Global Travelers Speak out on Flying Etiquette: British Airways Unveils Guide on How to Successfully Sleep Next to a Stranger

  • 67 percent agree you should take one armrest and leave the other for your neighbor
  • 59 percent agree shoes can come off, but 87 percent say socks must stay on
  • 80 percent say you can wake someone to go to the toilet, but 40 percent say only once
  • Americans have the lowest tolerance for talkative seat mates, but half of French travelers view air travel as a way to meet a new friend

NEW YORK--()--British Airways polled travelers across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France and Italy to address the biggest plane etiquette dilemmas facing fliers today. The airline has translated frequent flier feedback into an unofficial rulebook for how to successfully navigate your next flight.

British Airways took to the streets of London and New York to capture reactions to some of the biggest areas of contention. Click here for a quick preview or click on the questions to hear the topic debates: Should you take your shoes and socks off? Who owns the armrest? Should you engage in pillow talk with your seat mate? And what are the rules about waking a sleeping neighbor?

An infographic etiquette guide can be accessed here.

Cultural Context

Who really owns the armrest? 67 percent of all travelers surveyed say the proper etiquette is to take one armrest and leave the other for your neighbor. When it comes to being in the middle seat, British (47 percent) and American fliers (42 percent) are more likely to try and claim both armrests for themselves whereas close to half of all the respondents from Italy, France and Germany politely said the middle armrests should go to whomever asks for them.

Does the Shoe Fit? Travelers overwhelmingly agree it’s unacceptable to remove your socks in-flight, with 87 percent saying it shouldn’t be done. Removing shoes is more acceptable, however, with 59 percent of all travelers surveyed saying it’s fine to kick them off. In general, when traveling through Italy, be aware Italians are the most opposed to wardrobe changes, with 75 percent saying it’s unacceptable to remove shoes.

The Climb Over: How to get by your neighbor? When the person in the aisle seat is sleeping and you need the restroom, 80 percent of travelers say it’s okay to wake your neighbor for a toilet break, but 40 percent say you can do so only once per flight. A third of all travelers said they would step over a heavy sleeper to get out but were torn on which way to climb across. Americans were split down the middle but global etiquette dictates you make a face-to-face exit (the marginal winner at 54 percent).

Pillow Talk: To chat or not to chat? 83 percent of travelers agree that a quick hello and a smile is appropriate behavior. 42 percent of U.S. travelers say it’s unacceptable to share personal stories and the polite way to get out of a conversation is to thank the person and put on headphones. U.K. travelers recommend taking a toilet break with the hope a chatty seat mate gets the message. Italians are a more talkative group, with 80 percent thinking small talk is appropriate and half of French respondents viewed a flight as a potential way to meet a new friend.

The survey revealed some other interesting preferences when it comes to sleeping next to a stranger:

  • 66 percent say they won’t nudge a snoring neighbor, instead they will try to ignore it and turn up the volume on their entertainment. However, 20 percent of U.K. travelers take a different approach; they are willing to give their neighbor a shove and pretend it was an accident.
  • 67 percent of all travelers say a pillow helps them sleep better on a plane. Noise is also a concern with 45 percent of Americans stating they need noise-cancelling headphones to fall asleep. Italians and the French are more concerned about having an eye mask to get some shut eye.
  • Germans are the most likely to bring a comfort from home and have a routine planned out to sleep well in flight.
  • When it comes to switching seats, 53 percent find it only appropriate to do so after confirming it’s okay with the cabin crew. Brits are the most likely to find a new seat, with 38% saying they will do so right after takeoff, once the seatbelt sign has been turned off.

British Airways’ inflight experience team has a variety of tips to help with a peaceful flight:

  • Switch iPads, phones and laptops to night mode or dim the brightness on the screen to help your own eyes adjust and reduce impact on others.
  • Prepare your own environment to minimize external environmental factors – eye shades, ear buds or headphones, a lot of thin layers of clothing to easily adjust to the temperature.
  • Look for relaxation music and calming TV channels to unwind. Avoid coffee and consider herbal tea instead.
  • Keep your feet warm with an extra pair of soft, comfortable socks. Cold feet can inhibit sleep.
  • Consider light snacks such as bananas or nuts to aid in restful sleep.

Last month, British Airways launched its new bedding from iconic British brand, The White Company, designed to improve customers’ quality of sleep. Club World (business class) customers on the airline’s flagship New York JFK to London Heathrow route can now enjoy the luxurious bedding and amenity kits, with other U.S. to London Heathrow routes to follow in the upcoming months.

For further information, contact the BA press office at

British Airways partnered with market research firm, ProdegeMR, to conduct a survey of 1500 travelers across the U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Italy who have flown either domestically or internationally in the past 12 months.


British Airways
Michele Kropf, 212-716-0477


British Airways
Michele Kropf, 212-716-0477