How to behave in an airline lounge

These days, airline club lounges seem to be full of inconsiderate people, but if you follow these 15 rules, you won’t be one them.

Who would have thought that an article on the subject of proper behavior in an airline lounge was necessary? You would think that the people in an airline club lounge would be frequent flyers who know how to conduct themselves. But if you’ve been in an airline club lately, then you know that’s far from the truth. Time and time again, I witness poor behavior from privileged people and my last experience was the last straw … hence this post.

There are a few ways to get into an airline’s club lounge: Fly on a first or business class international ticket, buy a yearly membership (usually around $400 a year), get a day pass (usually $50 per person) or have an American Express Platinum Card. There are a few other ways too, but that will have to be a separate story.

The other day, I entered Delta’s club lounge at LAX with my AMEX Platinum card. It was 5:30am and I had just voluntarily given up my economy class middle seat for a $400 travel voucher and a first classseat on a later the 9am flight since my original flight was oversold.

Inside the lounge, I grabbed some breakfast and a desk so I could work without draining my laptop battery. All was going smoothly until a middle-aged man sitting across the room decided to talk on his cell on speakerphone. Not only could his colleague Mike on the other end of the line hear him clearly, but so could everyone in the lounge. Everyone looked at him in disbelief but their glares went unnoticed. If his conversation had at least been interesting, it might not have been so bad but who wants to hear about dry wall before sunrise?

Fortunately, his conversations were short andeach time I got up the nerve to tell him to pipe down and show consideration for others, he got off the phone. He left a short time later only to be replaced by an investment banker-type in his late thirties, who walked in talking loudly on his cell. He didn’t have the speaker on but he was speaking so loudly that I now know I will never do business with his firm. I’m sure that if his boss had been in the room, he would have been horrified and probably would have fired the guy instantly as those conversations need to take place in private.

When he wouldn’t shut up, I decided to have some fun and took my frustrations to Twitter (I’m @JohnnyJet). I thought I would teach him a lesson by transcribing his conversation verbatim but just as I started typing, the boarding of an Atlanta flight was announced and he bolted. The worst part: he was wearing a Yankees cap and a nearly identical button down shirt as mine so we were almost twinsies.

This back-to-back experience was the proverbial last straw so I’ve created a list of 15 ways to behave in an airline club lounge. The same rules apply to a restaurant or any public place for that matter. For those of you who were raised well or paid attention in kindergarten, you are now welcome to log on to WSJ.com, People.com, ESPN.com or whatever other websites you get your news fix from. Everyone else, sit down and listen up.

1.  Switch your cell phone ringer to vibrate. If you don’t know how to do this, then Google the name of your phone and “how to switch ringer to vibrate”. And don’t be one of those people who lets their phone ring because they don’t want to take the call. At the very least, hit ‘end’ or the red button on the keypad on the very first ring.

2. Speak softly. If people are giving you the evil eye then you are speaking too loudly. If you can’t lower your voice, then walk into a vacant conference room, the bathroom or leave.

3. Don’t talk about highly personal or confidential matters. I can pretty much guarantee that if any boss heard their employee speaking loudly about confidential business matters in a public space, they would fire them in a nanosecond.

4. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. You would think this is a no brainer but it happens all the time and it drives me and every other germ conscious traveler who is trying to stay healthy on the road, nuts.  It’s even worse to do it on a plane.

5. Use utensils when taking food/snacks from the buffet. Utensils are there for a reason. Don’t use your dirty, greasy, grimy hands.

6. Don’t chomp on gum/food. People look and sound like idiots when they chew their gum or food like a horse. Please, if you ever see me do it, whack me upside my head.

7. Don’t drink (or eat) too much. If you get drunk, the gate agents can deny you boarding. There are other ways to cure your fear of flying, instead of getting hammered.

8. Be cordial. Always smile and say hello to airline workers, your seatmates and anyone else you come across. It’s not that difficult to be friendly.

