This post was most recently updated on April 8th, 2019
Whether you’ve been flying all your life, or you’re just about to embark on your first flight, there’s such a thing as airport etiquette. Learn it, and abide by it, and nearly everything will go better for you and those around you.
Arriving at the airport
When you arrive at the airport in front of your terminal, exit the car or shuttle quickly, so your driver can move on and get out of the way. If you want to give someone a hug goodbye, do so with haste. Stopping a car along the curb in front of an airport terminal will definitely attract the attention of security. So do yourself and your driver a favor and keep the good-byes to a minimum. And be sure to grab your cell phone you left on your seat, before the driver takes off!
Checking in at the airport
If you are checking on bags for your flight, head to the self-help kiosks to print out your bag tags before proceeding to the ticket counter. It’s better than holding up the line for those with legitimate concerns they need to work out with an agent. Plus, you’ll get to security sooner if you just drop off your bags with the tags already in place.
Airport etiquette going through security
Admittedly, you may not have thought of this as a time requiring etiquette. After all, you might feel like the victim as you wait in a long line and move along at a snail’s pace. But believe me, anything you can do to speed up the process and not hold others up is justification for using proper etiquette.
- Do not pack items in your carry-on or personal item that will not pass through security. You hold everyone up (and could even get yourself detained) if you do. Every airline website AND the TSA website make it very clear what you cannot take with you onto a plane in your carry-ons, such as liquids over 3 oz, large quantities of powder, weapons of any kind — even small pocket knives and scissors, some items with litium batteries, and anything flammable.
- Put the items you will have to take out of your bag in easy-to-access pockets, such as your laptop and your liquids bag. Be sure you have emptied your water bottle before arriving at security.
- Remove everything from your clothing pockets – even paper receipts, cash, or a tube of chapstick. You will have to go through the scanner again and you might be patted down. You might be keeping you and those behind you from getting to your gates promptly.
- Remember to remove your shoes and belts with large metal buckles — and place them in a bin. If you are wearing a jacket/coat or scarf, remove those as well.
- Have your ID and your boarding pass in hand so you are ready to present it to the TSA agent. If your boarding pass is saved to your electronic device, please have it pulled up on your screen, ready to show. If you save your boarding pass as a screenshot, you will not need data or wifi to access it.
- And one more thing. If someone comes running up to security begging you to let them cut in front because they’re trying to catch a flight, it really is kind to let them. I’ve been that person a few times, for no fault of my own (delayed planes, customs, etc), and I was sure grateful for the compassion of others!
Walk through the airport as if you’re a car on the freeway
When walking to your gate, don’t stop in the middle of the hallway. Running to catch a flight is a real thing, and you’re likely to cause a pedestrian collision. If you’re moving slower, stay to the right — just like in vehicle traffic. Likewise, if you’re walking on one of those conveyer belt walkways, pay attention to the signs that say: “Standing on the right, walking on the left”. The same goes for using an escalator.
If you need to cross from one side of a hallway to the other, take a look-see first to be sure you’re not about to cut someone off. Or worse yet, have one of those people-moving golf carts run you over!
Airport etiquette concerning other people’s luggage
This actually goes beyond etiquette. These rules are in place to keep order and protect everyone:
Never set your bag down and walk away from it. Besides the obvious possibility of having it stolen, it will be called to the attention of airport police, who will treat it as a possible bomb. There will definitely be negative consequences for that!
Don’t ask a stranger to watch your bag, either. That puts someone in the awkward position of wanting to help you, but not knowing if you can be trusted. It’s just plain not okay to ask this of anyone.
You ABSOLUTELY do not ask a stranger to carry anything for you in their luggage. There are services you can and MUST use to ship items to another location, even if it IS more expensive!
What about eating in the airport?
Can you eat while you wait for your plane to board? Of course. But please do be considerate. I once came to the airport with a breakfast box, packed by my hotel. I didn’t know what was in the box — I figured it was probably a pastry and fruit juice. It turns out the specialty of the hotel was smoked salmon. When I opened the box, there was a rather strong odor of fish, and I got some odd looks from those sitting near me! My breakfast was delicious, but I should not have exposed my fellow travelers to the smell.
Likewise, do not be messy or noisy with your eating. Use your manners and clean up after yourself, just as you would in your mother’s kitchen!
Can you nap during long layovers?
Most airports have been equipped with seating that discourages napping. Chairs with arm rests between each seat make it impossible to lay across several seats. There’s a reason for this. Using seating for napping takes up spaces others could use to sit down, plus no one wants to be subjected to your snores. Many airport lounges have rooms that can be used for napping, and some airports actually have napping pods you can rent by the hour.
My husband and I once tried to sleep overnight in the Athens airport. Not a good idea. There was no place to store our luggage, so we had to protect it by draping our bodies across it. We found an out-of-the-way corner and tried to sleep on the floor. But it’s not like they turn off the lights for you. Really, it was just a very frustrating experience. We should have paid to stay at the hotel airport across the street. I think airport etiquette would suggest you wait until you board your flight before trying to get some sleep.
What are acceptable forms of entertainment during layovers?
Many airports have TV lounges, art galleries, playgrounds for children, restaurants and gift shops, and even day trips you can take for short tours of a nearby city. Some have libraries, meditation rooms, yoga rooms, or churches. For more about unique airport activities, read this post: Amazing Airport Amenities.
You can also bring cards or other games to play, books to read, or electronic devices for entertainment. If you are struggling with bored children during a long layover, I have many suggestions (and free game printables) at How to Entertain Children on a Long Layover.
What does airport etiquette dictate about boarding your flight?
Pay attention to announcements made about the flight you are waiting for. Occasionally, there are delays or even gate changes. It is up to you to learn where your departing gate is.
Follow the instructions of the gate agent and allow those with priority boarding to get in line first. Usually, that is military personnel, families with children, and those needing assistance. First class passengers might have their own line.
Have your boarding pass ready at the gate, so you don’t make everyone wait for you.
Put your carry-on in the overhead bin as quickly as you can and take your seat so others can get by you to reach their seats. You should not ask for seat changes unless you are seated in an emergency exit row and don’t want to be. Other seat changes should be discussed with the gate agent BEFORE boarding time.
Picking up baggage from the baggage claim
If you have baggage to pick up at the baggage claim, there are only a few tips. First, be sure you know what your own bag looks like, so you don’t pick up someone else’s. If you have a black suitcase (the most common color), consider tying a bright colored ribbon on the handle to set it apart from others. And second, don’t stand so close to the baggage carousel that you keep others from seeing or getting to their bags. Stand back a few feet until you see your bag, and then step forward to grab it and move quickly out of the way.
Any other rules of airport etiquette?
It used to be that people dressed up to fly. Women wore dresses or skirts, and men wore suits or business wear. Gone are those days, but that doesn’t mean you should show up in your pajamas, your sweaty workout clothes, or skanky immodest clothing. The idea is to be comfortable while not making anyone else UN-comfortable!
That’s pretty much it. It just never hurts to be aware of and follow rules of etiquette, especially at the airport. Traveling is an adventure that we can all share in. Let’s help make it a better experience for ourselves and everyone around us.