Top 10 Rules We Wish Airlines Would Enforce

Posted Apr 1st 2010 12:51 PMUpdated May 5th 2010 10:22 AM



Aaron Escobar, flickr

Have you ever had to sit next to a loud, drunk or just plain smelly passenger? How about in front of a shrieking kid who won't stop kicking your seat right where your chiropractor just performed an adjustment? How about one of those people who immediately recline their seat and keep it there -- even through meal service (if the airlines are even serving meals anymore)? Don't you wish there was a law against that? In an ideal world there would be. To wit, we put together a list of 10 commandments we would put into effect if we ruled the world (or at least the friendly skies). Some of the onus is on the airlines themselves, of course, but many of them require passengers to observe both etiquette and a smidgen of common courtesy. So let's be a little more thoughtful out there. Anything else you'd like to make part of the airline bible? Tell us in the comments below.

1. Passengers shall place their carry-on bags in the overhead bin directly above their seat.
It's so frustrating to book a seat towards the front of the plane hoping to make a quick getaway, only to find the compartments above your seat are full. That means either waiting for everyone else to get off the plane or fighting your way upstream like a salmon to find your bag that ended up back about 15C. Passengers should be required to use the space allotted for their seat, and that's it. Strictly enforcing rules about what passengers bring on the plane would also mean fewer flight delays, gate checks, stewards barking orders, and attempts by passengers to hoist carry-ons that they physically can't carry on. "I'm always hearing that readers think airlines should severely limit carry-on luggage," says Anne Banas of "Or better yet, reward those passengers willing to travel light with perks like priority boarding and deplaning."

2. Drunk passengers shall not be allowed to board.
Give the gate agents breathalyzer machines and bar anyone over the limit. If you don't think it's a big problem, it is. Intoxication causes both disruptions and flight diversions. One inebriated United Airlines passenger defecated on a First Class serving cart in plain view then tracked his poop through the main cabin. In January, NORAD dispatched two F-16 fighter jets to escort an AirTran flight because an unruly and over-indulged passenger refused to leave the toilet. Thousands of dollars and manpower were wasted, not to mention that the flight was delayed hours while the FBI questioned all passengers. A recent United Airlines DC-Vegas flight was also diverted to Denver after an allegedly drunk and disorderly passenger tried to open the cockpit door (nothing more embarrassing than appearing on the evening news and YouTube). It's for your own good, too, since interfering with flight crews can mean up to 29 years in prison and a million-dollar fine.

3. Airlines shall tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
We demand transparency in politics and finance, why not in aviation? It starts with the hidden surcharges. Airlines should be required to clearly list all in-flight fees (food, headsets, WiFi) up front on its website. The new Passenger Bill of Rights is a start, but we need a real explanation about the flight delays. Is the crew late because of a fender-bender, or just a bender (last year, both a United and an American Airlines pilot allegedly failed breath tests)? Admit when minor malfunctions are major -- and that they should have been repaired the night before. Tell us as soon as you know we'll have to go into a holding pattern and why. And as Banas comments, stop padding the itinerary so you can boast about on-time arrival. We are on to you.

4. All children shall have their own seat.
Children under the age of two are usually allowed to fly sitting on a parent's lap free of charge. Tempting for parents on a budget, but the thought of a squirmy infant with nowhere to go for three hours is not exciting. And what if there is extreme turbulence, or even worse, a crash landing? We say parents should have to purchase tickets (at a steep discount, in our perfect world) and should also be required to bring a government-approved car seat both as restraint and for the child's safety. And parents, we get that kids have sensitive eardrums (hence the squalling), but stop the seat kicking already. In fact, let's confine families to one section.'s Annie Scott suggests, only half-kidding, putting families behind a soundproof barrier with formal kicking wall. Not a bad idea.

