a group of people sitting in an airplane
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

Letting People Out of a Row Aboard an Airplane: Travel Etiquette

Aisle be the judge of that not to get into a row with someone?

When dozens to hundreds of people share the limited and confined space of a flying tube, actions that are typical on the ground can be rather tricky while in the air jetting through the atmosphere at hundreds of miles per hour. What is the travel etiquette of letting people out of a row aboard an airplane?

Letting People Out of a Row Aboard an Airplane: Travel Etiquette

a group of people sitting in an airplane
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

Suppose a passenger who is seated in either a seat by the window or a middle seat needs to leave the row — perhaps to use the lavatory; to get a snack on a long-haul flight; or maybe even to exercise by walking up and down the aisle. Should the passenger who is seated by the aisle get up to accommodate the fellow passenger who wants to get out of the row; or can he or she simply contort his or her body to create more room while staying seated so that the fellow passenger can shuffle and squeeze past towards the aisle?

During a meal service, should access be granted by the person sitting in the aisle seat to a passenger who needs to use a lavatory?

If one passenger needs to access the aisle and the passenger seated adjacent to the aisle is sleeping, should he or she be awakened?

What if the flight was a short flight — for example, less than one hour in duration? Must the passenger who is seated by the window wait until the flight has concluded; the airplane is at the gate; and the illuminated Fasten Seat Belt indicator is deactivated before he or she can get up?

Also, should a passenger not grab onto the seat in front of him or her when standing up and leaving the row?

Final Boarding Call

a group of people sitting in an airplane
Photograph ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

The protocols which I follow for myself are if:

  • A fellow passenger needs to get past me to access the aisle of the airplane, I will stand up — if only because that is much easier for me than scrunching my legs or putting my feet up; and doing so gives easier egress to the fellow passenger. I will usually do this regardless of the duration of the flight. This also reduces the chance of accidents from happening — such as a drink being spilled.
  • I need access to the aisle, I will usually wait until at least one of the other passengers in my row gets up before I get up. I can usually control my need to use the lavatory or get a snack on which to munch.
  • In the rare event that the need is urgent, I will gently let a sleeping passenger know that I need access to the aisle. I expect a similar gesture from a fellow passenger if I am the one sleeping in a seat next to the aisle.
  • During a meal service when trays are down, I prefer to wait until remaining items are collected by flight attendants. I will accommodate a fellow passenger if I have someplace else to temporarily store items that are on my tray table.
  • I need to get up, I try to avoid grabbing onto the back of the seat of a fellow passenger to minimize his or her discomfort.

I do realize that not everyone has a strong enough bladder to wait for an opening to the aisle. I also realize that not everyone is tall enough to reach for the handle that is usually located below the overhead storage compartment bins; or strong enough or balanced enough not to use anything to get up in a row. Medical issues can also be a factor for some passengers. This is why compromises should be considered: whatever needs to be done to minimize the discomfort of fellow passengers as much as possible. Physics does not always allow that to occur; but we should try our best anyway.

If for some reason I believe I will need access to the aisle multiple times, I will usually choose an aisle seat — but most of the time, I prefer a window seat.

What are your thoughts pertaining to the travel etiquette of letting people out of a row aboard an airplane? Please opine and share your experiences in the Comments section below.

All photographs ©2024 by Brian Cohen.

  1. I generally select an aisle if the flight is over about two hours. Or if I don’t have a roller bag, the bulkhead window in First as usually one can escape without bothering the aisle (and on airlines like Spirit and Allegiant they actually keep the front overheads closed and police it until the people in row 1 have all of their items above their own seats – just one of the many little touches that exceed other carriers).

    If I am in the aisle, I understand it is my duty to let others out. I will make every effort to do so. I can think of one time where I gave someone trouble about it and they were mad that they sat in my aisle seat (and they were a gate upgrade, I paid and selected the seat a month out) and I asserted that I would have my assigned seat. After my meal tray was placed and I unrolled the silverware, they told the F/A to hold theirs as they wanted to get up. I’m sure that timing was on purpose.

    I’ve sat next to people when I’m in the window who refuse to let the aisle out. Sometimes even after landing. I had a rather large person, who I was certainly going to be unable to get past, on a Breeze flight this year tell me that “I like to wait until everyone’s off, so we’re gonna stay sitting here until the end.” And put her headphones back on. I waited until the aisle cleared to our row and told her that she had best move because she’s probably going to get hurt when I climb over her.

    Years ago, when working for AirTran, I was heading ATL-LAX for a meeting. I was in the exit row aisle on a 737. Middle of the flight, had the tray down and a cocktail on it, chatting with my colleague across the aisle. The person in the window seat suddenly bolted up and, without saying anything to me or the person in the middle, reached over, grabbed the hand-rail on the bottom of the overhead and tried to swing himself up over my tray table. His legs didn’t make it and I ended up with my drink and my neighbors all over me. The flight attendant came back (who I knew… she had been around so long she was one of the survivors on the crew of Eastern 401 when it crashed in ’72, then went to ValuJet when Eastern closed) with a stack of paper towels and remarked “I didn’t figure him for an acrobat.”

    Grabbing the seat in front, especially out of the blue and with a strong pull, really is a pet peeve. I do everything possible not to. Then again, I ran cabin appearance for an airline and trained people on how to maneuver in and out of rows quickly so I probably have spent more time than most analyzing hand holds.

    It’s alright to rightfully insist on your assigned seat. Just as it’s also the right thing to realize aircraft are a shared space and all of us would rather the rest aren’t there, so we should do our part as humans to recognize we need to cooperate (and not abuse that cooperation).

  2. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t have an aisle seat. I always manage to get a right side aisle seat. Left leg needed to be occasionally stretched. A damaged left knee. I always try to make it pleasant for the person in my row to access the aisle. I will stand in the aisle for their egress as well for the ingress. The necessity of having to use the back of the seat in front of me as I hand hold, I don’t worry; particularly if the person in front has reclined.

    Deplaning, I wait until the rows in front exit. Sometimes I will assist other passengers in retrieving overhead items. If I know I will be somewhat slow in retrieving overheads I will encourage other passengers to precede me. Only once have I been confronted with a “late connection passenger” Why confront or delay them? I let them pass.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!