The do’s and don’ts of flying long-haul

Want to know how to avoid being a jerk on a plane? Here’s your go-to guide to ensuring your seat mates can stand you. Writes Freya Herring.

Don’t… manspread

This is my dance space; this is your dance space. Your legs are not allowed in my dance space. They did not pay for my dance space; I did. And for the record, your legs do not need to be in my dance space (unless you’re packing some sort of oversized, super-fragile porcelain egg under there?). So let’s all be real here and just close ’em up. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’, and the ‘me’ isn’t even consecutive so shut up.

Do… be respectful of others’ space

You get your seat area and that which is directly in front of it; that’s it. But what about the No Man’s Land of armrests? We know, the rules here feel complex and under-discussed. Here’s how it has to go… Aisle: you have extra room, so you get the aisle armrest. It’s all yours. Nobody can take that away from you. Nobody. Window: you have somewhere to rest your weary head; against the window. The armrest by the window? That belongs to you, sleepy one. Middle seat: you’ve really drawn the short straw here, friend. In all likelihood, you’re crammed against at least one stranger; you’re dealing with their smells and annoyances, and the prospect of falling asleep (and waking up) on their damp shoulder is all too real. This can only mean one thing: you get both armrests. It’s no consolation really, but at least your arms have a safe place to sleep.

Don’t… spider pig

You know what this is. There you are, resting-up during a long flight, and you feel something on your leg. You open your eyes – just a teeny, sleepy crack – to see somebody’s arse in your face (or worse) as they attempt to scramble over your legs to get to the loo. Just an FYI: straddling a stranger without their consent is definitely not OK, no matter how you swing it. You are not Stretch Armstrong; you cannot squeeze your legs up to your neck, no matter how hard you try (and that’s fine). Just ask them if you can get past – they’ve selected an aisle seat; it comes with the territory.

Do… step into the aisle to let me past

And on the flip side, aisle-dweller, if you know the person, squeezing your legs up to your chest is A-OK to let them past. But if I don’t know you, I do not wish to squish my booty up against your body parts when nature calls me away (stranger danger!). Having polite conversation about how much you’re going to miss your kids on while you’re on holiday does not make us friends. Now just stand the heck up and let me pee *insert eye-roll emoji*.

Do… talk to your buddy

Feel free to have a nice chat with your friend while you’re flying (don’t you know that long-haul is for movies, though? Just saying). But do be aware of body language and social cues, when your seat mate is not actively engaging in the conversation anymore, know that it’s time to shut it.

Don’t… shout at them

If you have earplugs in, take them out while you’re chatting. Same goes for headphones. Regardless, there is no need to shout. It’s noisy and disruptive and I can’t hear Kristen Bell’s punchlines in Bad Moms. This is especially important during night flights – if you are on the aisle or window talking loudly to someone in the middle seat, you are in fact projecting your noise into the middle seat behind, preventing that poor soul from sleeping. Like 50-kilometre-per-hour drivers on country roads who refuse to pull over and let others past, it’s inconsiderate. And in both cases, things can get heated.

Do… take a shower before your flight

They say we can’t smell our own bodies, but you know what we can smell? Other people’s. So even if you wake up and think you smell like a field of frangipanis, hop in for a quick wash before your flight, ’k? Because sitting a few centimetres away from someone smelling of bed body – even if only for a couple of hours – is vom-inducing.

Don’t… spray stuff in your (and my) face while we’re flying

You might like the smell of sugar and sandalwood, but that doesn’t mean your neighbour does. If you want to spray something (perfume, cooling spray etc.), do so in the bathroom, not right beside a stranger.

Do… bring delightful treats and offer them around

Bringing chocolates or lollies onto a flight and offering them to your neighbour is polite and charmingly grandma-like. They can always say no, and either way you’ll look adorable.

Don’t… bring eggs or tuna. Ever. There is never a good enough reason to bring eggs or tuna.

It seems so obvious, and yet the number of times we’ve had to sit through a flight with the scent of eggs, tuna or Maccas firmly within our nostrils isn’t even bearable to talk about. What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned apple? Keep things simple (no hot food, no smelly food) and you won’t make enemies. Bring an egg sandwich onto a plane and we can’t be held responsible for our actions.

Do… offer to put my bag in the overhead locker if I look weary

“Aww that’s so nice of you, thank you!” See? Putting someone’s bag up for them is polite and amiable and sets up a nice, warm atmosphere at the dawn of a flight (they’ll probably say no – why do we always say no, like it’s a nervous tick? – ¬but the gesture is sound).

Don’t… put your head on my shoulder if you feel weary

#middleseatproblems. I do not know you. So when you fall into slumber, try to angle your head backwards. It’s hard to prevent snoring, but if you wake up doing it, it’s time for that cup of coffee, friend – sleep just isn’t in your fortune today. It’s embarrassing for you, and maddening for us.

Do… put your seat back

Yes, it’s super annoying when you’re wide awake and the person in front of you puts their seat back. We’ve been there. You can’t use your laptop and your Cab Sauv threatens to spill all over that dangerously pale shawl that always seems like (but isn’t) a good idea for flying. But you’ve probably been on the other side of things too – flying long haul in coach is exhausting and in lieu of a bed, sometimes putting that seat back is your best chance of a nap. Just move your seat back too (let the dominos commence…), order a drink and put a Kate Hudson film on (less think; more drink).

Don’t… leave it there during meal service

OK but we have a limit. And regardless of how tired you are; you need to put your seat up when people behind you are eating. Trying to eat off a tray within the tightest triangle of space is nigh-on impossible, and stuff spills – we’ve been there, too. Eating off these tiny plastic trays is the highlight of the flight; the peak pleasure. Don’t wait for the flight attendant to tell you off – give the person behind you a wee break from Squishville. Like the rest of this list, it’s just good manners.



Want to be the ultimate long-haul traveller? Check out:

– How to survive a long-haul flight stopover with kids

– 9 long-haul beauty saviours

– You CAN survive a long-haul flight with a baby – here’s how