A frequent flier's views on flying and travel

Being the Perfect (?) Passenger

I am a frequent flier. Actually I am a very frequent flier with close to 3 million actual air miles, mostly in Coach. And yes, it is true, the service and the expectations of service are very different “back there” than what most people talk about on web sites. Sure, I get free upgrades, and I’ve upgraded myself plenty of times, but even so, most of the time I fly in coach. Even to Asia. Believe it or not, I actually enjoy it. Why? Because I’ve learned something you can never learn up front, and that is what you can (and should) do while flying so the FA’s will treat you even better in coach than many of the passengers up front in the expensive seats.

It all goes back to the old saying: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. So here goes…

Boarding. Say hello to the FA standing at the entrance, wish him/her a good morning (good evening), and just smile. When they ask, tell them you know where your seat is, and remember to say “Thanks”.

Luggage. Keep it simple and keep it small, you should never have to fight to get your carry-on bag into the overhead. Go right to your seat, stow your kit, and sit down. If someone near you needs a hand, be helpful, stand up and help the other Pax so the FA doesn’t have to fight their way down 25 rows of seats. Then sit right back down.

FA Oscar

Coats. Listen to the FA’s and keep your coat on your lap while other pax are putting luggage in the overheads. If an FA who knows you sees a coat in your lap, they may offer to hang it up for you, which is a nice perk when it happens. When most of the luggage is stowed, then get up and put your coat overhead in the remaining space.

Seat. Best seats in coach are the exit row(s), and especially the window or aisle in those rows. You get plenty of legroom, there will not be any toddlers next to you, and depending on the plane (specifically wide body, long haul, international) the FA is most likely going to be sitting right across from you during taxi, take-off and landing. If you want to chat, that’s the time, don’t be bothering them while they are busy trying to get all the other Pax seated and their luggage stowed.


Split seats. You booked your tickets late, and you and your wife are in different rows. Maybe that’s a good thing, but what if you want to sit together? Obviously you should have tried at check-in, or even at the gate to change your seats. But many times you have to wait until you get on the plane. Just do it yourself, no need to bother the FA’s. My advice is you don’t ask a fellow Pax to give up an aisle or window seat for a middle seat. You need to be the one giving up the better seat. Then, after you swap, let an FA know which seats got switched.

Names. Don’t stare at the FA’s chest trying to read that small name tag. At best it’s awkward, and it certainly can be rather inappropriate, especially if your FA is a she. Just offer your name (first name only) and a hand shake when it’s convenient. You will be spending the next 3, 4, 8, or 12 hours together, you might as well know each other’s names.

Safety brief. Don’t be a show-off, they don’t care how often you fly. They have to ask if you have read and understand the exit row procedure, and if you can help if needed. Know what the right reply is? It’s very simple. An audible “Yes”, that’s all they need to hear. Please shut up and take your headphones off during the 3 minute boring video you have seen 100 times, stop doing your Sudoku or crossword puzzle, get those papers and food off of your lap, stow everything in the seat pocket. Keep your shoes on, open the window shade, and keep your fastened seat belt in plain view.

Oh and shoes… Know where they belong? ON YOUR FEET!! Apart from the really gross condition of most airplane carpets, I can assure you that no matter what color your toenails are, or how pretty your socks, NOBODY wants to see them in flight. But if you do stick your feet up on someone’s armrest, or between the seats in front of you… I hope you enjoy your time and fame on the @PassengerShaming website.


On a brand new UA 787 flying IAH to LHR

Seat belt sign. My rule is you go when you can, not when you have to. Guarantee that if you are holding it in, that’s when the turbulence will start. So if there’s a quiet time (no service cart in aisle), that’s a good time to go, even if you really don’t have to. If the Pax next to you gets up to go, that’s also a good time to go. Might as well, you’re up already. When that seatbelt light comes on, don’t be a fool. Stay seated, and if you went when you could, you wouldn’t be squirming right now. My Bumpy Ride Tips


Cart Service. When the FA comes down the aisle with the service cart, take off your headphones and listen. If it’s the drink cart, don’t ask for a bag of potato chips. What is the proper answer to “Would you like a drink?” The proper answer is not “Yes”. It is telling the FA what you want (Coke, coffee, water, apple juice), or just saying “Nothing Thanks”.


