Don’t Be That Guy: Travel Do’s And Don’ts

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

As we gear up for the busy summer travel season, I thought it might be helpful to give some tips for navigating ever more crowded airports and planes. Granted, you might not want to take etiquette tips from someone who has stumbled into a first class lounge in his pajamas, but I like to think I’ve learned a bit since then. 😉

This summer US airlines will carry over 220 million passengers, and load factors should top 90%. Furthermore, as far as many people are concerned, the flying experience is more unpleasant than ever before, given how many seats airlines have crammed onto planes. So it has never been more important to practice good plane etiquette.

Pack light

There are two factors at work here. One, you don’t want to check a bag if you can avoid it. Even with sophisticated systems, checked bags are often lost or even just delayed. If you can keep to a carry-on, you have more options in case of schedule disruptions.

Beyond that, don’t overpack your carry-on! While most frequent travelers (myself included) are accustomed to taking “generously” sized suitcases onboard, airlines and airport staff seem to be enforcing bag sizes more and more.

You probably don’t need a third of the stuff you’re planning on bringing anyway, in my experience.

Dress appropriately

And by “appropriately” I really mean “wear clothes, including socks.”

You don’t need to dress up for a domestic flight, but having layers you can adjust with the temperature will make your trip more pleasant. Exposing too much skin is uncomfortable for everyone, particularly on a crowded plane.


Airplanes are also gross, so I don’t recommend going barefoot on a plane. If you do choose to wear sandals, make sure you’ve at least had a pedicure beforehand, and don’t put your feet on the bulkhead or seatbacks, for everyone else’s sake.

Allow extra time

When I lived in Seattle I’d generally leave for the airport about 90 minutes before my flight, if that. This is not a good idea if you’re traveling with family, are checking bags, don’t already have your boarding pass, or aren’t eligible for Pre-Check.

Even if security is running smoothly, you’ll want to plan extra time for traffic, parking, check-in, etc. Fuller planes mean more competition for airport resources so all lines — from the ticket counter to the restroom — will be longer.


Help yourself

In most cases, you can check in online for your flight, which enables you to print your boarding pass at home. Even better, mobile boarding passes can be sent directly to your phone, which means one less thing to carry.

You can also pre-pay baggage fees online, and in some cases can even self-tag your checked luggage. Keep up to date on your flight status, and have the airline’s phone number ready to go in case of cancellations or delays.

In general, you want to do everything you can to avoid queuing at the ticket counter, or otherwise making your travel day more difficult than it needs to be.

Plan for security

Clearing security during summer vacation is always exciting. You have the families trying to keep all their stuff together, huge groups of teenagers on school trips who aren’t paying attention, the person who somehow in 2015 doesn’t know they can’t bring their full-size toothpaste, and the business travelers who are frustrated that no one else knows what is going on.

Give yourself plenty of time, and don’t cut the line. You can also speed up your wait at security by getting a Pre-Check membership (included with Global Entry), which is the TSA’s trusted traveler program. It’s also worth noting that through the TSA managed-inclusion program, you might have access to “Pre-Check” even if you’re not a frequent traveler. If so, you’ll have a special line, and you don’t need to remove your shoes or take anything out of your bag.

Pay attention to the signage, and follow the instructions — life will be better for everyone.

Bring a snack

This might sound like an elementary field trip suggestion, but for the most part airlines aren’t giving any free snacks anymore, though you can often purchase something (by credit card only).

So bring something to tide you over, particularly if traveling with children. Be courteous to your fellow passengers by not stinking up the plane with smelly food like tuna, burgers, etc.; a sandwich, fresh fruit, or packaged snacks are much better options.

Heck, I wish I had brought a snack on my recent nine hour flight from Washington to Houston.

Don’t crowd the gate

I realize everyone is excited, and airports are stressful places, but there’s no need to crowd the gate area. Every time I board a domestic flight there are dozens of people standing on the carpet “ready” to board. This ends up blocking the lane, and actually slows the boarding process.

So follow the gate agent’s instructions; while you should pack up your things and be ready once boarding starts, you can stay seated until your zone or row is called.

Be respectful

This should be obvious, but it’s not (I’ve seen it all). Don’t clip your toenails on planes, don’t take off your shirt, watch your entertainment and listen to music with headphones on (this includes playing Candy Crush on your iPad with the volume up), don’t put your feet on someone else’s headrest, etc.


