The Unwritten Rules Of Flying...

Taking the turbulence out of travel by knowing the rules of engagement on a plane.

Whether it’s a city weekend, a snow strike, surf safari, or a six-month sabbatical, a flight is a gateway to new experiences, friendships, and memories. 

After all, you can’t have the destination without the journey. Aviation is a modern, high-altitude miracle and a key part of the travelling experience. However, it does come loaded with a unique set of unwritten and written codes. From armrests to exit strategies, there are as many rules of engagement on a plane as there are epic destinations to expand your horizons. Here we unravel those rules to take the turbulence out of your next mission. 

Who Owns Which Armrest?

“Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity.” Said Samuel Johnson, the inventor of the dictionary. And so it goes with armrests. If we take the example of a row of three seats, there are three passengers, six arms, and four armrests. You do the math. 

Now a recent study of flight attendants saw that the majority favoured the middle passenger getting both middle armrests; no ifs, buts… or elbows. The aisle and window, we assume by virtue of their better seats, get one each. 

If everyone followed those rules, there would be no need to elbow over disputed territory, and you can hurtle through time and airspace, travelling at peace with you and your fellow travel companions towards a bright future. 

If, When, and How to Recline?

In terms of really getting to the nub of someone’s real personality, there are few better questions than “Do you recline?” Db’s own Jon Weaver, is unequivocal. “Hell no! I resist and even push the seat up.”

Other recliners, the collective term of which is a Jason, believe the seats tilt back for a reason. In a sometimes cramped environment, that little button is one of the only sources of true freedom. 

However reclining only works if everyone reclines. The whole system falls down when a non-recliner, say Weaver, who is a fair and reasonable man, is suddenly pushing against the seat ahead as if he is holding a dam wall from collapsing on his wife and children. 

The key, as with life, is that compromises can be made. No recliner should ever be tilted back at mealtimes. Common courtesy also dictates you alert the passenger behind before heading towards the horizontal. Long-haul overnight flights also make reclining mandatory. Ultimately, the power rests with the passenger with that little button. Use it wisely. 

How To Disembark

Every person right mind who has ever been on a plane should know the rules of disembarking. Passengers in front go first, followed in order by those in the row behind. Aisle seats first, followed by those in the middle and window seat. Simple right?

And yet some travellers just can’t resist. We’ve all seen passengers (and we won’t say which nationality are the worst offenders) who grab their overhead luggage when the plane is still moving and try and steal a few precious metres of ground up the plane towards the exit. In war, that would be called an offensive. On a plane, it is also called offensive. 

On the other scale, we’ve all waited for able-bodied passengers seated in front who take an eternity to get their luggage and belongings together, thus holding up the entire process. The rules thus are easy; leave in an orderly manner be ready, be patient… and don’t be a dick. 

To Clap or Not To Clap on Landing

As cringe as your 75-year-old Uncle Bruno doing a Cardi B dance on TikTok? Or simply a cultural tradition of celebrating a safe landing? As evidence of the former, a recent poll of 2000 Americans found that 14 per cent of the survey had ended a relationship with someone who clapped when a plane landed. Let’s call it the ultimate travelling “ick.” Others, let’s call them French, see it as a polite appreciation to the cabin and crew who delivered you safely to the destination. Personally, it seems a little over the top - you rarely applaud a bus driver getting to your stop, or an Uber driver who drops you off at a restaurant. As with most of these rules of engagement, it’s a matter of safety in numbers. Read the room wrong, and you’ll be clapping on your own, thus inflicting scorn and embarrassment on you and your family. On the flipside, not clapping when the whole plane is, seems an unnecessary act of spite. The choice as ever, is with you.