5. Passengers shall not violate the personal space of others.
This seems to be the most controversial commandment of all. TripAdvisor recently asked 3,200 travelers to air their biggest plane gripes and nearly 75 percent responded that large travelers should be required to buy two tickets. United and Continental already mandate buying an extra "air-besity" seat, as does Southwest, despite the Kevin Smith PR tummy ache (the director and carrier weren't a good fit). But even if your width stays within the confines of a conventional airline seat, you're still crammed in like a sardine. So we urge airlines to restore shrinking legroom back to the masses. Only JetBlue (and to a lesser extent, other value carriers) ensures passenger comfort in steerage. If we look at it from purely a safety standpoint, studies have found that minimum legroom standards help safeguard against blood clots, a potentially fatal risk for those spending lengthy immobile periods in cramped quarters. We also make the controversial call for eliminating reclining seats. Sure you should be able to eke out any bit of comfort you can, but that doesn't matter to the person behind you that is trying to work on a laptop or do something crazy like eat without getting crushed to death.

6. Passengers shall have proper hygiene.
Cleanliness is even closer to godliness at 30,000 feet, especially in a confined airplane with recycled air. Speaking of feet, don't allow passengers to remove smelly shoes and socks. Install antiseptic cleansers throughout the plane, not just at the lavatory. And have products like deodorant available for funky travelers who smell like they ran a marathon. The rule of thumb should be: if you can smell passengers from 10 feet away, ban them!

7. Airlines shall thoroughly clean the planes.
There's a reason health professionals often cite aircrafts as virtual petri dishes, incubating illness despite the HEPA air recycling filters. Yes, we know there's never enough turnover time and it's an unpleasant task. But collecting plastic cups, fast-food wrappers, and newspapers isn't sufficient. Change every seat-back doily, spray disinfectant throughout the plane, and really scrub the lavatory. And we'd appreciate it if you would check the seats and seatback pockets for chewed gum (a violation we have encountered -- twice).

8. Passengers shall keep the noise down.
If your seatmate can hear the music coming from your headphones, it's too loud. Period. Flight attendants should confiscate obnoxious flight DJs' gear and remind them to remove headsets instead of shouting over the music, unaware of the decibel level. While we're at it, just because you can use your cell phone while we are taxiing to the gate doesn't mean we need to hear every detail of where you're going to meet your ride. Same goes for your personal life, business deals, or the latest National Enquirer gossip.

9. Airlines shall institute dual boarding.
This is already done on some larger international flights, but imagine how much easier it would be if people could board using both the front and back of the plane. There'd be less jamming the aisles (another persistent threat to on-time departures). As a corollary, notes Banas, people who attempt to board out of their "zone" or before their row number is called should be publicly shamed and sent to the back of the boarding line.

10. Passengers with tight connections shall always be allowed to deplane first.
Really. The loudspeaker announcement requesting people to be polite just doesn't hack it. Keep the seatbelt sign on and escort those passengers off first. Then you won't be holding planes for passengers delayed on other flights. To us that's a win-win situation. And the crew should call ahead to the connecting flight and ensure the passenger can board (even if the bags don't). Every once in a while, a sympathetic flight attendant will go out of their way to make sure people get where they need to go, but think how much nicer it would be if this was law.
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Jordan, Thanks for the great and comprehensive list. We will all find a few more rules that should be instituted but if the airlines would just take care of your list I might actually fly again. Because of my allergies some of my pet peeves include cologne and perfume, make up with fragrance, nail polish and remover (painting nails on plane), smelly hair spray etc. Now there are UV lights that take away all bacteria on surfaces. Running these over seats, handles, overheads, in the bathrooms and all surfaces would help keep us safe from pandemics and colds. I know of a guy who has a machine. You deplane everyone and run it for like 10 minutes and it kills everything. You could run those every night. I think the people of the whole world would appreciate it if we did this. Then we would not have to spend billions scaring everyone about pandemics. Janmarie

April 10 2010 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
delores danielsno

I totally agree with most of this. I do not want to be touched by anyone's fat while seated nest to them and I am always amazed at just how filthy people are when they get on board. Nasty feet, dirty hair, B O that would make a pig cry. However..... have you not noticed that not every seat has an overhead bin directly above it? As far as dual boarding goes it would take two jetways for each gate and a lot of planes do not have doors in the back. Don't show your stupidity by suggesting such things. All you people really want is CHEAP TICKETS and that does not pay for two jetways or reconfiguration to accomodate more carry on baggage and the planes have to make as many flights a day as possible so being on the ground long enough for a full cleaning is out of the question. They get that at night but in between flights they only have time to pick up trash that is visible. We come by picking up trash about a dozen times so don't blame us if people are too lazy to even hand us their trash or spill their drink on the tray table and don't wipe it up or ask us to. People change their babies diapers on those tray tables. It is the passengers who are gross not the airlines every time.

