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Published on October 5, 2019
7 minute read

Travel guide, part two – On the plane

#travel #airtravel #planes #personalboundaries #personalspace

There's no need to repeat yourself, I ignored you just fine the first time.

If you have the privilege of travelling in business or first class, this article is not for you. 

Picking your seat

Air travel is a convenient and efficient way to travel, and it's up to us travellers to make it pleasant, or at least bearable. In order to achieve that, we need to get to know ourselves. Do you like to be in the front of the plane, middle, exit rows, wings or in the back? Do you like to be next to the window, aisle or squeezed between strangers? Here is a list of simple but insightful questions one should ask themselves before booking a flight, and more importantly, a seat:

Am I claustrophobic?

If you suffer from claustrophobia, I'd hate to say it but air travel will not give you much joy. Nevertheless, if you can manage it, you will feel most comfortable as closest to the front as possible. This might include an additional fee to grab those seats in front or just after the premium economy class. Also, a window seat is your best bet to keep your mind occupied while looking at the calming, fluffy clouds. If you're traveling during the night, then accessible and legal drugs to keep you asleep.
If getting off the plane (as quickly as possible) is more benefitial to you than those fluffy clouds, pick an aisle seat so you can hit the ground running.

Is it a short or a long flight (less or more than two hours)?

Short flights generally mean smaller planes, rendering front and back of the plane too close together to make a difference (this might be overriden by next question). So your source of comfort will depend on the window-(middle)-aisle choice.

Do I have a (short) transfer after this leg?

If you have a connecting flight, you might need to plan your next steps carefully. You will obviously need to find out what gate you need to get to, physically get there and the size of the airport and layover time are a factor in choosing your seats. It goes without saying, but you should never book flights that have a very short layover. If you are in Frankfurt and the layover is under one hour, it might be traumatic. If you have no choice, then you need to be willing to run if necessary. If you are pressed for time, pick the nearest row to the front and grab that aisle seat. The aisle seat means you will be able to unbuckle as soon as the sign is off and grab you bag from under the seat or from the overhead compartment and run for it. The vicinity of the exit is pretty much clear, as you won't need to trample all the people to get to it. If it is a big plane, you can explain to the cabin crew that you need to get out as soon as possible, and they might let you do it, even if it means goint through the business class section before those people are ready to go. But this one I wouldn't count on.

Do I plan to sleep during the flight?

There are people who can nod off as soon as they buckle their seatbelts, I am not one of them. If you cannot fall asleep at a moment's notice, you will need to choose your row carefully, while obviously a window seat will be more comfortable than any other. These are generally bad choices for nodders:

  • rows next to a different class
    The reason is that the seats will be of different width, so any transition between classes is misaligned, which in turn will make cabin crew bump and hit seats there as a rule, and on occasion run your feet over with the cart.
  • rows next to the bulkhead
    You seat will most likely be fixated, without possiblity of recline. 
  • rows near the toilets
    I'm going to leave this one to your imagination: number of people in the plane, number of meals to be dispensed during the flight, drinks, digestion as a process, odours, moving, commotion, talking, etc.
  • rows near the galleys
    That is where the "fragrant and yummy" airplane food will be heated and dispensed from. Also, this is where all your new friends will come to get a snack or a dring during the long flights when cabin crew are not actively pushing their carts.

So, your best bet is any row not contained in the ones listed above.

Will I need to get up frequently during the flight?

Nobody knows your bladder better than you, keep it in mind when choosing your preferred row. Leg cramps might also require more movement, so the list of acceptable rows is the one that nodders should avoid.

How much do I get frustrated by people incommodating me?

You are on a plane, so buck up there champ. You best bet is the transition between classes as it generally has extra legroom and people can go around you and not through you if you are in an aisle seat. Otherwise pick the window seat as you will be the one incommodating others when you need to get up.

Do I need more room for my freakishly long legs?

Exit row seats and class transition rows should be your top pick, as those will always leave more room for your legs to stretch and relax. Also aisle tends to give you extra room at your personal risk that you will be run over or stomped on.

Handling your stuff

Common sense is often advised in various situations, but when plane etiquette is concerned, that common sense is just not enough. Regardless of where your bag is, overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you, take out what you absolutely need before you store that bag in its final location. Yes, this requires thinking. The only exception here is your laptop, since it will have to be stowed during take off and landing, but your headphones/book/random gadget,s you can be practical and keep it in the seat compartment during those times. The same goes for sweaters, scarfs and pillows, as those will be a risk for your fellow travellers if you need to take you carry on and ransack it during turbulence. Cabin crew will yell at you as well.

If you have a short flight, just don't bother yourself and others with any of that stuff, as you will be better off having a drink while you wait to land. Added benefit, no time wasted on packing all that stuff up when you need to get out of the plane.


Airplane food is not great, but it is not catastrophic either. You have definitely had worse meals in your life, so whining about it is unnecessary. If you are on a special regime, you will be able to pick a specific meal during online check-in (because that is how check-in should be done). If none of the avaiable choices suit your needs, pack something yourself. If you are packing at home, remember that liquids over 100ml and not in that 1l transparent ziplock bag will be thrown out, so don't even bother. As for the food, pack something that will be easy on your and your co-travellers stomacks, noses and ears. So no fish, eggs, tuna and other overly fragrant produces that will make everyone hate you. Nuts can be a problems as well, as people might have allergies, so choose something you like but don't go overboard. You should always carry a tumbler or a bottle with you when travelling, because post-security options are plentiful when liquids are concerned, and you will slowly dehydrate as your flight progresses.

Respecting personal space

Prepare for a rant. People generally use planes to get from point A to point B with least possible effort. This also means people are not there to hear about your medical procedures, your family affairs, random topics and you being nosy and intrusive. Saying hello and goodbye is the optimal amout of communication that should be directed to your co-travellers. If someone next to you clearly is not interested in a conversation, respect their wishes and leave them alone. Also, is someone is insistant on talking to you, feel free to express your lack of desire to participate in that conversation. For further escalations due to lack of compliancy, ask the cabin crew for help. If you see someone with earphones or headphones, do not try to initiate a conversation unless it is about needing to open the escape hatch because you have had an emergency landing. 

Another huge tresspass is spreading any part of your body in the allocated space of another traveller. Men, I am predominately looking at you here. Keep your footsies aligned with the edges of your seat, you won't be riding a horse during the flight so why position yourself like that?

Armrests are another hot topic, but generally you should forfeit your armrest to the middle seat victim, if you are in a three seat row. If you are in a two seat row, come to an agreement. If you are in a multi seat row, let the poor inner travellers rest their arms.

If you are traveling with someone your know, like a colleague or a familiy member, you will most likely be able to agree on a civilized interaction regarding all the points mentioned above. But in the end, try to use common sense whenever you can and make your trip as pleasant as possible for yourself and others.