On a recent flight, I was sitting next to a manspreader. I was on the aisle, he was in the middle, and yet his foot was under the seat in front of me. I was annoyed, but it was also early in the morning and I didn’t feel like confronting him, so instead I put my leg in front of his (my right calf was hovering in front of his left shin) and shoved my foot under the seat in front of him. He got the message, moved his foot to the ride side of the seat support and my personal bubble was once again intact.
Whenever you fly there seem to be weird, petty annoyances to deal with. Etiquette experts say civility in general has taken a backslide in the last few years, but it’s especially noticeable on airplanes where everyone is packed close together.
But, they said, being mindful of little things can go a long way toward making the travel experience more pleasant for everyone.
A recent survey by Kayak showed that some of the least-popular airplane behaviors with other passengers include people taking their socks off, eating smelly food, not using headphones or taking up too much overhead bin space.
Maintain the bubble
You may be packed in like sardines on a Spirit flight, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to spill over into someone else’s precious little space.
“Part of etiquette is pretending not to notice. Staying in your little bubble world,” said Nick Leighton, etiquette expert and host of the podcast “Were You Raised by Wolves?” “I think it’s as important to stay as contained as possible.”
Spilling over into someone else’s space, like my seat neighbor a few months ago, is a big no-no when it comes to basic manners.
“You shouldn’t do that on an airplane. You have breached the bubble,” Leightson said. Treat other people how you want to be treated. A lot of us forget this.”
Lisa Mirza Grotts, a certified etiquette expert and author of “A Traveler’s Passport to Etiqutte,” agreed.
“I am the golden rules gal,” she said. “It’s all about the basics. The ABCs of travel: Always be courteous.”
Don’t go barefoot
Grotts said that seeing people walk around barefoot is a huge pet peeve for her. I tend to agree, and always feel a little guilty if I take my shoes off, which I usually do only on overnight flights.
But Leighton said there are some circumstances where it’s OK to remove your shoes.
“It’s all about being mindful. If you know your feet don’t smell and you know that your feet are going to stay in your bubble and you’re not going to use the whole airplane as an ottoman, then OK, fine,” he said, but added that he always tells people to leave their socks on, “unless there’s a health and safety reason to do otherwise.
Leighton also said it’s smart to leave your shoes on at least for takeoff and landing.
“The last thing we need is to evacuate an airplane in our bare feet,” he said.
Keep it quiet and unscented
Your personal bubble can be burst by more than just physical touch.
Loud noises coming from your neighbor or unpleasant smells can invade your space, too.
“Don’t ever bring your own food with tons of odors, or even nail polish,” Grotts said. “I’ve smelled it,” and that kind of scented assault can be highly irritating to other passengers.
Leighton said it’s the same with noise.
“There is not an occasion to be in public with your sound on without headphones,” he said. “You are allowing something from your bubble to escape, and that is rude.”
Be kind when you recline
Contradicting my colleague Christopher Elliott, both Leighton and Grotts said it’s OK to push your seat back, so long as you’re not too hasty about it.
“It’s OK to recline, but don’t do it too abruptly. Be considerate,” Grotts said.
Too-quick reclining can even land you in legal trouble in some places, like a case out of China where a rail passenger was fined for breaking the laptop screen of the traveler behind him when he reclined his seat.
“Is it courteous to check behind you if a person has their laptop open with a cup of coffee filled to the brim before you quickly and violently recline your seat? Yes,” Leighton said.
Follow the flight attendants’ lead
Flight attendants are onboard for safety before anything else, so Grotts said part of being a well-behaved passenger is listening to their instructions and treating them with respect.
“Don’t ignore safety instructions. These things are done for our safety. Don’t disobey the flight crew. Don’t interfere with them,” she said.
This includes, to my mind, keeping your seatbelt on.
Grotts and Leighton both agreed that in extreme cases of misbehavior by fellow passengers, it’s usually best to get the flight crew involved, too.
“You never engage or there could be air rage. You let a flight attendant deal with it,” Grotts said.
Last week’s Cruising Altitude:Is airplane coffee safe to drink? I’ll try to put the rumors to rest.
Assume the best in others
In all but those extreme cases, however, Leighton said it’s best to stay patient and assume that your fellow travelers aren’t intentionally trying to annoy you.
“Manhattan, Kansas is different than Manhattan, New York,” he said. “It’s important to be empathetic and mindful and compassionate. Not everybody is intending to be rude here. They may just be operating from a slightly different playbook.”
Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at email@example.com