9. Don’t put your bags and/or feet on the furniture. These days, it’s difficult to find an empty seat in a club room so don’t make it more difficult by taking up an extra seat with your feet or bag. Besides, I’m sure Emily Post will tell you it’s rude.

10. Don’t take your shoes off. You’re not at home. Keep your shoes on. This is especially true if you have smelly feet or shoes.

11. Don’t tell racist, dirty jokes or use foul language. This is true regardless if you are on the phone or sitting next to your friends,family or colleagues.

12. Watch videos and play games with headphones. Yes it’s great way to pass the time but don’t do it unless you use headphones since no one wants the extra noise.  

13. Don’t crank the music up. Even if you are listening to music with ear buds, take them off to see if they are emitting too much noise.

14. Control your kids. Make sure your kids aren’t running around like hooligans. People get entry into clubs to get away from the craziness of the terminal. Members are there to work, rest and unwind. If your kids are hyper, take them outside.

15. Pick up after yourself. If there are servers coming around often, then it’s okay to leave a neat pile of your dishes, but don’t make a huge mess and always pick up after your children.

I know this all seems very basic but you would be surprised just how many times I see these unwritten rules broken. Please let me know if I’ve missed something or better yet, share your recent encounters in our comments section below.

Johnny Jet

The comments on this page are not provided, reviewed, or otherwise approved by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Rate this post

About the Author

Johnny Jet

I used to be afraid to fly and at times even leave the house! I conquered my fear (long story) and now I travel to 20+ countries a year sharing my firsthand knowledge, tips and deals with friends, family and readers. Please sign up to our free newsletters and tell your friends!

36 Comments on "How to behave in an airline lounge"

  1. Just basic common sense that most people SHOULD have but sadly don’t. Thanks for sharing. Now we need a “how to behave on airline flights” post.

  2. Well said. You’d think people would know this, but they get a case of the stupids when they walk into a lounge … also, Diners Club ($95 annual fee) has two GREAT features. 1) Free access to a network of (limited) domestic lounges and (broader) international lounges … AND, 2) If you decline insurance coverage on rental cars in ‘most’ countries, they cover all damages as primary insurance – from the first $.

  3. Excellent advise. It would be nice if fellow travelers followed it. While passing through Chicago last week I spent my three hour layover in the United Club in concourse C. There were way too many folks talking loudly on cell phones. I found solace in the “quiet” area where no cell use is allowed. It was almost empty and had lots of free seats with power outlets nearby.

  4. Johnny this was great info. I would love to print it (with your permission and credit of course) to hand out to offenders.

  5. Simon Allardice (@simonallardice) | September 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply

    My problem with this is the fact it has to be written, staggering how some people seemingly lack any self-awareness. I’ve witnessed almost all of the things you describe, including a person letting their phone ring and ring and ring – the 5th time it did so I politely asked them to silence it, they’re reply was that I was being rude. Yes, me, I’m the rude one.

  6. Excellent advise. This should be sent to each and every airline operator, as the management don’t seem to know and understand what passengers go thru in the lounges. I’m also still a strong beliver on dress code in the lounges!
    Keep up the good work

  7. Also, don’t bogart the power outlets. If only more travelers followed the golden rule and did unto others, well, then the skies (and lounges) would be so much more friendly. Good advice, though. All of it.

    • Melanie Galuten | October 3, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply

      Yes! BTW…I travel with an extension cord with multiple outlets and offer my free outlet spot(s) to anyone nearby. I mention this so that maybe others might do the same and then we’d have lots of extra power available.

  8. I couldn’t agree more! These should be rules for every public place, not just airline lounges! Thanks and I will share! Congrats on your marriage! We remember you two from Bora Bora! So happy for the fairy tale ending!

  9. Why don’t people know the difference btwn advice and advise! Give me a break!

  10. Of course, the people that need to read this article won’t! I haven’t seen it myself but my cousin has witnessed parents changing their children’s nappies (diapers) out in the open. Isn’t that what the bathrooms and parent’s rooms are for.

