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11 Things Not to Do on a Plane

When we board a plane, the goal is simple: to get to our destination as safely and pleasantly as possible. But sometimes we get in our own way.

To be a safer and more courteous traveler, don't make the following 11 airplane mistakes. Avoiding some of these behaviors will keep you from getting on your fellow fliers' nerves; avoiding others could even save your life. Read on to learn what not to do on a plane.

man on plane with sunglasses

1. Don't try a new medication for the first time.

Where would you rather be when you discover that Ambien makes you hallucinate or that you're allergic to your new iron supplement -- at home, with easy access to your doctor and a local hospital, or in a metal tube hurtling 35,000 feet above the Pacific? Never take a medicine in flight that you haven't already taken for a test run at home.

2. Don't tune out the safety briefing.

Yeah, yeah -- the briefing is boring, you've heard it a million times and you already know how to buckle a seatbelt. As tedious as it seems, though, the information could save your life one day. At the very least, take a few seconds to figure out where the nearest emergency exit is and how many rows away it is from your seat. (In a dark or smoky cabin, you'll want to be able to count the rows by touching the seats as you make your way toward an exit.)

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3. Don't joke about bombs.

No one is going to laugh at your one-liner about guns, weapons or anything else that could be taken as threatening -- particularly not the flight attendants, who have the power to remove you from a flight if they think there's even the slightest chance you might pose a security risk. (Note: The same advice goes for customs people and TSA agents.)

4. Don't recline your seat during mealtimes.

One of the biggest debates in the travel world is whether it's okay to recline your seat at all (see The Etiquette of Seat Backs and Elbow Room and The Great Seat Back Debate: Is It Rude to Recline?). Whichever side of the issue you take, I think all of us can agree that once the food and drink carts start rolling down the aisles, it's only courteous to make sure your seat is upright so the person behind you can have full access to his or her tray.

5. Don't eat stinky food.

Speaking of mealtimes, give your seatmates a break -- don't show up for your flight with a tuna sandwich or a plate of onion rings. Not only will they stink while you're eating them, but they'll also ensure that you have bad breath for the rest of the flight.

5 Foods to Avoid Before Flying

6. Don't drink too much.

No one will complain if you have a glass of wine with dinner, but over-indulging in alcohol can have consequences ranging from dehydration to even getting kicked off the plane for disorderly behavior. Remember: No one wants to sit next to the guy who reeks of alcohol, passes out on your shoulder or throws up on your shoes.

drink airplane silhouette

7. Don't abuse the flight attendant call button.

The flight attendants' first priority is to keep you safe, not to cater to your every whim, so use discretion when deciding when to hit that call button. If you're feeling ill, or you're thirsty on an overnight flight when the lights are out and getting up would wake your sleeping seatmates, feel free to hit the button. If the flight attendants are already serving dinner and you decide you need a drink right now, suck it up and be patient.

8. Don't put your carry-on in an overhead bin where you're not sitting.

As pet peeves go, this is one of our biggest -- when the person in 33A puts her carry-on in the bin above row 16, ensuring that there won't be enough space for the people actually sitting in row 16 to stow their own bags. This means people in the front of the plane end up having to put their bags toward the back, which leads to passengers trying to go against the stream of traffic when it comes time to deplane. Do everyone a favor and use your own overhead bin space unless there's no alternative.

7 Things Not to Do When Packing a Carry-On Bag

9. Don't put a bag overhead if it's small enough to go under the seat in front of you.

In other carry-on shenanigans, please don't be the person who puts your rolling suitcase and your backpack and your coat into the overhead bin on a full flight. Leave space for other people's stuff by putting your personal item under the seat in front of you, and squeezing your coat into the empty spaces left after everyone else has fit their larger bags into the bin.

10. Don't inflict your feet on other passengers.

We have no problem with people slipping off their shoes to be more comfortable on a long flight -- with a few important exceptions.

First, your feet should be as unobtrusive as possible to everyone else (so don't prop them on top of a seatback, or wriggle them into the gap between the wall of the plane and the poor person in the seat in front of you who just wants to lean against the window without getting a faceful of your bare toes). Second, put your shoes back on before you go to the lavatory (because ew). And finally, if you know you're prone to bromodosis -- the polite scientific term for smelly feet -- be considerate of your fellow passengers and leave your shoes on.


11. Don't infringe on your neighbors' space (or screen).

With airplane seats getting smaller and smaller, passengers with broad shoulders or long legs almost can't help spilling over the bounds of their seats at some point. But we're speaking out against intentional (and obnoxious) behaviors like manspreading, hogging the armrests or flipping your ponytail over the back of your seat so it obscures the video screen of the person behind you. Your neighbors paid for their space too; respect it.

Which airplane mistakes would you add to this list?

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-- written by Sarah Schlichter

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