and screaming that the plane was going to crash.
#7 Middle seat gets the armrests.
Unlike the passengers in the aisle or window seat, whoever is in the middle seat has no room to stretch his or her feet or rest his or her head.
In our opinion, it is only fair to yield that person both of the armrests. In 2011, The Wall Street Journal asked a panel of six experts to weigh in: five agreed with our take.
Only etiquette expert Anne Post disagreed: "There is no innate winner of the arm-rest battle. If I'm in the middle seat, I try to claim one. They are not both yours for the duration."
#8 Consider your odor.
Obviously, bad body odor is a terrible thing to inflict on your fellow passengers. Take a shower before heading to the airport if possible, and use deodorant.
Keep in mind that overly strong cologne or perfume can be as unpleasant as BO in close quarters.
And if you're picking up food before your flight, stick to something that doesn't emit too much of a scent.
#9 Don't force anyone to talk to you.
If you feel like striking up a conversation, go ahead. You can meet new and interesting people and maybe make the experience of air travel a bit more pleasant.
But if the other person is clearly not engaged, let it drop: Many people just want to endure the flight in silence but will most likely be too polite to just ignore you.
On the other hand, if someone starts talking to you and you don’t feel like chatting, be polite, but make it clear you have other things to do.
You can open a book, slowly put your headphones on, or just conk out.
NBC's Wyson makes another point: Even if you and your neighbor are having a great chat, your neighbors may not appreciate it: "If your conversation with a willing neighbor goes on for more than 10 minutes, take it to the back of the airplane."
#10 Get up only at convenient times.
Think ahead when planning your bathroom breaks. If you see a flight attendant with a cart in the aisle, stay put.
You could easily end up with the cart between you and your seat. Depending on the flight attendant, you'll be stuck in the aisle until the service is complete, or delay service so the cart can back up and you can sit back down.
It goes without saying that getting up before the dinner trays have been collected is taboo.
#11 Think about how you choose to sleep.
It's tough to get comfortable on an airplane, but if you're in a middle or aisle seat, leave a way for whoever is next to you to get through without waking you up. (That means you should avoid using the tray table as a headrest.)
You may want to invest in a neck pillow to avoid winding up snoozing on your neighbor's shoulder.
#12 Respect the lavatory.
This one's simple: Don't take a lot of time, and don't make a mess. There are probably people waiting to get in there, and they deserve a clean lavatory as much as you do.
That being said, the lavatory is unlikely to be very clean, which brings up another point: Don't try to join the Mile High Club. Not only is it inappropriate, you're exposing yourself to germs.
An a flight attendant said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything, "Let me tell you something, those toilets are FILTHY. Absolute FILTH."
#13 Get off the plane politely and efficiently.
Remember that everyone is as eager to get off the plane as you are. Don't crowd into the aisle if there isn't room, and let everyone ahead of you get out before making a move.
You’ll have plenty of time to prepare before it’s your turn to exit, so make sure you have everything, and that you don't take any more time than you need to.
Ready to think about an upgrade?
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