Plane etiquette: It’s rather simple stuff

Do people travel like barbarians? David Szmidt compares results of a plane etiquette survey to his own British experience 

This week, British Airways surveyed passengers from the UK, the US, Italy, France and Germany to try and clear up, once and for all, the etiquette of being a plane passenger.

The vast majority of travellers agrees that saying hello to the passenger next to you is acceptable. Some of them prefer a short chit chat — Shutterstock
The vast majority of travellers agrees that greeting passengers next to you is fine. Some of them prefer a short chit-chat — Shutterstock

I then, scientifically and methodically, compared these results to what I think. After all, when I’m flying, the only things that bug me are the things that bug me. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

Anyway, it turns out that when it comes to flying, Brits are not the oh-dear whoops-a-daisy after-you-no-after-you-no-really-I-insist Hugh Grant standing bumbling in the rain types that people think we are.

Firstly, discovering your seatmates. 83% of travellers think it’s fine to give a quick smile and a “Hello” to the people you’re about to share your space with. Fine by me.

After that, 80% of Italians and 50% of French people reckon that it’s acceptable to continue to make small talk throughout the flight. Here’s where I start to disagree. Small talk about what? You don’t know that person.

I’ve never been massively good at starting conversations with strangers. Where’s your point of reference? The only times I’ve conversed with strangers on a flight were when they’d started it, and both times it was to do with what I was wearing. A Zbrojovka Brno football scarf piqued the interest of the Brit next to me once, and a Smiths t-shirt was admired by a girl on a flight to Charlotte.

She kept talking to me, which was nice, but she thought I looked pale and shaky because I was terrified of flying and she took it upon herself to be friendly and encouraging. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was because I was suffering from the worst hangover of my life.

Not many travellers agree with poking snoring passengers. Although, waking them up to let you pass to the toilet is alright — Shutterstock
Not many travellers agree with poking snoring passengers. Although, waking them up to let you pass to the toilet is alright — Shutterstock

Now, armrests. Passive-aggressive shuffling of elbows into position? Just straight-out asking if you can have it? Or have both if you’re in the middle seat? I reckon the passenger in the middle should get both armrests.

The middle seat is awful and any extra comfort should be welcomed. 47% of Brits seem to agree with me, whereas the same number of passengers from Germany say all armrests should be asked for, regardless of seat.

So, now you’re comfortable, can you take your shoes off? 59% of travellers across the board say that’s absolutely fine, as long as you keep your socks on. 87% of those surveyed said it is unacceptable to remove your socks.

Yep, I’d agree with that. I don’t want to see your feet – especially not poking through the gap between the seats. What are you, a barbarian? (As an aside, why would you want to take your socks off? I doubt I want to know what manner of grime and awfulness is contained in the fibres of a plane’s carpet.)

38% of Brits would take an empty seat that is not theirs. 62% of polite Americans would ask a member of the crew if the can move — Shutterstock
38% of Brits would take an empty seat. 62% of Americans would ask a member of the crew if they can move — Shutterstock

Your seatmate has fallen asleep, and he’s a snorer. Do you poke him to try and make him stop? 66% of passengers said no, and it was Americans who absolutely wouldn’t. Only 11% reckon it’s okay to poke a snoring neighbour, although 20% of Brits say they’d happily shove him and make it seem like an accident. Make of that what you will.

It is, however, acceptable to wake someone if you need to get past them to use the bathroom – in fact, 80% of people would do this as opposed to attempting to clamber over them.

I try to avoid sleeping on public transport anyway. I’m not an attractive sleeper. Travelling is hard enough work without having to see my gaping maw, to the point where you prod me to wake me up and I jerk back to consciousness with a dribble and a startled snort. It’s not good.

Finally, if there’s a seat empty which you like the look of, can you just take it? 38% of Brits would, once the seatbelt sign is off. 62% of polite Americans would ask a member of the crew if it was okay to move.

So there you have it. Basically, don’t be awful. It’s not your house. We all know travelling can be cramped, uncomfortable and boring, but we’re all in the same situation. Why on earth would you go out of your way to make it more unpleasant for those around you?

Please don’t. And anyway, I reserve the right to stand on your bare feet and make it look like an accident.