The worst things you can do as a plane passenger, from going barefoot to smoking on a flight

Have we forgotten how to behave while in transit? From travellers painting their nails on flights to defecating on the floor at 35,000ft, these are some of the most egregious etiquette fails at altitude

Travel Desk
Thursday 28 December 2023 09:03 GMT

Related video: Top 4 Best Travel Tips From A Flight Attendant

Passengers Behaving Badly used to be the reserve of stag dos mainlining Jägermeister during a budget flight to Prague – but these days the catalogue of travellers’ misdemeanours at altitude grows ever longer.

The latest culprits include presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy JR, who was been accused of displaying “disgusting “ behaviour by walking to a plane’s bathroom while barefoot, and a somewhat less high-profile man who leaned over the woman in the window seat on a flight to take pictures of the view.

And, while a decade ago bad behaviour might have only been judged by your fellow flyers, these days offences can be snapped, videoed, uploaded and shared with the width and breadth of the internet via social media.

Aside from the worst offences – getting inebriated and starting a fist fight or calling out racist slurs, or even assaulting cabin crew – there are numerous examples of travellers engaging in questionable behaviour that, while unlikely to get them kicked off a flight, will almost certainly enrage everyone else unfortunate enough to share an aircraft cabin with them.

Pooling a combination of the worst crimes against humanity the travel desk has seen first-hand when flying and the most eyebrow-raising examples we’ve seen hit headlines in the last few years, here’s our definitive list of the actions that will likely get you cancelled onboard your next flight.

Hair harrassment

Long-haired passengers draping their locks over the back of the seat is galling behaviour – especially when it repeatedly happens on the same journey. It’s occurred countless times to me, and there’s only so much you can do to blow it out of the way. On one flight, I had blonde strands dangling perilously close to my dinner of congealed chicken and potatoes before I was forced to awkwardly speak up; mumbled apologies (on both sides, in fact, being British) but once the trays were cleared Rapunzel let down here hair once more. It’s no fun binge-watching films through a stranger’s mane. Benjamin Parker


US politician Robert F Kennedy Jr caused a stir by walking into a plane toilet while barefoot recently.

Mr Kennedy, the nephew of the 35th President of the US, John F Kennedy, is running as an independent candidate in the 2024 US presidential elections, after first declaring as a Democrat. Currently polling higher than any independent or third-party candidate in a generation, his flight etiquette has been making waves on social media after he went on a shoeless stroll mid-flight.

Justin Haskins, an executive editor at The Heartland Institute and editor-in-chief of, boasted about his recent first-class trip on a flight when a man he thought to be Mr Kennedy sat in front of him.

“As he’s walking to the bathroom, I realise the guy has no shoes on and no socks and the floor is covered with food, like disgusting food,” he recalled.

“He goes into the restroom sockless and shoeless. Something I’ve literally never seen in my entire life. Absolutely disgusting, right?” Mr Haskins continued, showing the picture he took of Mr Kennedy walking barefoot. “This guy’s a presidential candidate, you know he doesn’t wear shoes and socks in a plane in first class, like what is this?”

Kicking off

On a girls’ holiday flight to Croatia, my friends and I, having caved to Ryanair’s scattered plane placement and paid to sit together, had the misfortune of being seated in front of a row of young children intent on booting the back of our seats. Gentle parenting practices from their mother to curb the unwelcome back massage had no impact on the future footballers during the two-hour and 20-minute journey, and naturally pushed us to sell out the refreshments trolley of mini sauvignon blancs. I spent the entire flight cursing ringleader “Selwyn” and his crew of kickers in my head. You can imagine our horror when we headed back to Zadar Airport at the end of a glorious week in the sun, queued an hour to check our bags and passed through security only to be greeted with a screaming Selwyn champing at the bit to rock our row the whole way home. Natalie Wilson

Nailing it

A woman was recently called out online for painting her nails while on a flight. A fellow passenger took a snap of the unnamed traveller applying varnish to her finger nails, and also criticised her for allegedly bringing her own beer onto the plane.

JT Genter, an aviation writer covering air miles and points, shared a picture of the woman putting nude polish on her nails on Twitter/X.

“Nail polish users: PLEASE don’t wait until you’re in an enclosed space with hundreds of strangers all breathing recycled air to apply nail polish,” he said. “Some of us are very sensitive to the poisonous fumes. Also, an FYI that drinking alcohol you brought onboard is not legal.”

Lighting up

In December 2022, a video of a man attempting to light a cigarette on an American Airlines flight went viral after a fellow passenger shared it online. Sara Radosevich tweeted from the American Airlines flight on 6 December after witnessing the man trying to smoke mid flight.

The video showed the man, who was sitting a few seats away from her, pulling out a lighter and lighting a cigarette, before the footage cuts out.

Radosevich wrote: “This guy really just lit a cigarette mid flight. @AmericanAir good thing your girly pop flight attendant snatched it out of his hands.”

Toilet trouble

In October, easyJet was forced to cancel a flight after a passenger, ahem, defecated on the toilet floor. Furious passengers were forced to spend an additional night in Tenerife after the flight to London Gatwick was postponed.

A video shared to Twitter/X showed the pilot making the announcement that the flight had been cancelled. The clip starts with the pilot saying that someone found it “rather defecate on the front toilet, so we’re now staying the night here.

“We’re now going to get everyone off... and organise hotels then we’ll fly back tomorrow morning”, he says, as passengers groan in unison.

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