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Are You a Jerk on a Plane? Do You Do One of These 11 Things?

This is not your average list—it’s a better one.

Is it putting your seat back? Is it going back to the galley and asking the flight attendants for another beer? Is it using both of the armrests and giving the person in the middle seat no armrests? The answer might surprise you because the answer is: all of these things and also, possibly, none of them. What makes you a jerk on a plane is a case-by-case situation.

Let me explain. All of the above “bad behaviors” can definitely have excuses–and good ones. Everyone is different and has different needs. This–and I cannot stress this enough–is not the same thing as “being a jerk.” Needing to do a certain thing–put your seat back, for example–for a medical reason does NOT make you a jerk. What makes you a jerk is your attitude when you do it.

But despite it usually being a case-by-case situation, is there anything that DEFINITELY makes you a schmuck? Are there any behaviors that depict one as “Definitely a Jerk” regardless of them being quiet or polite or “nice” while doing the behavior?

Yes. Yes, there certainly are. Let’s go through them.

You Are Watching Porn–At All.

Before you email and tell me this isn’t a thing, it absolutely WAS a thing on the actual last flight I took, from Phoenix to L.A. The man next to me on the hourlong flight was watching porn the entire time we sat next to each other. To his “credit” (in parenthesis because actually, I don’t give him any credit for this), he tried to hide it, but come on, the dude was still blatantly watching porn on a damn plane. It was a night flight, too, so it glowed out of his phone and into my eyes like a lighthouse on a dark shore. Yeah, I could’ve said something. That’s on me. My excuse? I was just tired. But, bottom line–and this should not need to be said–don’t watch porn on a plane, or hell, in public. I know people do this and you know what? Sorry. It’s not that it’s simply “gross,” it’s that it’s also excessively rude. Go inside.

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Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

You Are Talking to Someone Who Is Clearly Trying to Sleep (Or Work, or Read, or…)

There’s nothing wrong with chatting it up with your seatmate. Nothing wrong with making a friend. Nothing wrong with that, one bit. However! Read the room. Notice cues. “Chatting it up” and “forcing someone to talk to you who clearly doesn’t want to” aren’t the same thing. Are they actively engaging in the conversation? Are they in the middle of working or reading or writing or listening to music? Or, do they generally just seem GLAD to be talking to you? If so–great! If not? Please stop.

You: Well, if they don’t want to talk to me, they should stop being polite and just say so. That’s on them, not me.

Ah, yes, I expected that argument, my contrarian friend!

And you know what? You’re not wrong! It takes two to tango, and setting that type of boundary definitely IS on them. Though, to play your game, there are (often post-traumatic) reasons one might choose NOT to blatantly ask you to stop talking to them because, perhaps, they have dealt with people in the past who didn’t react too kindly to that sort of thing.

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

You Get Mad When Someone Politely Tells You That They Don’t Want to Talk to You.

If someone does indeed tell you that they would rather not speak with you, a stranger, don’t get mad and don’t be rude to them. There are plenty of reasons that they don’t want to do this, one of which we’ve already covered. Here are a few more reasons: They’ve had a bad day, they’re tired, they’re introverts and if they talk to one more stranger it will drain the life out of them, they’re sad, they’re mad, they’re afraid you’re going to hit on them.

Just be a regular person. Don’t belittle someone for not wanting to talk to you.

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

Considerate man contemplates good plane behavior, before boarding. Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock

You Are Rude to the Flight Attendants or Refuse to Follow Airline Directions

There isn’t an excuse for unwarrantedly being rude to flight attendants or airline staff, regardless of the situation. It’s not their fault your plane is delayed. Are they, personally, treating you poorly? No? Okay, well, then knock off the attitude. That goes for blatantly not following the directions of the airline or flight crew—this isn’t serving them justice, it’s just making you look like a child who doesn’t know how to have human interactions.

Is your bag not fitting in the overhead bin? That’s not the flight attendant’s fault. Is your plane grounded and you’re stuck on the runway for hours? That sucks, but you having a temper tantrum isn’t making it any better and you look like a fool.

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

The plane should essentially be a silent, winged baguette flying through the sky, a quiet portal where you are served a small Coke Zero and several hours later you’re in [insert city of your choice here].

You Are Being Loud. At All.

A plane is a very annoying place where you are jailed in a seat for a very long time. You also do not have a lot of space if you’re someone like, say me, who sits in economy. And you know what makes that much worse? Noise. Many people–not just me, okay?–are sensitive to noise and in such a cramped space, it’s even more anxiety-inducing. Use your inside (library) voice and for the love of god do not yell. Do not ever shout (or shout-talk) on a plane. Scientifically, the reason you should not do this is “it sucks” and “is extremely annoying.” It is advised instead that you wait to do your shouting until you have safely reached your destination. Now THAT’S the time to let loose, my friend. The plane should essentially be a silent, winged baguette flying through the sky, a quiet portal where you are served a small Coke Zero and several hours later you’re in [insert city of your choice here]. Quiet hours on the plane are 24/7, people, and don’t you forget it!

