Eating seafood on your flight? Etiquette expert shares everything you should NEVER do on airplanes

SUNRISE, Fla. — If you’re a frequent flyer, you’ve probably sat next to “that” passenger at some point — the one who breaks all the unwritten rules of air travel. Now, an etiquette expert is sharing all of those things you should never do on a flight. Her list includes wearing pajamas, eating seafood, and holding up the line to board while sorting out your bags.

Jackie Vernon-Thompson says travelling on an airplane can be complex when it comes to etiquette because there are lots of unspoken rules to follow. However, being in an enclosed space with a large number of people for several hours makes following the correct protocols all the more critical.

The etiquette expert, from Sunrise, Florida, says you should never wear pajamas for a flight even — even if you’re traveling overnight. Moreover, you should never eat smelly food such as seafood. That’s right first-class flyers, skip the salmon and pick the chicken or vegetarian option.

Vernon-Thompson also points out that holding up the aisle while you put your bags in the overhead bins is a major no-no. You should also never ask someone if they’ll swap seats unless your seat is better than theirs.

“There are quite a few etiquette protocols that should be adhered to on a plane because we are confined in a small space,” says Vernon-Thompson, who runs From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette, in an online video. “It’s very important because you’re likely sharing the space with a couple of hundred people.”

The expert notes that blocking the aisle while putting your bag in overhead storage is “an etiquette protocol which is violated constantly.” The correct thing to do is to sit in your seat with your bag until the aisle is clear or boarding passengers. Similarly, you should never extend your legs into the aisle to give yourself more leg room, even if the coast is clear at that point.

“Spreading your legs out like that is a non-negotiable no-no. There are seats with extra leg room you can pay for – if you need that, purchase a ticket for extra leg room. If you need to stretch your legs, take a walk – but you paid for your seat, not the aisle.”

Jackie Vernon-Thompson, an etiquette expert
Jackie Vernon-Thompson, an etiquette expert (Credit: SWNS)

Seat trading is a complex negotiation

Vernon-Thompson explains you should never switch seats of your own accord, always get permission first. You should begin by asking a member of the crew if a seat closer to your party is free, once everyone else is in their seats. If not, in some circumstances you may ask to switch with someone, but NEVER do this if the seat you’re offering is far away, or worse than the one they’re currently in.

“You cannot reasonably expect someone in the front of the plane to switch to the rear or in a downgraded area of the plane,” Jackie says in her video.

“In a row, you can’t ask them to sit in your center seat when they were sat in the aisle or window – they must get an equivalent of what they have purchased. If the seat you’re offering them is a long way from where they’re sat, or a worse seat, just stay where you are. It’s unreasonable to ask.”

In the wake of COVID, Jackie notes that if you cough frequently, even if it’s not due to illness, you should wear a mask on board to give others peace of mind.

Airplane passenger showing boarding pass and COVID vaccine passport
(© Rido –

As for bad smells, Jackie says you should also avoid eating foods which have a lot of onions or smells heavily of garlic. Also, you should also NEVER remove your shoes or socks if you’re prone to having smelly feet or haven’t showered recently.

“If you know your feet will have a foul odor, don’t take your shoes off,” the etiquette expert explains. “If they’re uncomfortable – well, you should have worn more comfortable shoes and controlled your hygiene better. If you do take them off, its not appropriate to walk anywhere on the plane barefoot or in just socks – put them back on before leaving your seat.”

According to Jackie, you should dress to fly like you’re going out in public — that means NO pajamas or overly revealing outfits. If you’re in first class, the standards are even higher because paying extra for a seat means there is an “investment into a certain standard.”

Flying with kids can be chaos for everyone

The final subject Jackie shared her views on is children on flights, both as a parent and as a passenger without children whose flight may be disturbed by them. Often controversial as a subject, Jackie says, as a parent, you should make all reasonable efforts to prevent your child being unsettled while flying. This includes feeding them, taking them to the bathroom before boarding, and bringing comfort items on board such as a doll, blanket, or even a high-tech gadget.

“Be armed with anything your child or baby uses to comfort them – for the flight, bring whatever it takes to calm them down,” Vernon-Thompson says. “If you’re trying to wean them off the dummy and they’re struggling, for a flight, the dummy goes into the mouth for the sake of peace.”

She also says parents should ensure their children are well-rested the night before to prevent the kids from becoming agitated due to tiredness. Meanwhile, the expert adds that as a passenger not related to the children, you should “try to extend grace” — remembering that children can be disruptive by nature.

Try to stay calm and ignore disruptions, but if it becomes out of hand, you may ask the flight attendant if there is a vacant seat in another section. If not, remember the parent may be just as frustrated by the situation and respect that they may be overwhelmed.

“If you aren’t able to move seat, and the parent isn’t making an effort to calm the child, politely and gratefully ask the parent to calm the little one,” Jackie says. “Your words and tone mean a great deal in that moment. It may mean a lot to the parent if you offer to hold the child for a bit to help calm them down – if the situation allows, don’t be afraid to offer.”

Jackie concludes that you should never forget to show patience and courtesy to flight attendants.

“Be respectful and polite and thank people if they help you with anything. Many thank-yous should be spewed in that environment.”

Keep the small talk to a minimum

Along with all of the expert’s advice, travelers may also want to keep the chatter to a minimum — especially with strangers. In a 2022 poll of over 1,000 Americans, 45 percent think travelers are less self-aware and ruder now than they were before 2020. If you need proof that people aren’t taking their fellow travelers into consideration, the poll finds a staggering 94 percent think it’s acceptable to bring smelly food onto an airplane.

Meanwhile, two in three people actually think it’s ok to start a conversation with someone sitting next to them on a plane. In fact, only 35 percent say it’s an annoying habit.

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South West News Service writer Amy Reast contributed to this report.

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