  11. Please change your #2 suggestion and do not use your cell phone in the bathroom, that too is unacceptable. No one likes the sound of a flushing toilet. If you need to use your cell phone and talk loud, go outside the lounge with the masses or use a conference room.

  12. I have to agree with you Johnny…..people are rude and obnoxious. I fly to Asia and the Middle East each month and it is stammering the number of people that are on a phone having a loud conversation.

    I watch movies in the lounge at times….with headphones on. Can you please clarify statement 12. please. I never saw any harm if I was in a corner with headphones on watching a movie.

    The point about food etiquette and shoe’s is a BIG one for me.

    Thank you for your site and all of your sharing.

    First time poster, my wife began studying up since she will begin International travel soon.

    Congrats on your marriage!!!

    • Thanks for having me clarify #12. I just edited it. It’s fine to watch movies with headphones — just not without.

  13. I’d like to add “Don’t watch X-rated movies on your computer in the lounge.” I’m not a prude but I don’t think it is appropriate for anyone (Ie. the 21 year old female passenger traveling with her mom) to watch those movies where other people can see them.

  14. OMG. The basic that so many people ignore. Please the next time instead of staring walk over and the person on the phone to be considerate.

  15. My all-time “can-you-top-this-outrageous-behavior-story” happened in an Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge at Toronto’s Pearson International (YYZ). My wife and I were sitting next to a family of four apparently going on vacation–Dad, Mom and two pre-teens. It was shortly before lunch and Dad hits the complimentary self-serve bar for a straight-up double scotch. Not the way most of us would start lunch time with the kids but, what the heck, maybe he’s a nervous flyer. In less than five minutes he’s back to the freebie bar for another double scotch plus a double for Mom. I chalk this up to folks who just can’t resist abusing a free bar. In the meantime the kids are racing back and forth to the self-serve fridge hauling cans of soft drinks and juice back to their table. They now have our undivided, drop-jawed attention. Within minutes Dad’s back to the freebie bar for two more double scotches and I can’t take my eyes off them. Dad settles into his chair, reaches under and retrieves a partially filled booze bottle with a large plastic funnel in the top and calmly pours the two most recently fetched drinks into his bottle before dashing up to the bar for refills. In the meantime, Mom has retrieved two insulated soft-sided zip-up shopping bags from her carry-on and given each of the kids one to fill with all the soft drinks and juice they’ve been hoisting from the fridge. OMG–we’ve got a 21st century version of Dickens’ Fagin and Nancy, straight out of Oliver Twist, right next to us–and they’re actually teaching their own kids to steal!! My wife and I went to the front desk to report all this to the Air Canada attendants who were every bit as drop-jawed appalled as us. They were off and running to the scene of the crime as we left the lounge to go to our departure gate, so we never did see how this all turned out. If anyone reading this knows the end of this story, we’d sure like to hear it. BTW, Air Canada still offers a complimentary self-serve bar in its Maple Leaf lounges, so we can only assume that this family was indeed an absolutely egregious exception to the good behavior of most of its patrons. (Loud cell phone calls and dirty dishes don’t bother me so much after that experience.)

  16. This should all be obvious, but it IS a fine reminder. In fact,I believe anyone anywhere in public should be considerate. As a return, I think that airlines should make a point of keeping their lounges tidy and clean. In my limited experience, foreign flag carriers are good at this. U.S. airlines, not so often. A couple of years ago, I went into one of United’s lounges at LAX with a friend who enjoys reminding everyone of her membership in “the club” as if it were some exclusive country club. She showed her card and in we went. It was a dump, littered with piles of discarded newspapers, used coffee cups, crumpled napkins and crumbs on the floor. One lone uncaring staffer sulked about, pretending to straighten the place up. It was the middle of a midweek afternoon, and we were there for nearly 1 1/2 hours. If If I paid $400 for the privilege of access to this mess, I would have complained to United management, but I was a guest so I didn’t. Perhaps they’ve cleaned up their act, literally and figuratively, or perhaps not.