Respect the space of others (seats are getting tighter than ever before, so be sure you’re sharing armrests). Ask before you recline your seat; ultimately it’s your right to recline, but asking will at least make the person behind you feel better about it (hopefully).

Don’t be a chatterbox, and use your inside voice. People around you may not want to talk with strangers, and the folks four rows back might not want to hear the details of your weekend.

Just be nice

With so many aggravated people around you, just being a pleasant person to flight attendants, gate agents, etc., could really set you apart, and will certainly make your day easier.

If you do run into an “etiquette issue” with another passenger, get a flight attendant involved; don’t take it into your own hands. We’ve seen a countless number of people kicked off planes due to disputes between passengers, and post-9/11 crews have a lot of authority. You don’t want to be responsible for a diversion, and a third-party can often help calm the situation.

What are your top travel etiquette tips?

  1. Don’t be tacky. Don’t drink too much and don’t behave like you’re the nicest individual in the World just because you redeemed some miles to fly first class are also good advice… Oh wait… Just don’t behave like Mr. Lucky and everything will go smoothly with your flight!

  2. Not sure who had the “smart idea” to open a Buffalo Wild Wings franchise on Terminal 4 at JFK airport. I boarded a plane to Milan the other day and there was this group of at least 8 people sitting in Economy Comfort with bags and bags of chicken wings with all sorts of stinky sauces you can imagine. They not only shared the different bags among themselves across the entire Economy Comfort area but decided to have a little party on the aisle sharing chicken, fires and onion rings within the group. They were so loud and disgusting by licking their fingers and making a mess. After they ate and stunk up the entire plane we were all sleeping when they suddenly realized that one of the woman in the party was missing her ring. They started to do a “treasure hunt” on the plane by using their phones as flashlights and crawling between seats trying to find the ring. After not finding it they decided to search the trash they threw with all the chicken bones and nasty napkins. They went to the alley where the plane trash is and dropped most of it on the plane’s floor in search for the ring. Passengers on the plane could not believe that was happening and FA’s were there just watching them make that mess.

  3. I think it is one thing to come up with a list of rules suggesting ideas on what you feel are the Do’s and Don’ts of traveling.. but it is another thing to post photos photos of people and put them on blast in front of the thousands of people that come to your blog.

    Did you ask these people permission before you posted their photo to your blog/Facebook/Instagram or any other type of social media? How would you feel if someone took photos of you without permission on board a plane and called you out for some action and put it on a blog where thousands of people would be viewing it? Should a passenger on a plane have some right to privacy in that a total stranger shouldn’t be able to take photos of them without permission? I get that most of the time you do not show their face, but that hasn’t always been the case in your social media uploads.

    I believe Matt at UPGRD posted a story about being removed from a flight for taking photos:

    I get that these actions that you document bother you, but I don’t think it is necessary to publish photos of people who were unknowingly being photographed to entertain your readers. You aren’t the only BA blogger who is guilty of this. I really think you as a writer and a person. You shouldn’t go out of your way to humiliate people because they made a mistake or weren’t considerate of others.

    Here’s a better question… did you ever have a conversation with these people to let them know their actions were bothering you?

  4. @Brent Photographing people when in public is fine (and when on private property if the owner doesn’t object). Publishing those photos, even commercially, is fine if the people aren’t recognizable. That’s pretty much true both legally (in the U.S at least) and also, in my opinion, ethically. You don’t have a right not to be photographed when you’re clearly visible in public.

  5. Timely advice as we begin the summer travel season. Sometimes, okay, a lot of times, I get aggravated with people who just ‘don’t know how to [fill in the blank]!’ (Deep breath, we’ve all been there once a long time ago).

    But this is a good reminder for all of us to be extra courteous: to help older passengers place their carry-on luggage in the overhead bins (wheels in first, please); to be mindful and respectful of others, as Lucky said, use your inside voice — especially when you’re allowed to use your cell phone on board. I’ve overheard a number of conversations about real estate, business strategizing, and the infamous phone call, “We just landed and we’re taxiing on the runway.” It’s not a problem to talk on the phone, just be mindful of those around you! And please lower the window shade if the sun is shining bright through the window. It can be blinding for someone across the aisle!

  6. @Sid

    I’m not in the business of saying what is legal or what is not, but I would assume that one should gain permission before filming or taking photos if it is on private property. Though, I have no idea what the rules are when these photos are taken in Europe/Asia.

