The rules of flying like a decent human

From reclining your seat to deboarding, we’ve got your guide to flying etiquette

(Washington Post Illustration)

The airlines are largely to blame for why flying is so unpleasant; they’re the ones overbooking flights and stuffing passengers into seats with just a few inches of legroom.

But it’s also on us — the travelers.

We’ve gone from seeing flying as a glamorous affair worthy of dressing up to a stressful and uncomfortable experience, but that shouldn’t be a pass for leaving our manners at home. For fliers who may need a refresher on in-flight etiquette, this guide is for you.

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Don’t be part of the boarding mob

You’re sitting at the gate, doing your best to exist at the airport in peace. For some people, it doesn’t matter what time boarding begins; they’re going to descend on the boarding zone like a pack of hyenas encroaching on a fresh carcass.

Don’t be part of “The Mob.” Be a civilized member of society and wait until your boarding group is called. It’s great to be early for your flight and ready to go — and it’s fair to be worried about overhead bin space filling up — but if you can’t get on the plane yet anyway, cool your jets and wait.

Once you’re shuffling down the aisle, remember the tender skulls of your fellow travelers and do your best not to whack them with your luggage. For more advice on boarding with grace, read travel columnist Chris Elliott’s final word on the topic.

Know the rules of your seat

The etiquette of sitting in your seat depends on your seat assignment. What applies to the window or aisle seat doesn’t apply to the poor soul in the middle seat.

So we’ll break it down for you.

If you’re in the aisle, your job is to be a gracious gatekeeper to let the other passengers in and out of the row. (For more details on your duties, click here.)

If you’re by the window, you have the final say on whether the shade stays up or down — excluding flight attendant instruction, but be mindful of when solar rays are burning the corneas of your fellow travelers (here are your other responsibilities).

And if you’re in the middle, sorry. This assignment is like picking the shortest straw. As a reward, you get both armrests. What you do not get is permission to sprawl. Keep your legs in your lane and don’t droop over your neighbor’s shoulder. (Here are a few more thoughts on your middle seat duties).

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Keep your shoes on — or at least your socks

We all know flying is uncomfortable and can make your feet swell. It’s nice to take a load off and get your tootsies out. But being on a plane is being in public, and public is dirty.

As Ebonie Vincent, podiatrist and star of the TLC series “My Feet Are Killing Me,” told us, walking barefoot through public places like airport security and on airplane carpet can expose travelers to fungus, bacteria and viruses that can cause infections or warts.

If it doesn’t gross you out to be barefoot on a plane, remember it will probably gross out the people around you. Do them a favor and at least don socks for the occasion, and keep your feet away from their armrest.

And for the love of god, do not go barefoot to the lavatory.

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Think before you recline

Reclining your airplane seat is another heated debate that drives people to violence. Literally.

It’s true that you paid for your seat and should be able to use it as you’d like, but there’s an etiquette. Before you fling your seat back to get that extra two inches of lean, take a look at who’s in the seat behind you.

Is it a small child? Go wild and recline. Is it a person whose knees are already crammed into your seat? Is it a person working with a laptop on their tray table? Do them a solid, and don’t recline.

Here are more arguments in case you need them.

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Leave the egg salad at home

Be mindful of the food you pack for your flight. The fragrance of food is subjective; you may love the smell of steamed Brussels sprouts but the rest of the plane may have a different take. Avoid bringing intensely aromatic food on board.

Also consider what it’ll be like to eat the food in flight. Soup? Soup’s a bad idea. Soup has the potential to slop all over the place.

Keep general manners in mind as you eat. Would you drop food on the floor at a friend’s house and leave it for them to pick up? Hopefully not. Do your best to pass your garbage to flight attendants as they walk the aisles. And particularly in the age of coronavirus, avoid licking your fingers, as you’ll be touching shared surfaces.

We put the rules into writing.

Find the best sleeping position

There’s no best way to sleep on a plane. There are, however, many ways. We asked travelers to share their preferred in-flight sleeping positions to find out exactly how it can be done. Do we endorse them all? No. But you can get some creative ideas. Just remember: No one wants to wake up to a mouth-breathing stranger asleep on their shoulder.

And if you are looking for the best travel pillow to get the job done, we’ve got you covered here.

Let others mask in peace

Masking — on planes and otherwise — is a divisive issue that can draw intense emotions on both sides of the debate.

If you don’t want to mask on the plane, there are no laws stopping you. But don’t be a jerk to people who still mask. They are concerned about getting or spreading coronavirus, so let them be.

Should they ask you to mask for whatever reason — maybe they have an immunocompromised family member at home — consider their request with empathy.

And for those who would like to make such a request, here’s advice from psychology and etiquette experts on how to do it.

Grooming is for home, not in your seat

You have a lot of idle time on a plane, but you don’t have to fill it with the grooming you forgot to do at home. Clipping your nails and flossing can wait until you land.

If you’re really desperate, attend to your grooming needs in the lavatory. But like with food, skip anything with strong fragrance. Here are the rest of our official do’s and don’ts of in-flight grooming.

Wait your turn to get off the plane

Congratulations, your plane has successfully landed. Clap if that’s your thing. But know that it’s unspoken airplane law to wait until it’s your row’s turn before you step into the aisle. It just goes more smoothly.

You’re probably feeling cramped and achy, so it’s natural to want to jump up and stretch your legs. You can do that — so long as you’re not attempting to pressure those around you to get out of the way so you can get off the plane as fast as possible.

If someone is sitting in front of you, be mindful of manhandling their chair to propel yourself out of yours. They don’t need whiplash.

Freaking out about missing a connecting flight? Keep that stress in mind next time you’re booking your trip; reserve a seat closer to the front of the plane.