We've all been there: A flight suddenly turns sour when someone, obviously completely unaware of good social flight etiquette, does something to disturb the peace. It could be something as simple as carrying on a conversation at length, even after we've stopped responding, or something as cataclysmic as requesting a seat swap for no good reason. Whatever the case might be, there is an unspoken social etiquette when it comes to flying - and it's one that some people aren't even aware of.


This guide throws the plane passenger into a variety of different scenarios, complete with the right (and wrong) thing to do, according to what proper social flight etiquette says. And, of course, no guide would be complete without additional tips on how to deal with rude passengers - of which, there are unfortunately many.

Related: First-Class First-Timer: Unspoken Flight Etiquette To Follow

Awkward Flight Scenario: Is Talking On The Plane Actually Rude?

At one point in everyone's life, they will more than likely encounter a person on a flight that wishes to do nothing more than converse with their neighbor. While this can be a friendly gesture, it can also be one that feels invasive for someone who opts out of being social on flights. Reader's Digest recommends several things in this case for chatty parties: the first is checking to see if one's neighbor has avoided eye contact. If they have, that's usually a pretty good indication that they're not open to conversing or connecting in any way. The second is to use gentle, soft tones when conversing, and go the extra step to observe a cautious approach rather than jumping into a full-blown conversation.

  • Tip: Start with a smile - if it's unreturned or seems strained from their side, avoid talking at all costs.

Stuck in this situation?

For those who find themselves in this sticky chatter of a situation, there are some easy outs. The first is to simply excuse oneself, whether it be literally to the restroom, or figuratively with something like headphones or a book. It might seem awkward given a long flight stuck next to the same person for one to excuse themselves without actually leaving, but it's a surefire way to negate a conversation.

The second way to get out of this is to immediately start off the flight with one's intentions. This could be taking a book out as soon as one sits down, or immediately popping in one earbud (preferably, in the ear closest to one's neighbor as it'll be the most obvious indication of wanted silence).

Awkward Flight Scenario: Someone Has Asked To Switch Seats

Now, for one of the biggest questions regarding social flight etiquette: does a person need to switch seats if they've been asked to by another passenger? First off, it's important to remember, as stressed by Airfare Watchdog, that a passenger's seat remains their own - even if they've been asked to swap. This applies no matter what; whether the seat is a window seat on a packed plane, or if it's a seat in an empty row located by the restrooms. No one person has any right to force a person to give up their seat, with the exception of being asked by the flight crew.

  • Things To Consider: If the flight one is being asked to give up is in a better location, that usually means a passenger has paid more for it. In which case, it's absolutely within one's rights to deny a seat swap - even to a family or someone who seemingly has a good reason. Etiquette says that if someone is paying extra for the seat - and it's obvious - then other passengers are equally out of line by asking to switch with the exchange being a lesser seat.

Stuck in this situation?

A good way to get out of refusing a seat swap without looking like an insensitive person is to provide a reason (although it's entirely unnecessary). The reason might be motion sickness or having to frequently use the restroom, or even social or regular anxiety. This helps to relieve the pressure of simply just saying 'no.' Chances are, the person requesting the seat swap is likely well aware of the fact that a big 'ol 'no' is potentially an answer - so keep that in mind, as well.

  • Tip: For those who genuinely don't mind switching seats, in the case of a family wanting to be together, for example, there's no etiquette to know other than simply saying 'sure.'

Awkward Flight Scenario: Dealing With A Rude Passenger, Overall

Alternatively, there might be a time when one is required to deal with someone who is just a rude plane passenger. It could (unforunately) be someone sitting next to them, or someone who is making a general scene on the plane. Regardless, the rule is always the same: remain calm and be as polite and level-headed as possible. Flights make people nervous and the smallest thing can set a passenger off, such as a delayed takeoff or a lack of immediate service when calling for a flight attendant. De-escalating the situation is the same goal, no matter the situation.

Stuck in that situation?

The answer is simple: allow flight attendants and crew to handle it. If the situation needs attention brought to it, don't hesitate to use that call button, either. Everyone is somewhat uncomfortable on planes, but no one deserves to be intentionally made to feel any discomfort.

Next: Comfort Via Carry-On: Unpacking The Best Flight Hacks