Meals. One of the nicer things you can do for your FA (especially in Business or First) is when they ask “do you want the chicken or the pasta”, tell them what you would prefer. Then you add, “But if you run low on that and someone else wants it, you can switch me”. I can’t count how many “Thank You’s” (and hugs) I’ve received in a galley because that simple offer let an FA keep another Pax happy.

Drinks. My personal guideline is I like to walk to the galley for every other beverage. Let the FA bring the first one (be it coffee, or wine, or whatever you are drinking). Then when I want another, I go to the galley and ask. The FA’s walk enough as it is, and getting up every few hours to walk a bit is actually a very healthy thing for you to do on a long flight. And don’t ever ask for a drink when the seatbelt sign is on!

Call Button. It’s there for a reason, emergencies. Don’t use it because you want a coffee (get up and get one) or to have your trash picked up.

Galley. This is the FA’s only semi private area on most planes. They don’t get a lot of quiet time, and if you have not seen them in a while they might be eating their meal. Don’t be a pest by trying to hang out there. It’s OK to chat for a minute or two while you are waiting for that coffee you just walked there to get. Just don’t push it, that’s their space. Remember, your proper space is in your seat. You can tell right away if they want to talk, or if they are just being polite. Take the hint.


Aisle etiquette. FA’s are pretty smart, and go through a lot of training, but they can’t see behind them. So in general, and especially when the cart is in the aisle, bring your feet and elbows back where they belong. Unless you are in the medical field, don’t ask an FA to show you all the bruises and bumps collected during a week because of these kinds of preventable injuries.


Image via


Appearance. Dress comfortably, but be neat. Torn jeans, sandals, and a Tee-shirt with some stupid quote on it? Who are you kidding? How about nice pants, comfortable shoes, and a collared shirt? Looks a lot better and instantly gets you more respect. Flights can get cool, especially around that 8-9 hour mark, so I always wear long pants and a dark colored long sleeved collared shirt.

Seat Recline. Sure your seat reclines, and you have the right to lean back. But the pax behind you probably does not want his laptop to get smashed. So when you recline, ease the seat back SLOWLY. This isn’t the stick shift of a Ferrari. Take it slow, please!

Do I know you? When you fly a lot out of the same airport, often on the same routes, you are almost always going to be on a plane with an FA (or two, or six) that you already know. Guess what, they probably recognize you too. Before takeoff as the FA’s are running around, is not the time to catch up on your lives since the last flight. Try this instead; when they look at you, look back, make eye contact, mouth the word “Hi”, and give a quick wave. Even from 10 rows away that will work. When they have time, they will stop by to talk. I guarantee it. Unless of course they know you, and know that they don’t like you.

Discretion. It’s the better part of valor, but what I really mean is what to do if you see something on an FA’s uniform that doesn’t belong there. Like that piece of toilet paper stuck on a heel, or the long white thread stuck on their back. Don’t just reach out. Bad move! Common sense says that touching someone you don’t know is not discrete and is very impolite. And its not just FA’s, you also don’t touch other Pax, adjust their armrests, or move their gear. Touching an FA could also land you in a bit of trouble if the plane bounces right then and you end up poking an FA in the back. If you do see something on an FA’s uniform you might get up and walk behind them until they get to the galley, then mention it to them. Or as they walk by just call them by name, and when they turn around, lean forward in your seat and quietly tell them. They will appreciate it. Wouldn’t you?

1950s FA

Simple Words. Using two very simple words, “Please” and “Thank You”, just makes everything go so much easier on a flight. It never hurts to be polite, so toss those words out whenever you can. “A cup of coffee Please” is just much nicer than just saying “Can I have some coffee”. And don’t forget when you leave the plane to also say thanks. You can brighten up many an overworked FA by just taking a half second to acknowledge they did a good job.