April 09 2010 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
debbi merritt

Air line fees are incomprehensible. The posted ticket price should include all taxes, seat selection fees, list baggage fees, food and beverage fees...AND require compensation for passengers who are delayed with missed connections ( ie meal tickets at airport restaurants).

April 08 2010 at 6:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What they should do, check in bags free and charge for carry on bags. Charge by the size. sm-med-lg

April 08 2010 at 6:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
traveling boricua

I work for an airline and agree with most of what was said. People should stop carrying so much junk on board, for that I'm glad Spirit will start charging up to $45 for carry-on bags, maybe this will help create some sense. Next, passengers not only violate your personal space on board but also in the gate area. If we continue to tolerate it, it's just going to get worse. If you are upset because your flight is late again to Newark, Chicago, La Guardia, Dallas the write to your congressman and let him know that the airports, not the airlines, are getting greedy and have too many flights arriving and departing at the same time. Add bad weather to this and your trip is ruined. Overweight people should buy two tickets and should not occupy an aisle seat. Don't like it? Take Greyhound or drive. Stop with the pets in the cabin. You and I know it is not your service animal nor emotional support. Last, Jet Blue offers boarding through the front and back doors of the airplane, getting those lazy people with a carry-on, a bag pack, purse and extra bag to go down the stairs takes a miracle. Because of this, boarding takes longer and then they nag because "there is no room for my bags". It will take society to go back to what it was traveling 20 years ago for everyone to enjoy traveling again. Don't ask what's the problem and why are you delayed if you are not going to believe it or you are questioning it. If you know the truth then don't ask. Oh yeah and your cousin at the other end is not the weather man, nor does he live 33000 up in the sky. He doesn' t know what's going on.

April 08 2010 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Bob it's me again... the reason FA's carry on three bags is because 1. we have mandatory equipment to carry on board. 2. at least three days worth of clothing, with sometimes minimum connections to ensure ontime departure of our next flight. 3. we have to carry our food with us because 8 times out of 10 we can't get off the plane to get anything to eat. My personal record is 14 hours on the same plane without being able to get off so that we can ensure as close an ontime departure as possible.

April 08 2010 at 9:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Bob, I don't know who you fly but my airlines tells us to use bins at the back evenly distributed. the first few rows are for the bulkhead where there is no underseat storage. I've seen FAs move passenger bags who are sitting further back to keep those bulkhead bins clear for the people sitting under them.

April 08 2010 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Stop bashing the airlines, it is still a great value. I plan my travel carefully and am still paying prices of 20+ years ago. Would you really rather travel by car with screaming kids, traffic delays, dangerous, sometimes cramped and no food served? Can take two days to travel and stay in a hotel versus a few hour flight. Time is money! Flying isn't perfect but I haven't found a better way yet.

April 08 2010 at 5:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great "wish" list...requires the airlines to invest some time and money and, let's face it, those businesses are going to be reluctant to do that given their cost structures.

The ideas that require a sense of decency and common courtesy make sense also and should be easier to implement but...

People who (usually) buy a discounted airline ticket don't own the damn cabin...but sure act like it.

Clean up, shut up and behave yourselves. It's doable, believe me. Use to happen all of the time before this nightmare called deregulation.

Cabin crews, remember that the passengers are the reason you have a job and make a living - usually enforced by a labor contract.

Mutual respect will get us a long way.

April 08 2010 at 4:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

JetBlue has dual boarding in Ft Lauderdale. Some thru the jetway and others outside onto the ground and board up the rear stairs. It really is fast and organized.

April 08 2010 at 2:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply