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Aeroplane (airplane!) etiquette

This week, a plane had to be diverted because a fight broke out between two passengers. While on his laptop, a man used a Knee Defender, a device that stopped the woman in front of him from reclining her seat. He refused to remove the device when asked by a flight attendant. ‘The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him’, the enforcement official said.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac.

A United Airlines plane on the tarmac. Photo from The Guardian.

I have written posts on bus etiquette, commuter train etiquette and also what to do when you have a private chauffeur. I have been requested to write about aeroplane etiquette previously, which I have declined. In light of recent events, I now feel it is my duty to share basic aeroplane etiquette.

Photo from

I’d like to believe that those in the middle seats should get armrest priority. After all, the ones in the window and aisle seats have one for their exclusive use. But I realise, I might be the only one who thinks this way. Be willing to share the armrest. If your fellow passenger is taking up all the space, slip your elbow behind theirs. If they are polite, this will likely force them to make some space for you. If not, discreetly take up an inch more of the space at a time.

Be prepared to share the armrest. Photo from

Reclining the seat
It is only fair to mention the incident that is the inspiration for this post. It’s very easy to avoid unwanted beverages thrown at you: do not use a Knee Defender. You must expect that the person in front of you will recline their seats. You can try to avoid reclining seats by requesting the first row seats or the emergency exit row, the both usually has more leg room.

The Knee Defender, a device designed to keep the seat in front from reclining. Photo from

It is perfectly acceptable to recline your seat during long haul flights. The cabin lights are dimmed creating an atmosphere conducive for naps. It should go without saying, do not rest your head on the stranger’s shoulder when you sleep. If you find yourself unwittingly made into a headrest, feel free to wake the sleeping person a violent shake.

Do try to avoid reclining your seat in short flights. The United Airlines flight which experienced the fracas was flying from Newark to Denver, a 4 hour journey. Arguably, a 4 hour flight is neither long nor short. Avoid the aggravation and simply keep your seat upright if you are sat in front of a whiny person. I was informed that the seats in most budget airlines do not recline because there is no need for it during short flights.

Flight attendants
The cabin crew are trained to deal with difficult and irritating passengers.
Do speak to them if the child behind you keeps kicking or someone’s music is blasting through their headphones. Let the cabin crew handle the situation and you will be spared awkward discussions and nasty stares for the duration of your flight. I suppose if if the woman who threw water had let the flight attendants sort the incident out, it would have been very likely that she or the Knee Defender man would be moved to a different seats.

I hope that this post will help make your flights more pleasant and agreeable. At the very least, I hope it will prevent future altercations with fellow passengers. When in doubt, be aware of other people’s discomfort; be considerate and do not to be the annoying passenger.

Bon voyage,

Update: Only days later, a second plane had to be diverted due to a similar incident involving a passenger row over reclining seats . Read the full report dated 29 August 2014 here. We are grateful to our reader Ruth for bringing this to our attention.

Do leave a comment below if you would like me to write a piece on airport etiquette or if you’d like me to share etiquette tips that will help you get flight and hotel upgrades.


Formal dining: using your napkin

I recently wrote a short piece on Restaurant Etiquette for the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling. Even as I was writing it, I knew I could not possibly cover every aspect of  restaurant dining in one article. There are a myriad of things to consider; most of them, thankfully, have been ingrained into our psyche. Some aspects however, require a little more consideration. I’m rather proud that I am able to fill an entire blog post solely with “napkin etiquette”.

Photo credit

Photo credit

The title of this post is not “Napkin etiquette”. Could there be such as thing? The napkin is always inoffensively hidden in plain sight, on one’s lap. So here is my post on napkin etiquette, more appropriately entitled: The Etiquette Butterfly’s Practical Guide to Using Your Dinner Napkin.

1. The napkin for your use is the one to your left, or directly in front of you or tucked in your wine glass. Place it on your lap as soon as you are seated. Do so without show or flourish.

Refrain from using the napkin as a bib. The exception is that if lobster is to be served, a suitable bib may be provided or everyone may tuck their napkin into their collar. If you regularly stain your shirts, it might be because you are leaning in too close to the table when you take a bite or eating your soup incorrectly. Do read more on my previous posts on eating messy food and soup etiquette.

Fold the napkin with the edges facing away from you

Fold the napkin with the edges facing away from you. Photo credit: Jay and Bee

2. Place the napkin on your lap folded in half with the edges away from your body (see photo above). There is a practical reason for this. We all know napkins are there to prevent staining one’s clothes and for dabbing excess food from around one’s mouth (I say dab; madam shouldn’t have to ruin her lipstick now, should she?). Dab with top layer of the napkin only.