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

You Are Doing Weird Things (Or Really, Anything) With Your Feet.

This could be a number of things: clipping your toenails, playing with your bare feet, having bare feet in general (this depends, in my opinion, but it is Usually Bad), putting your feet up on the armrest in front of you, touching anyone you don’t know personally with your feet (I don’t know why you would be touching anyone you do know personally with your feet either, but maybe you’re sitting weirdly in your seat and the person sitting next to you is your mom. I don’t know. There are exceptions, that’s how life goes).

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

You Are Not Using Headphones.

Honestly, this rule goes for everywhere but MOST OF ALL it should be abided on a plane. Riddle me this, do you think that you are the only person on the planet? Do you think the others around you, in your general plane vicinity, cannot… hear you? Or do you just not care? Ah, well, if that’s the case, sorry! you are, in fact, a jerk.

You: I’m in public, I can do whatever I want, you’re not the boss of me.

Sure, you can. You absolutely can, my I-must-always-have-the-last-word-lovin’ friend. But just because you can doesn’t mean you’re not… a large jerk. That part is nobody’s fault but your own! Not having consideration for those around you isn’t punk. It’s immature and embarrassing, actually.

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

You Are Extremely Drunk. Like Way Too Drunk.

Heyyy, pal, can you? Get yourself together? For just a little bit? No one says you’re not allowed to get this drunk when it’s only you being affected by it, but in this particular situation, you are… on a plane–a.k.a. a flying tube of sardines. Here’s the thing: Being this drunk (so drunk) is a slippery slope that might lead you into doing some of the very annoying things I have already mentioned (being excessively loud or talking to people without reading social cues, for example). That, or you’ll probably wind up embarrassing yourself in some way, breaking something, or losing some of your personal items.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few drinks, but for god’s sake, control yourself.

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

Not having consideration for those around you isn’t punk. It’s immature and embarrassing, actually.

You Cut in Front of Everyone When Getting off the Plane.

Plane exiting has rules and if you don’t follow them, then what can I say–you are a jerk! Everyone wants to get off the plane because, WOW, that flight was LONG, but hold up a second: You can’t go if the people in front of you haven’t.

You: But I have a connecting flight and I’m going to miss it if I don’t RUN off this plane RIGHT NOW!

Sure! That is totally understandable. You should communicate that–just say it! Chances are people will understand, and you can sprint along your way. As for everybody else? Hang tight just a second! It’s almost time to exit the plane! I can’t believe I gotta tell grown adults to not cut in line, but, hey, here we are.

Verdict: You Are Definitely a Jerk.

Putting the Seat Back?

This is one of those things that, given your specific actions, MIGHT make you a jerk—but only if you act like a jerk while doing it. The act, itself is not jerk-y. A lot of people have medical conditions where they need to put the seat back, so whenever people (including myself) publicly complain about this, there is usually a little bit of backlash. And I get it! It’s totally a thing that you might need to do. And if this does not describe you? You might still not be a jerk! Here’s a little checklist for you:

  • Did you put the seat back nicely and not ALL OF A SUDDEN AND HARSHLY, smacking the person behind you in the legs?
  • Once the seat is back, do you not try and press it back even further, therefore digging into said legs of the person behind you even more?
  • Is your seat not, generally, digging into the legs of the person behind you?
  • Did you, perhaps, check to see if the person behind you has their tray table down and, perhaps, is eating, so that you do not shove it back and cause a disaster from this?

Verdict: Completed the Checklist? Congratulations! You’re Not a Jerk!

Taking Complete Advantage of the Whole “You Can Go up to the Little Kitchen Area and Ask for Another Drink” Thing

This is another one of the situations where if you are polite and treat airline staff like human beings rather than your servants, this isn’t so bad! In fact, cool, very great that you can sometimes do this on planes if you would like more to eat or drink. The fine line that makes you a jerk, however, is if you are getting too drunk and therefore sloppy and/or rude (see “You’re Extremely Drunk” for further information).

Verdict: Are You Polite? Cool. You’re Not a Jerk.

So, there it is, and as you can see, the thing that all of these things have in common is that they’re very clearly rude and inconsiderate to other people in their general vicinity. Just be cool, man. You’re not the only person on the plane. Maybe someday you’ll have your own plane and can do all of these things on that. Until then, we all gotta share the same flying tube. You don’t have to love thy neighbor, but for goodness sake, be considerate of them.