Things You Should Never, Ever Do on a Plane

Interior of airplane with passengers on seats

Pollyana Ventura/istockphoto

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Interior of airplane with passengers on seats
Pollyana Ventura/istockphoto

Flight Plans

Can't wait to get on a plane and go somewhere, anywhere? Before you grab your carry-on, know that air travel has changed. From essential safety rules and new in-flight expectations to practical recommendations from industry insiders, here’s a handy guide to what not to do on a plane, ever — including bringing restricted food onboard as a few Australian travelers recently found out.


Related: Your New Air Travel Checklist

Dinner on an airplane

Eat Inappropriate Food or Forget to Declare It

If it smells, makes too much noise, or involves you slurping or crunching loudly, save it for your hotel room. We are all for living your best life (like these travelers on the Instagram account Passenger Shaming), but have some consideration for your fellow passengers and dine appropriately while onboard. 

Also, remember to always fill out the necessary customs declaration forms if you are bringing any food containing meat, fruits or dairy. 

A passenger traveling from Bali, Indonesia to Australia was recently fined almost $2,000 after failing to declare two McDonald's egg and beef sausage McMuffins and a ham croissant. The incident came days after Australian authorities enacted tougher security checks on visitors due to a recent Foot and Mouth disease outbreak reported in Indonesia — a popular destination for Australian tourists. 

A similar incident occurred to another flyer visiting Australia when she was asked to pay a $2,664 AUD fine (about $1,800 USD) for an unfinished Subway sandwich. The passenger said she had purchased the sandwich during a layover in Singapore and failed to declare "chicken and lettuce" from the unfinished sandwich in her carry-on, resulting in the hefty fine. 


Do This Instead: Check for security restrictions before heading to the airport — particularly on international flights — and consult this list of 20 Snacks to Pack to Avoid Airport Rip-Offs

Kids with face protective mask using mobile phone in airplane

Forget Your Mask (Now Optional)

On April 18, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that masks will no longer be required on airplanes, airports and all other public transportation.  However, passengers can still choose to wear a mask if they want to — and that might just be the safer choice — given that COVID-19 cases are rising again in much of the U.S. after Thanksgiving. 


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Flight attendant serving drinks in an airplane wearing a facemask

Be Unruly or Inappropriate Toward Flight Crew

Unless your idea of fun is being duct-taped to your seat for the duration of your flight, keep your bad behavior to yourself. Legally speaking, federal law prohibits interfering with aircraft crew or physically assaulting, or threatening to physically assault, aircraft crew or anyone else on an aircraft. Passengers can be subject to civil penalties, fines, and imprisonment for misconduct, which can be issued for everything from groping the staff to not wearing a face mask properly after repeated warnings to threatening the safety of the flight and staff. 

Do This Instead: FAA has a zero-tolerance policy for unruly and dangerous behavior by passengers, so unless you’re willing to risk hefty fines and possible jail time, be on your best behavior.


Related: Unbelievable Airline Incidents Through the Years

Business man traveling and wearing a facemask on the plane

Fake an Upgrade for Social Media Clout

Don’t be that influencer who gets caught out pretending to fly business when you’ve only paid for an economy seat. Thinking about filming your latest TikTok video while disembarking the plane? Maybe not. No one wants to be stuck in an enclosed space longer than is necessary, so don’t be a jerk. 


Do This Instead: If it's that important, why not cough up some frequent flyer miles? As for TikTok, unless you’re doing a mid-flight performance to entertain everyone, save your Renegade and Cannibal moves for the baggage claim area where you can do as many retakes as you like.  


Related: You Won't Believe What These Rewards-Savvy Travelers Got for Free

Stay Soft
Techa Tungateja/istockphoto

Access the Overhead Bin Excessively

If you’re that person constantly getting up mid-flight to access the overhead bin, you need to stop. Not only are you bothering the passengers next to you (yes, even if you’ve got the aisle seat) but you’re making your fellow bin buddies nervous with all that poking around. 

Do This Instead: Skylar Renslow of The Daily Grog advises: “Bring a small, packable tote or daypack and, before boarding, take out all of your in-flight necessities, e.g., headphones, laptop/iPad, books/Kindle, chargers, water, etc. ... When boarding time comes, you won’t have to take up the whole aisle taking all your crap out. Just throw your luggage on top and slide your tote/backpack underneath the seat in front of you.”


Related: Goodbye, Baggage Fees: 10 Carry-On Tips

Woman with little girl travelling by plane

Change Your Baby's Diaper in Your Seat

Diaper explosions will happen at the worst of times. While it’s tempting to change a tot on your lap, have a heart for your nearby travelers and have a plan to mitigate this very-likely-to-happen “disaster” more smoothly.

Do This Instead: The blog Trips With Tykes has this conundrum handled like a pro. The advice includes everything from using overnight diapers to packing a few disposable changing pads so you can do a diaper change on a closed toilet seat in a pinch. Our favorite tip, though, has to be to have diaper disposal bags (or zip-lock bags) on hand. Disposing of a soiled diaper in the airplane lavatory trash bin is just inconsiderate.

