In-Flight Etiquette for the Business Traveler

When it comes to flying, even business travelers must pay close attention to what may or may not be rude. Short of hiring a private jet, every airline experience you receive will be highly dependent on the courtesy of other passengers around you. The only way to ensure that your flights go without a hitch is to do your part to make sure your in-flight neighbors’ flight goes just as well—and that requires following in-flight etiquette.


Choosing the Right Seat

While some first class seating on international flights are so good that no one choice is better than another, on most flights, you will need to choose what seat you sit in in advance. Don’t choose a window seat if you’re the type who likes to get up often, and don’t choose an aisle seat if you enjoy looking out the window. No seat is best overall, as every seat usually has drawbacks in addition to its advantages, but we should all be aware of what we personally prefer out of a seat.


Using Adjacent Overhead Bins

If your flight uses overhead bins and you are an early boarder, try to avoid stowing your luggage into the bins of adjacent empty rows. Very little is more annoying for late boarders than to find that the overhead bin for their row is already full even though no one has been seated in their row yet.


Bothering Your Seatmates

Occasionally, people will complain about a window shade or a neighbor eating at irregular times, but the travel community as a whole tends to agree that such complaints are unwarranted. Whoever is in the window seat may choose to have the window shade up or down, regardless of what an aisle seat passenger might prefer. Eating during a flight is to be expected, even when attendants are not yet serving food — so long as the food is not overly smelly. Talking is okay, but only so long as your seatmate wants to talk. If they do not seem interested in your conversation, though, don’t try to keep up a one-sided lecture, and always recognize the universal signal for letting others know you do not want to talk: putting on headphones.


When the Rules are Unclear

However, the rules of etiquette start to get a little hazy when it comes to more nuanced situations with strangers sitting next to you. Should we limit the time we spend on certain activities that might bother our neighbors? Some people think it is rude to sleep on short flights, or to keep a bright laptop light on when most of the flight is sleeping. Others insist that so long as the noise level is kept down, there is no problem with using an iPad or other bright screen, even when everyone else is asleep. It is hard to say definitively whether these count as breaches of etiquette.


The Seat Recline

Yet perhaps no other topic is more hotly debated in the world of airline etiquette than that of seat reclining. When exactly is it appropriate to recline one’s seat? Some people claim steadfastly that seat reclining is always appropriate and never requires consent from the person behind you. Others feel just as strongly that reclining seats are meant only to be used on long flights and that reclining one’s seat on a short flight is unbelievably rude to the person in the next row down. Often, two travelers who agree on other matters of etiquette may easily disagree on this one issue quite vehemently. It’s difficult to predict which people will think reclining one’s seat is rude and which will think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. Unless you are traveling first class on an international flight or are sitting in the very first row, the seat recline question is a matter of etiquette that you should at least think about before blindly reclining your seat.


No matter your personal opinions, the important thing is to always try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. In the end, that’s all that any etiquette stems from, especially for the business traveler who is representing both himself and his company.