On a Spirit Airlines flight to Los Angeles earlier this year, I shrank into my seat as chaos broke out a couple rows behind me. We had just landed at Los Angeles International Airport and were taxiing to the gate when a woman started to yell about wanting to get off the plane. Now.
Expletives were hurled through the air of the low-cost carrier cabin as the woman insisted other passengers get out of her way. We reached the gate and the altercation reached its fever pitch. The woman barged into the aisle and demanded the man in front of her move immediately. "I have a broken leg!" the man wailed back in defense. The woman clamored through nonetheless and barreled her way to the exit.
That is not how you get off a plane.
Deplaning is a facet of travel that can get people very riled up. Once a plane gets to the gate and the fasten seat belt sign is turned off, there are a few ways travelers can play their cards.
One option is to pop up immediately. That ding! elicits a Pavlovian response to make a run for it. The other is to linger in your seat a little longer, knowing it's going to take a while before you can go anywhere. What's the rush?
To find out once and for all the proper way to get off an airplane, we talked to experts about the etiquette of deplaning. Here's what they had to say.
Step 1: Pack light, and gather your things before the plane lands
Good deplaning etiquette starts in the air. Once the plane has begun its descent, that's your cue to get your belongings together.
"When the flight attendants make that announcement that it's time to put away your electronics, that is a great time to start packing your bag," says Abbie Unger, a former flight attendant who owns a company helping aspiring flight attendants.
Check the seat-back pocket, wind up your headphones, assemble your trash and make sure you have all of your valuables (laptops get left behind more than you'd think).
"Make sure that you are ready to go. This will also will help you not forget anything, because when the 'fasten seat belt' sign goes off and all your neighbors stand up and you get pressured, you'll forget to look," Unger says.
And whether you're jumping up at the ding or laying low, when it's your turn to get out into the aisle and deplane, you don't want to be that passenger holding up the aisle because you have too much stuff to juggle. You want to be able to get your things from the overhead compartment quickly and walk to the exit quickly. That's made easier when you're following carry-on rules.
Step 2: Stay seated until the "fasten seat belt" sign goes off
We get it. You want to get out of this cramped tube and back into the world. But if you stand up while the plane is still rolling to your gate, the plane could actually stop and slow down your deplaning even more.
"It is a safety issue," says Jennifer "Jaki" Johnson, a flight attendant for a major carrier as well as the CEO and founder of Jetsetter Chic. "We have to call the pilot to say a passenger is standing up. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) will not allow us to move on the jetway if that happens. We will have to wait for you to sit down. It's very important for the safety of everyone else, and for people with short connection times, that people sit down and just wait till the plane is parked at the gate."
Step 3: Be mindful of connecting flights, for yourself and others
If you think you're going to miss your connecting flight, don't wait until it's time to get off the plane to freak out about it. Let flight attendants know about your anxiety-inducing connection as soon as possible so that they can watch for updates about your next flight, switch your seat to somewhere closer to the front of the plane or help you deplane faster.
For people without pressing connections, pay attention to flight attendant announcements about connections anyway. They may ask that passengers allow those with tight connections to pass first. While those travelers may have a chance of getting rebooked on something immediately, they could be in trouble if their next flight is international, as some are only scheduled once a day. Rack up some karma points and let them through.
Step 4: Watch for your turn to enter the aisle to leave
You hear the ding. You want to flee the aircraft. That's understandable.
"When the seat belt sign turns off everybody tries to stand up - which I get because you've been sitting for a long time. Sometimes you're almost too tall for the seat. I don't think it's that big of a deal to stand up in your own space," Unger says. "But then the next thing that you want to do is start paying attention to what's going on around you so that you are seeing when your row is coming up."
While it's fine to stand, wait to move into the aisle and to grab your things until it's your row's turn. Your turn can vary in certain situations, but most of the time it's when the rows in front of you have already exited. "Don't try to get into the aisle before it's your turn in case the person in the row in front has their bag a few rows behind them," Unger says.
And if you're that person with bags stored in overhead bins of rows behind you, don't enter the aisle and go against traffic to retrieve them. Pop out when you see the aisle is clear so that you don't clog the walkway. It's also good form to let others go ahead of you if you have a lot of things to collect.
"When I'm traveling with my children we don't get off when it's our row's turn because you have, like, 35 teddy bears to carry," says Unger. "We're not going to try to get in the aisle in front of the businessmen who are zipping off."
"If you're ready when your turn comes, you can go. If you're not ready, then that's really not your turn," Unger continues. "You need to wait until you're ready and then you go."
Step 5: Be a considerate human on your way out
Unless you're in full panic mode trying to pull a Hail Mary flight connection, slow down enough to ensure you're a respectful member of society as you deplane. If you can, help your neighbors out.
As you leave, don't forget to thank your flight crew. Many of their interactions with travelers can be negative, so a smile or a thank you goes a long way. While they're posted up by the doors thanking you on your way out, take out your headphones and respond.
Few people want to be on a plane longer than they need to be. There's a reason why boarding takes an eternity, and deplaning goes by in half the time. We all have meetings to rush off to, loved ones to see or other flights to catch, so try to deplane with grace and efficiency to make the process a little nicer for everyone.
This article was written by Natalie Compton, a travel writer for The Washington Post.