Woman traveling by plane wearing a facemask and sleeping onboard

Sleep During Takeoff or Landing

Travel pros know takeoff or landing is the worst time to doze off, as the change in pressure can affect hearing. “The pressure in your ears quickly changes when the plane takes off and, if you fall asleep, it can be much harder to adjust the pressure,” says Torben Lonne, co-founder and chief editor of “One time I fell asleep while we were taxiing, I missed the takeoff and the pressure in my ears became insane. I only noticed this when I woke up and realized I couldn't hear a thing. I literally asked people to yell at me so that I could hear them properly. It was quite embarrassing and really unnecessary.”

Do This Instead: Use the time to prep your space to sleep easy, and if you’re traveling with little ones, whip out a toy or activity to engage them. When it’s time to take off or land, offer a drink or some chewy or suckable sweets to help with the ear pressure. 


Insider Tip: If you’re coming off a diving trip, you need to wait at least 12 hours before flying. If you’ve done several dives, you need to wait 18 hours before boarding your flight.

business man holding a cup of beer in airplane

Fly Wasted

Travel anxiety is real and many travelers turn to a glass of wine or a cocktail to calm their nerves. Some passengers may resort to pre-gaming or bringing their own booze for onboard consumption. Both are a bad idea: Onboard pressure can boost the effect of alcohol due to the onset of altitude sickness. So while you might hold your liquor on the ground, in the air, you run the risk of flying wasted and making a nuisance of yourself. 


Do This Instead: While the Federal Aviation Administration does allow alcohol to be brought on board, it must remain in “unopened retail packaging,” so there go any plans to consume duty-free booze. If you’re going to drink, choose a lower ABV beverage or a drink like a bloody mary and hydrate yourself in between drinks. 

woman sitting on airplane with a mask

Overstay Your Welcome

While it’s tempting to make your seat buddy your new best friend, try to keep your enthusiasm in check and read the room (or in this case the row). Limit yourself to polite, light conversation with your neighbors until you’re sure they want to keep talking. Also, if they're masked, don’t take it personally if your neighbor prefers to keep mum.   

Do This Instead: “Read their body language and attitude,” says Joel Speyers of Prep4Travel. “If you ask them questions and they give you very short answers and don't follow up with questions of their own, they likely just want to be left alone.”

Tray table in down position on a airplane
Jodi Jacobson/istockphoto

Eat Directly Off the Tray Table

By now, every traveler knows doing a Naomi (a seat-to-tray disinfecting routine) is part of the traveling experience. Aside from wiping down the seat-belt buckle and sanitizing every button, don’t forget the tray table, as it is one of the dirtiest bits of the plane. A parent has likely changed a diaper on it, or a passenger may have thrown up on that surface before. 


Do This Instead: Some airlines are handing out mini sanitation kits, but you’re better off providing your own kit and travel accessories to nip these sanitary stressors in the bud. Check out this Airplane Pockets cover from Amazon, which covers the tray and provides pockets to hold all your essentials. 

Safety Information in Airplane Seat Back
Tamilisa Miner/istockphoto

Use the Seat Pocket

As much as airlines are making a concerted effort to keep planes sanitized, one area that always gets overlooked is the seat pocket. According to this viral Reddit thread, the pockets are “cleared of the rubbish but are never 'cleaned,'” which means anything from dirty tissues, used barf bags, socks, and food has previously lived in that same area where you’re about to stash your personal belongings. 


Do This Instead: This is one instance where convenience can take a backseat. Keeping what you need in a small bag by your feet is more sanitary than using the seat pocket. Make use of hooks (or bring your own 3M hook) to hang headphones and a small makeup bag, or just wear clothes with a lot of pockets.  

Female Travelers Wearing KN95 Masks on Airplane

Use Your Devices When You’re Not Supposed To

There's a good reason flight attendants ask you to put away your laptop at specific points during a flight. It’s not because it’ll burst into flames, but because it could become a high-speed projectile should there be a sudden change in plane speed. As for using mobile phones, Patrick Smith of Ask the Pilot clears the air on this controversial topic: While the phone can potentially (but not likely) disrupt cockpit equipment, the policy has more to do with airlines erring on the side of caution. 

Do This Instead: According to Ask The Pilot, in the United States, you can use your phone provided it is in airplane mode and in-flight texting and browsing are allowed via Wi-Fi. If you’re flying on an airline such as Emirates or Virgin Atlantic, which allow in-flight calling, then it’s okay to use your phone; just don’t go overboard. 

Mature Woman Wearing KN95 Mask While Sleeping on Airplane

Be a Couch Potato

We’re not suggesting you hit your daily step count pacing the aisle, but keep in mind that air pressure is lower at high altitudes, so your body will take in less oxygen. Keeping to your seat for the full flight will only aggravate dehydration or leg cramps, leaving you feeling less than optimal when you land. 