Munchies. When I travel to places like China, India, and Indonesia, I always have boxes of emergency food like chewy granola bars in my luggage. On the way home, I put any leftover (unopened) boxes into my carry-on bag. During the quiet time of the flight back, around 5-7 hrs, I’ll head to the galley to ask for a coffee or a drink. While there, I tell the FA’s I have a bunch of extra granola bars, and just leave the boxes on the counter. Believe me, they will disappear rapidly. Another alternative is chocolates, again an unopened box, and even better if they are individually wrapped. But when its 100 degrees and you are flying from Asia, or Houston, chocolate might not be a very good idea. One FA I know told me she would do ‘anything’ for Starbucks or Dunkin-Donuts gift cards… So…

mango chocolate

A crew favorite – dried mango dipped in chocolate

Making friends. In my years of flying I have certainly made some very good friends in the FA community. But don’t start thinking that all FA’s are up there looking for dates. You are just dead wrong. They are doing a job, and it is a very difficult job that they take a lot of pride in. Don’t make their jobs any tougher by being the idiot who asks every FA for her phone number, or (even worse) when is the next time she will be in Denver. Yes, of course they are normal human beings, so they do date. But that’s not why they fly. Maybe, just maybe, after you have flown with some individuals more than a few times, and if you demonstrate you are a nice guy (or gal) it might happen. But it’s more important, and easier, to just settle on being friends at 39,000 feet. And then just leave it at that. If an FA really wants to get to know you better, she (or he) will let you know.


Laughed when a DL friend slipped me this note mid flight JNU//SEA

After the flight. If service was really great, every airline has a way to feedback on exceptional employees. It might be a web site, a paper form, or even by Twitter. Keep it short and simple, and you don’t even need their last name. But do specify their first name, the flight #, the date, and the originating and final airports. The airline will locate them by that.

The bottom line. Your FA’s are real people too, so be polite, be nice, and you and your FA’s will both have much better flights.

And that’s true even back here in coach, where I sit.

Update Nov 25 2013, This blog became the basis for an interview done by @mappingMegan MappingMegan   Hope you like it.

Update Jan 2014, Sassy Stew @SassyStewRants did a great writeup on the FA perspective to being a perfect passenger SassyStew  I also recommend reading this.

Update Feb 2014, a fun (and tongue in cheek) interview by CondeNast magazine on some passenger tricks and habits to impress FAs CondeNast

Update Mar 2014 in USAToday, many of the same points, but some more too USA_Today

One of the best (funniest) videos about how to NOT be a perfect passenger on a long haul flight…. YouTube

Update Aug 2015 I was interviewed by a UK based travel blogger… TravelBloggerInterviews

15 comments on “Being the Perfect (?) Passenger

  1. Jayne Souza
    September 1, 2013

    Thank you for letting some of the astute flying public know that a few simple words…ie, “please” and “thank you” go a long way in any one’s arena. These are words that are somewhat obsolete for some unknown reason in general. I don’t know why or when they were put to the side in our communications with one another. Please let the populace know how important these words can be, and even more so in other languages of places visited.


    • jlroehr
      September 1, 2013

      And yes, I agree 100%, please take 5 minutes and learn those basic words in every country you travel to !


  2. Ann
    September 27, 2013

    Great article and very true!!


  3. laurenskahn (@laurenskahn)
    September 29, 2013

    I am like you when I fly too. I have offered to switch meals with another pax because I don’t really care which one I get. I think people sometimes confuse planes with gourmet restaurants. I have never flown anything but coach because you can use all that extra money to buy a very nice meal once you get where you are going.

    And there is no sense of getting angry with the flight crew for things you know they cannot change.


  4. Rachel O'Hanlon
    October 12, 2013

    Great article! I fly as a pass traveler, so feel that my behavior must meet an even higher standard of travel etiquette. Being a petite person, I’m fairly comfortable in any seat, so would willingly switch seats to make another passenger more comfortable. One thing I would add: I have heard from more than a few FAs how annoyed they get with passengers who ignore safety issues like seatbelts remaining fastened until the plane reaches the gate and cell phones being turned off promptly.


  5. DH
    November 25, 2013

    Been a long time since you have been on one of our NRT flights. Right-on with the comments, and do you still prefer your cognac warm? Safe Holidays. DH


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  9. Erika
    July 11, 2015

    You sound like the best passenger in the world. You have come up with such a complete and on-point list that I, a flight attendant, don’t even know what to add. You absolutely nailed it and I wish every person could read this article before flying. I’d love to have you on a flight someday!


    • jlroehr
      July 11, 2015

      My job is easy, I just sit, smile, and say thanks a lot. You have the harder job.


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