    Also, some airlines have policies in place that address this:

    In Ben’s case there have been times in the past where he has published photos without covering the face or cropping them out. I agree about being in public, but when you are on a plane is that private or public property when in flight? When you are in a lounge, is that not private property? I am just voicing my opinion. I’d rather not see content like this. I get enough entertainment value out of news stories, trip reports, and tips on award bookings.

  7. @Bongo if you have an issue with the blog, there is nothing saying you have to read it.

  8. How about not standing in the aisle while stowing your (hopefully regulation -size) carry-on baggage? It’s just amazing to me how some passengers are totally oblivious to the lineups they are causing

  9. I may be in a minority, but I think it is rude and inconsiderate to recline your seat. I know it’s your RIGHT but it is still inconsiderate. I don’t want you in my lap. I never recline and wish others would extend me the same respect.

  10. @Brent I don’t think public/private property makes an ethical difference for places of public accommodation like an airport where no one has a legit expectation of privacy. It isn’t like using a telephoto to sneak a shot through someone’s private bathroom window. (Legally, it surely varies depending on country, etc. But I wouldn’t normally expect to ask permission in advance before photographing—merely stopping when asked by the management should be good enough.)

    If some previous photos showed people who were identifiable, that’s a bit different, but I have no problem with this article. Anonymous, unidentifiable depictions of “that guy” behavior used to illustrate a point seem completely inoffensive to me. No individual person is being shamed or anything—the pixels on my screen can’t get somehow beam my internet judgement cooties back to whoever that shirtless guy was and infect his real-life bare torso that I saw an image of.

  11. …Although, come to think of it, it would probably be fair to add “overzealous photography” to the list of “that guy” behavior 🙂

  12. With regards to talking on cell phones, please turn it into silent mode and text instead of talk. I always do that with my wife when I land as I still need to let her know when I landed. By texting and having the phone on silent mode that won’t disturb anyone else.

    In Japan, it is expected that you turn the phone to silent mode and refrain from talking on the phone on the train, it is even announced. Silent mode in Japan is called “manner mode” and you can see a little icon with a heart on the cell phone on the screen whenever manner mode is turned on. This is just to remind you to have a heart and consider others. Japanese is arguably the society that considers others the most. That is why everyone I know of all had pleasant experience in Japan and keeps on going back to that country.

  13. Good list. I would add perfume/cologne. It might smell great to you, but the person sitting next to you may find it hard to breathe or get really bad headaches from it. I find it as hard to take as smoking. All the other stuff I can deal with but being trapped with that is the worst.

    That said, I’ve had awesome inflight karma and seem to sit next to the nicest and most considerate people.

  14. Good piece! A picture is worth a thousand words so thanks for taking the time to include them. The only people who would probably recognize any of the subjects are the subjects themselves. Based on their behavior I would hope they would see themselves and be embarrassed (but the chances are slim).

    @Brent – IMHO I respectfully disagree. Lucky has a great eye and ear for what to post and what not to post. He is one of the most measures bloggers I have ever followed in addition to being a real gentleman (in an age where being a gentleman is dwindling).

  15. Re: pictures

    We aren’t talking about rights, we are talking courtesy. Hard for me to believe that posting photos without asking permission is courteous.

    That being said, I think asking people not to eat food that don’t have any aroma is weird. What one person’s pleasant smell is another person’s stink.

  16. @Lucky Small typo “you can stay seated until your zone or row is closed.”

    Guessing you intended “called” not “closed”.

  17. “If you do choose to wear sandals, make sure you’ve at least had a pedicure beforehand…”


  18. For our foreign flying folk –

    Never bring a durian or jackfruit aboard your flight (seen folk kicked off a plane for that faux pas)

    Never attempt to open the plane door in flight (common sense seems scarce sometimes)

    Never harvest food in a US National Park (seen folk stripping plants for soup in Yosemite)

    Never use US coins in a foreign vending machine and vice versa

    Never assume a green pump handle means diesel fuel

  19. Put you headphones on an close your eyes! Best thing is to go to your happy place. Unfortunately those unruly passengers do not follow the rules. And that is what bother us who do!

  20. @alphaDV…
    What does ‘foreign’ mean? I, for example, have dual UK/Canadian citizenship… is a person from a third country (e.g. the US of A) ‘foreign’? In my case, it’s an obvious ‘yes’.
    If a Pakistani citizen is flying on a Vietnamese airline, what is ‘ foreign’?
    Why do I bring this up? Because there often appears to be a mindset on many blogs that one’s own country (e.g. the US of A, or the UK) is the gold standard, and all others somehow don’t fit in with The Way Things Should Be.

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