Do This Instead: “It’s important to move around and make circular movements with your ankles whilst sitting down to avoid DVT (deep vein thrombosis) blood clots,” says Giacomo Piva, co-founder of Radical Storage. “Take regular trips to the bathroom, and stand up every now and again to keep your circulation happy.”

Coffee in the airplane

Drink Water, Coffee, or Tea

Flight attendant Kat Kamalani gave us all the heebie-jeebies when she laid down some truth bombs around airline sanitation on TikTok: “Rule No. 1: Never consume any liquid that is not in a can or a bottle, the reason being is because those water tanks are never cleaned.”


Do This Instead: Get a collapsible water bottle like this one and fill it up once you’ve cleared security to ensure you’ve got water to drink. For hot drinks, either hold off or buy one before boarding and transfer to a thermal flask for your flight. 

Nervous Woman Holding Armrests Tight

Hog the Armrest When Seated by the Window or Aisle

We’ve all been caught in the dreaded middle seat and wondered to ourselves which armrest is ours. Technically, it’s both. Think about it: The window seat gets to control the opening/closing of the window shade, while aisle seat passengers never have to ask permission to exit their seats.


Do This Instead: Don’t take our word for it; trust Kamalani, who makes the case for middle seat rights in this video


Insider Tip: You can recline your seat, but be a decent human being and ask the person behind you first. Also, never recline your seat if there’s a meal service going on. 

emergency exit door in airplane

Crowd the Doorway/Exit

The same rule applies during boarding and deplaning: Wait your turn. By rushing to the front, you’re not going to save any time, and you’re certainly going to ruffle a few feathers. You may get first dibs on overhead bin space, but do you want to be that person? If you’re worried about missing a connecting flight, pay extra to be seated up front, or just get ready to sprint to your connecting gate when you’re safely off the plane. 


Do This Instead: Smith from Ask the Pilot laments: “In the old days, people stayed in their seats or otherwise off to the side until their row or zone was called. Nowadays, the instant the first pre-boarding call is announced, 200 people immediately stand up and get in line. Those near the front form a sort of impenetrable scrum around the boarding door, blocking the way for those passengers whose zones are being called. People are forced to elbow and shove their way to the front. Standing in line does NOT get you on the plane any faster. On the contrary, it makes the already tedious boarding process take that much longer.” 

Mother traveling with her son during the pandemic and fastening his seat belt while wearing facemasks

Hate on Families With Kids

No one wants to sit next to a crying baby, especially the parents of the baby. Certainly, ask for a seat change if it’s possible — the parents will likely be relieved and thankful for the extra space — but you’re unlikely to get it if you’re throwing shade and showing the flight attendants attitude. 


Do This Instead: “If you roll your eyes and sigh in disgust when you find out you’re seated in front of a family with young children, don’t assume that your reaction will get you a seat change,” says travel and insurance expert Melanie Musson. “The nastier you are, the less likely the flight attendants will be willing to assist you in finding a different seat. Instead of contributing to stress, offer a kind word of encouragement to the parents. You’ll look good and have a better chance of getting on everyone’s good side.”


Related: 15 Expert Secrets to Stress-Free Flying

A Thing You Should Never Do on an Airplane - Barefoot

Go Barefoot at Any Point

An airplane is not your home, not even if you’re in first class. While it’s a mark of respect in some cultures to go shoeless indoors, there’s no reason a pair of socks can’t come into play. After all, you’ll need to take your shoes off to go through security, and frankly, bare feet in an enclosed space are just nasty. Also, it’s an actual safety concern: If you’re not wearing your shoes during takeoff and landing, they might block the aisle in an emergency. Plus, you’ll want to keep your feet protected if you have to evacuate. 


Do This Instead: Here’s our suggestion for some comfortable, durable merino wool socks.


Insider Tip: If you’re going to stretch your feet beyond your seat’s actual pitch length, keep them hidden and not peeking out.

Woman traveling by plane wearing a facemask

Decorate Someone’s Screen With Your Hair

Airplanes aren’t particularly spacious, especially if you’re traveling in economy class. Personal space is already limited, so be mindful and don’t flip your hair over the top of your chair. 

Do This Instead: Rather than face the wrath of the passenger behind you or being chided by a flight attendant, keep your locks bundled up with this multi-functional travel scarf.  


Insider Tip: Don’t fly with a full face of makeup, either. Air travel is notorious for drying out the skin, so remove your makeup, slather on some moisturizer, and do a mini makeover pre-landing so you arrive looking rested.

Airplane seat

Rest Your Head on the Window

The highly sought-after window seat comes with a dirty secret: It’s filthy. At least according to flight attendant Tommy Cimato, who said in a TikTok video: "You don't know how many people or children have wiped their hands or other things all over the window." Think we’ll stick with the aisle seat for our next flight.  


Do This Instead: Make sanitizing the plane window part of your wipe-down procedure. If you’re still feeling icky about it, try a travel pillow, which can act as a barrier between your scalp and the window.