The Worst Airport Etiquette Mistakes

It can be hard to know exactly how to conduct yourself in an environment you're unfamiliar with, especially one as confusing and stressful as the airport. Most people are not frequent flyers. In fact, the average American in 2015 took just two airplane trips per year, according to Airlines for America. And in such a stressful environment, it can be easy to be rude without even realizing it. So, before you jet off, know which behaviors are expected and which behaviors are considered rude and inconsiderate at the airport.

Arriving at the airport late

It's not always easy to know when you should arrive at the airport, but one way to guarantee that you get your travels off to a rude start is to show up at the very last minute. Expecting others to let you cut them in line for security and running through the terminal is inconsiderate to those who got to the airport in a timely manner.

Getting into the wrong TSA line

If you have TSA Precheck, be sure that you get into the line with that express service. Similarly, if you don't have Precheck, don't attempt to get into that queue just because the line is shorter. If the airport has different security lines for different terminals and gates, double-check to make sure you're entering through the right lane. If not, you may be turned away leading to longer wait times for you, your traveling party and any other travelers behind you in line.

Not being ready before reaching security

Savvy travelers know to have their photo ID and boarding pass in hand when approaching airport security, so follow their lead. After you get past the initial ticket check, empty your pockets and take off your shoes, outerwear and belt before getting to the security scanners to further expedite the process for yourself and those around you. 

Unpacking a suitcase in line

If you're not traveling with TSA Precheck, you're required to remove large electronics, liquids and (sometimes) foods from your suitcase. If you're traveling with these items in your carry-on, TSA recommends keeping your bag organized, storing your 3-ounce liquid containers in a clear quart bag and placing items that need to be removed on top of your suitcase so you don't have to unpack your entire bag and hold up the line.

Ignoring TSA agents

TSA procedures can vary depending on wait times and information received from the government and law officials, so be sure that you listen to your TSA agents as they give instructions in line. Sometimes it's beneficial, like you don't have to take you shoes off, and sometimes the information they're relaying involves additional security measures. Listen to the agents, follow their instructions and don't argue with them.

Not tipping wheelchair assistants

Wheelchair services for elderly and disabled passengers are complementary in American airports. If you utilize this program, it isn't required that you tip, but it is something that the most polite people do for these hourly, minimum-wage employees. Tip depends on the size of the airport and how far a distance the assistant travels with you. While there is no set amount, tipping them $10-20 is a kind gesture.

Having poor hygiene

Airports are crowded places that frequently require you to be in very close proximity with your fellow human beings. Practicing good hygiene is one of the basic rules of etiquette. Even if you have an early-morning flight, put on some fresh deodorant, brush your teeth and run a comb through your hair.

Bathing in the restroom

Just because you shouldn't smell bad at the airport doesn't mean that the public restroom should turn into your personal grooming station. It's OK to brush your teeth and do a little freshening up in the bathroom, but washing your hair or taking a little sponge bath in the sink is intrusive and will make others around you feel uncomfortable.

Not using headphones

You almost certainly enjoy the music on your phone and the rewarding chimes of your mobile games, but the people around you probably don't share the same enthusiasm. Listening to music, games, movies or any other form of entertainment over speakers (instead of through headphones) is inconsiderate to the people around you.

Taking up more space than necessary

Airport gates can get quite crowded, especially as it gets closer to flight time. Refrain from putting your bags on a seat beside you, putting your feet up or otherwise spreading out. Keep your body and your belongings as compact as possible to allow others to sit while waiting to board.

Eating particularly pungent foods

Like we said, it's close quarters at the airplane gate. Your noise, your belongings and your smells are very close to those around you. Try to avoid eating smelly foods, such as fried foods, seafood or garlicky dishes. And no matter what you do, avoid these foods once you get on the plane.

Not keeping a close eye on your kids

There is a lot going on at the airport, but keep a close eye on your kids. Not only do you want to make sure they board with you, but you also want to make sure they aren't disturbing your fellow travelers or getting into trouble. If your flight is delayed, try these tips and games to keep kids busy.

Talking to people who want to be left alone

Many of us love to make small talk and meet new people while traveling, but if someone is on their laptop working, wearing headphones or reading a book in peace, don't bother them. This also goes for any celebrities you may spot in the terminal.

Yelling at employees

If you don't get that first-class upgrade you were hoping for, if you have to gate-check your bag or even if your flight was canceled, the last people you should take your frustrations out on are the airline employees. Most of the time, the people present at the gate are not the ones in charge of these major calls. Keep your cool and follow these tips if your flight is delayed.

Leaving a mess

You should always leave a place at least as clean as you found it, and that includes the airport. Clean up after yourself; that means trying to eat tidily so you don't leave crumbs everywhere and throwing away your own trash after you leave the restroom or when you get up from your seat in the waiting area at your gate.

Crowding the boarding area

If you have purchased a seat on the plane, you're going to get on board. Sit in the waiting area at your gate until your boarding group is called. Crowding the boarding area before the jetway has even opened up just leads to confusion. Even getting up before your group is called and standing near the final line as others board can delay the process.

Lining up with an earlier boarding group

If you're anxious to get on the plane, pay for express boarding or a business-class seat. Otherwise, wait your turn. Getting in line with the first boarding group when you're in boarding group five crowds the line and delays the process for others when you're inevitably turned away at the jetway.

Lingering in the jetway

Once you get through the final ticket-scanning process, don't linger in the jetway or in the airplane aisles. Just get to your seat as quickly as possible, stow your carry-on and personal items and take a seat.

Sitting in a seat that is not yours

If your airline has an assigned seat on your boarding pass, make sure that is the seat you wind up in. Don't swap your middle seat for a window spot at the last second, don't try to sit next to your spouse if you booked separate seats and don't try to edge your way into first class. Asking your fellow passengers to swap spots with you can also lead to some awkward encounters. They booked their seat for a reason, so don't put them in a position where they feel like they need to switch with you.

Taking someone else’s luggage

Nearly everyone has a black or navy bag, so make sure after you arrive in your final destination that you pick up your own suitcase. To ensure this happens, mark your bag with a distinctive luggage tag or ribbon. Also make sure you know which carousel is yours and how to get there, especially if your final destination is an airport you've never been to before. If you need help, there are plenty of tips for navigating a busy airport without losing your mind.