Viral TikTok Shows An Unspoken Airplane Etiquette Rule Being Thrown Out The Window

As a flight passenger, there are numerous rules you're expected to follow. Some are explicit, such as buckling your seatbelt for takeoff and bringing only one carry-on bag. Other rules are left unspoken but are crucial for keeping the peace (a must when flying through the air in a tube with dozens or even hundreds of other people). One example: respecting other passengers' personal space.

In a viral TikTok clip, posted by a user named Sterling (@sterlingsavannah), a man can be seen throwing the rule right out the window — no pun intended. The video shows the content creator sitting in a window seat while her seatmate, located in the middle seat, whips out his phone camera to capture the view through the glass. In doing so, the man stretches his arms right in front of the TikToker, even nudging her shoulder while trying to take the perfect photo.

Meanwhile, Sterling appears uncomfortable, rubbing at her face and pursing her lips while the stranger encroaches on her personal space. "Only option was to stare out the window," reads the clip's caption, accompanied by a crying emoji.

How to respond when a seatmate enters your space

The TikTok clip has amassed thousands of comments, mostly from people siding with Sterling. "WHO DOES THAT?!" wrote one commenter, while another joked, "The way I would have closed the shade so fast." However, many TikTokers felt the content creator should have confronted the man who invaded her seat space. "It's very important to be able to advocate for ourselves when someone is making us uncomfortable," reads one popular comment. Others offered specific suggestions, such as staring at the man, telling him he was getting too close, or even offering to switch seats. However, as one commenter noted, Sterling was likely stuck in a "freeze response" following the shocking behavior — a response that could strike anyone in a similar scenario.

While confrontation might not come easily to everyone, Tammy Lenski, an interpersonal conflict resolution specialist, told Chicago Tribune that speaking up can help passengers protect their personal space and can be done without causing a scene. "Strike up a friendly conversation. It's much easier to ask for your space once you know his or her name and are on friendly terms," Lenski advised. Then, kindly ask the other person to move. If this strategy doesn't work, get up and speak privately to a flight attendant. They may be able to de-escalate the situation and stop your annoying airline seatmate from elbowing you throughout the flight.