If the edges were facing you or the napkin is laid unfolded, the natural tendency would be to use the side of the napkin which is in contact with your clothes. This would defeat the purpose of having a napkin. (See evidence below).

Food stains (beautifully represented by my red lipstick) kept from clothes by two layers of cloth.

3. If you have to temporarily leave the table for whatever reason, place the napkin on your chair. Just place it again on your lap when you return.

4. When you have  finished your meal, place the napkin directly in front of you on the table, or to your left if your plate is yet to be cleared. This is one way of showing the waiter you have finished. There is no need to fold it neatly, just lay it crumpled as it falls.

Photo credit

Photo credit

Napkins or serviettes?
Traditionally, a person belonging to the upper-class would probably say ‘napkin’ and the middle-classes would call it a ‘serviette’. None of that matters today, of course. Now, it is customary to call the cloth ones ‘napkins’ and those folded paper ones used at McDonald’s ‘serviettes’.



Commuter etiquette: train journeys

Photo credit Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling

Photo credit Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling

Travelling by train to Oxford at the weekend has given me the opportunity to reflect on travel etiquette. I thought this theme is apropos as I imagine many of our readers commute to work or school. You might even at some point have taken a table to do some work on the way. Here are my thoughts on train travel decorum.


1. Mobile phones

Think of travelling as being in transit. It’s not the time or place to carry out lengthy conversations. Perhaps save long phone calls when you are in your own space, where you might better express your thoughts rather than being harried by the demands of travel. Bear in mind that phone signals could be intermittent, so repeating “Hello, can you hear me?” can be annoying for your fellow passengers.

Brief phone calls are acceptable; a short, “I’m on my way, see you in a bit,” can be commonly heard. It’s not necessary to turn your phone to silent while on the train. But having the volume on too loud and failing to answer it immediately when it rings can cause embarrassment. When in the quiet coach, the courtesy of turning all devices to silent must be observed. 

2. Luggage on seats

Ladies are often culpable of leaving their handbags on the seat next to them. When the trains are especially busy, it is polite to make sure available seats are free of bags. This way, other passengers can sit without having to ask if it is available. If not, one risks being asked, bluntly, “Is that your bag on my seat?”

Food on the go. Photo:

Food on the go. Photo:

3. Train food

Once, on the train from York to London, I sat with two ladies who were on their way to see a West End show. They decided to make a weekend of it, starting with their train journey. From their picnic bags, they unearthed little Victoria sandwiches, and to drink, individual champagne bottles. It was such a treat to see.

Train food must not be messy, but above all, it should not be malodorous. Fast food such as burger and chips (fries for the North American vernacular) are ubiquitous at train stations. But the oily smell that lingers in contained spaces is unpleasant. Avoid food that may drip and is awkward to eat.  

worktrain4. Working on the train

Many people use their daily commute to get work done. If you find you have to do work on one of the tables, try to keep your things within your space. People would generally try a different seat when they find someone is working at the table. However, if the train is very busy and someone sits at your table, make a kind gesture by gathering your things in a pile. If they don’t need the table space, often they would say so.

The novelty of passing countryside has long worn off for seasoned commuters. One would be hard-pressed to make this enforced journey pleasant, but in the least, we can help make it bearable. Good manners is, after all, nothing more than making sure everyone around us is as comfortable as possible.

Bon voyage,

This piece was first published in 20 February 2014 on the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling.

Glove etiquette

“A lady should not take off her gloves in order to shake hands.”

For more tips on “glove etiquette, read Etikate’s article written for the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling.

Photo credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Photo credit: The Victoria and Albert Museum

Shaking hands at a buffet

Handshakes can be awkward when holding a plate of food

Handshakes can be awkward when holding a plate of food

Have you ever struggled with handshakes because you are holding a plate of food at the same time?

Read my latest article featured in Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling about avoiding “sticky handshakes”.

EtiKate contributing to ‘Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling’

highclereWe are delighted to announce that EtiKate is now a contributing writer for Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling. She will be writing in the Etiquette and Social Customs category.

SOTGC is a US-based website aimed to empower, support and promote working women in their chosen careers. The website has been named one of the Top 100 career websites by Forbes Magazine.

We will be posting links to the articles, and we hope you will enjoy reading them. We sincerely thank you for your continued support.