Alitalia deplaining
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

What Is the Proper Etiquette For Efficient Deplaning?

here you are, sitting in a metal tube with wings for several hours from the time you boarded the airplane and through the duration of the flight — not taking into account the times you needed to use the lavatory or any delay you might have experienced.

The last thing you probably want to do is remain seated in that seat — especially if you were assigned to a seat in the economy class cabin — and you probably want to exit from the airplane as soon as possible. Perhaps you have a connecting flight which is scheduled to depart shortly. Maybe you have a pressing appointment. If you did not use the lavatory aboard the airplane, then that washroom in the airport is seeming pretty good right about now for some long-awaited relief.

What Is the Proper Etiquette For Efficient Deplaning?

Usually, only one exit is open for all passengers to leave the airplane — which is not very efficient if the aircraft is large and packed with people…

…so what is the proper etiquette for leaving the airplane as efficiently as possible? That apparently depends on your point of view.

“I’m 6’3″,” explained FlyerTalk member DJCobol, “so after 2+ hours sitting in tiny coach seats having my knees bashed in by the person in front of me, I just want to stand up. I’m not trying to rush past the people in front of me to get off the plane, but just let me stand up and stretch a little bit.”

FlyerTalk member sethb complained that “It’s when people block the aisle without taking their luggage down that I get annoyed. They’re unnecessarily slowing down everybody else’s exit.”

Usually ready to go, FlyerTalk member ThompsonBr reasoned that “it’s hard to get ready when I can’t even step out momentarily to get bags in ready position (one on my lap and the overhead ready to pull out).”

Possibly based on experience influenced by former frequent contact with air traffic controllers at a former employer, FlyerTalk member matrixwalker2012 justifies: “For me, sometimes I let the ones in the row in front of me get up and get their stuff, and sometimes if I feel I can shoot by them before they reach the aisle, then I’ll shoot that gap”, explaining that “I got to learn from them how to safely shoot gaps on intersecting runways with planes. How else do you think they can launch 60-80 planes an hour and also land 60 as well?”

What “kills” FlyerTalk member ATOBTTR “is when people do absolutely nothing to get ready to go, and when the person in front of them finally begins walking, only then do they even START getting their things together, including (particularly) doing things they could have easily done while still sitting in their seat or standing in the aisle waiting — putting their books and Ipads away, folding their jacket, etc. The person in front of them manages to walk the entire length of the aisle and get off the plane and they’re still trying to get their stuff together. Drives me nuts. Just because you don’t have anywhere to be doesn’t mean people behind you don’t as well.”

I will take that one step further: as a person who prefers to sit in a seat by the window, I somehow usually manage to have a fellow passenger seated in the same row as me who is of the mind of letting the rest of the passengers off of the airplane before he or she will even consider getting up, resulting in blocking my egress from the row. However, that is typically an issue which a polite “excuse me, please” usually resolves quickly.

Premium Class Exits First — or Does It?

The members of the flight crew on many airlines usually do not allow passengers who were seated in the economy class cabin to exit until most or all passengers who were seated in the premium class cabin have already exited, which is an undocumented perk…

…but the members of the flight crew of some airlines are lax and allow all passengers from all cabins to leave on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

The latter seems to typically occur when I am seated in the premium class cabin; while the former usually occurs when I am seated in the economy class cabin — but that does not really bother me for the most part…

…especially when upon exiting the airplane, everyone winds up on the same one or two buses which will transport them to the airport terminal anyway — usually rendering who exited the airplane first moot in terms of saving any time. You will wait either way — on the airplane or on the bus. This system is typical at many airports outside of the United States — as well as a few airports within the United States.

Add waiting at baggage claim if you checked your belongings for the flight.

Common Courtesy?

“I actually will block those from behind because I have been stuck in a window before where the inconsiderate db’s in the rows behind pushed forward, nor allowing those inside the row to exit”, posted FlyerTalk member Crazyhotelguy. “If I sit aisle, I will get up, grab my crap, and leave as much space for seat mates to push in to the aisle. If I know which bag they had, I will offer to pull it down.

“I think this is common courtesy.”

Another example of common courtesy is imparted by FlyerTalk member TravelsaurusRex: “My routine is to stand up at the ding and get my briefcase squared away (put my book, headphones, etc. back). Then I’ll see if I can get anyone in the middle or window their bags to help out and generally try not to take up too much space in case anyone else wants to stand. If there’s room, I’ll pull my suitcase down but usually there isn’t, so I’ll wait until the line is moving and grab it when it’s my time to go.”

The etiquette for deplaning in the most efficient and respectful manner can be boiled down to a few simple points, as summarized by FlyerTalk member darthbimmer:

  1. Gather your belongings ahead of time so you’re ready to move when given the opportunity.
  2. Take your bags down without blocking traffic in the aisle. Do it either while standing at the aisle seat, or from the aisle if the aisle isn’t moving.
  3. Don’t stop in the aisle to wait for people who aren’t ready. That creates more delays. But…
  4. Don’t push or cut off people who are trying to move. That’s hostile and doesn’t help empty the aircraft any faster.”


“What makes me laugh is that anyone actually believes that any of this deplaning ‘stuff’ is ever going to change”, commented FlyerTalk member krlcomm. “I’ve been at this pretty much weekly (8 times last week, 8 times this upcoming week, and 4-8 pretty much every week) since the end of 1995… it has always been the same and will never change… never. So if venting about it here makes you feel better, carry on!”

That is probably correct, as I myself have rarely seen a significant variation over the years of how people leave an airplane.

“With this many interpretations of what proper etiquette even is, you’ll never get a consensus”, lamented FlyerTalk member Ben and Jerry. “And without true consensus deboarding will just continue to be what it is: get out while you can. And if you’re in the back rows of the plane, that likely means you’re waiting for quite a bit. Live with that, because it’s not going to change.”

Perhaps; but like with many of the other situations which are debated amongst frequent fliers, confrontations can be prevented and issues can usually be resolved with exercising some patience — as well as treating fellow passengers politely and with respect.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.


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