Excuse me, please keep your shoes on while on the plane

SAN FRANCISCO • Dreaming of getting a good sleep on a plane?

Unless you are ensconced in First Class, drifting off to dreamland is never an intimate affair - everyone on the aircraft knows the decibel level of your snoring.

To gauge how passengers perceive and handle nightmare flight scenarios, British Airways recently surveyed 1,500 travellers from the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy.

The responses are eye-opening, but do not necessarily represent the gold standard of politesse.

For the best practices at high altitudes, The Washington Post reached out to Ms Lizzie Post, a president at the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont, and co-host of the podcast, Awesome Etiquette.

Here are the insights from travellers - and the final word from the manners expert.

When it comes to armrests, 67 per cent of respondents said passengers should command only one side and leave the other for their neighbour.

More than 40 per cent of British and American passengers occupying the middle seat said they were most likely to monopolise both armrests.

Travellers from Italy, France and Germany were more courteous: Nearly half said the valuable real estate should go to the first person who asks.

Ms Post said: "Don't try to stake a claim on the armrest. Share it."

She recommends sharing the physical space (for instance, you take the front section and your seatmate claims the back portion) or taking turns to use it.

Shoes off is okay (59 per cent); sockless is not okay (87 per cent).

Not surprisingly, three-quarters of Italians, who come from the Land of Gucci loafers and Salvatore Ferragamo pumps, turn their noses up at passengers who remove their footwear.

Ms Post said: "Out of consideration for other passengers, to the best of your ability, we advise you to keep your shoes on while on the plane."

If the person in the aisle seat is snoozing and you need to access the toilet, do you wake him up?

Yes, according to 80 per cent of surveyed subjects, but only once a trip, added 40 per cent.

A third said they would find a way to get past the slumbering body, but were torn over the best approach.

More than half agreed on a face-to-face (or derriere-to-tray table) exit strategy.

Ms Post said: "Absolutely wake the person up. When possible, the aisle person has an etiquette obligation to make it easy for the other people."

Bedtime stories should stay brief, according to more than 80 per cent of travellers.

Seatmates should exchange a quick hello and a smile, then zip the lip.

Americans (42 per cent) disapprove of sharing personal tales and will slip on headphones to cancel the conversation. Britons use the skip-to-the-loo excuse. Italian and French travellers are more magnanimous: 80 per cent of Italians consider small talk appropriate and half the French respondents consider flying a friendship-forging opportunity.

Ms Post said: "Brief chit-chat is nice, but not obligatory. You can gauge if this is a good person to further the conversation with."

To ease out of the situation, she suggests telling the person you are going to tuck into your book or listen to your music and pop in your ear buds.

On the topic of snoring, 66 per cent said they will not nudge a nose-bugling neighbour, but will mute the noise by cranking up the volume on their entertainment system.

However, 20 per cent of Britons will give the offender a shove and then feign innocence.

Ms Post said: "Ignore it and block it out with your own entertainment system. Wax earplugs are great."

Sleeping accessories vary by nationality. Americans prefer noise-cancelling headphones; Italians and the French favour diva eye masks.

Ms Post said: "There is no etiquette offence, though other people might have to tap you harder if they need you to move."

The majority of travellers say switching seats is acceptable, but only after checking with the flight attendant.

Britons are the most likely to nab a new spot. They usually pounce after take-off and once the pilot has turned off the seat-belt sign.

Ms Post said: "Asking the flight attendant is a good idea. It is respectful and you're holding onto a ticket that says you are in a different seat, so they should be aware of any changes."

She also reminds people that "the empty seat is first-come, first-serve".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 24, 2018, with the headline 'Excuse me, please keep your shoes on while on the plane'. Subscribe