  17. One thing I would add is: Why should good behavior be expected only in lounges. Every single item mentioned should be practiced by all passengers.
    Personally, I never fly business or first so I guess I am a bit annoyed by the innuendo that the people outside the lounge are savages. I am very weary of the “classist” dialogue that those passengers are somehow better than economy ones. It cheers me to know that paying 5x the price for your ticket doesn’t insulate you from us rif-raf.

  18. And for those with lounge privileges let’s remember to be grateful for all that we’ve been given. Gratitude leads to better behavior.

  19. GOOD SHOW, Johnny!
    And CONGRATULATIONS on your recent Wedding. May Your Marriage (both of you Lovebirds ) be one orchestrated by Heaven’s Angels (and maintained) til you head West a long time from now.
    Sadly, “people” Today (‘monied’ or,otherwise) have No family training in Manners while abroad…
    Wasn’t like that Years ago. It seems our Americans mostly are the blatant offenders…not always.
    And God forbid, you should ‘take Them to task’ for it.The (unwritten) “Dress Code for Traveling” is another thing lost,lamented. Shower shoes, sweat pants & soiled scruffy T shirts wouldn’t be seen in Air travel; acceptable civility, & common Courtesy in public.
    I’m from the Eastern,T.W.A., Piedmont era. “Before” the Hub system and was a ‘regular’ at the Ambassador’s Club et Alia.
    Happy Trails

    Cheers,
    (from the GreatLand)
    ATP1804709

  20. Isn’t there anyone in the lounges that you can complain to about unruly people?

  21. My favorite loud-talking story was in the Boston airport where in the waiting area, the only seat available was next to a very loud woman doctor talking on her cellphone. She was leaving messages to her patients about their blood tests. After the third call in which there was personal information given, I looked at her and said, “I am a doctor too, and have one word to say to you: HIPAA (the privacy act).” She looked up at me, with an incredulous grin, and said, “I am a veterinarian, stupid.”

  22. The story I remember was in a lounge somewhere in Europe. An American. Purple. Fought their small dog in and let it run Round ON THE TABLE! The next people to sit there were a family with a couple of little kids who were preparing to feed the kids their lunch. I rushed over and told them about the dog. Erode they for their food unpacked and the mom Pulled out disinfectant wipes and cleaned the table. Really?!? A dog on the table! I could hardly believe it. Both families were Americans. Sigh.

  23. Amazing you had to write that post.

    A few additional thoughts.

    – If a family with young children (or with older parents) is traveling and seats are tight, give up your seat so at least one parent can sit down. If you’re sitting in a group of seats, see if you can move so the family can stay together.
    – If you’ve been traveling for a long time, ask if the lounge has a shower. If it doesn’t, and you smell a bit ripe, stay out of the lounge.
    – If someone needs to borrow a charger and you can help, help. Just be sure to get your property back before you leave.
    – Before you go to the bar or food service area, go to the bathroom and wash your hands. It goes without saying that you should wash your hands after using the toilet — except I’m saying it because I have seen people exit the restroom without washing their hands.
    – If you’re sitting in an open space, don’t hog the electrical outlets. Leave plugs for others to use.
    – If you feel ill (or gassy), head to the bathroom sooner rather than later.
    – If the bathrooms need custodial service, let the lounge attendants know. They may not know if something is not working correctly (or is dirty), and it may be hours before the custodial provider checks on its set schedule.
    – If you’ve brought food into the club for your flight, don’t consume it in the lounge.
    – Make sure the lounge TV’s volume isn’t too loud. Usually the lounge staff will set and monitor this, but sometimes people adjust it.
    – Avoid making disparaging comments about the cable news channel or any politicians appearing on the TV. You never know if your seatmate is a fan or supporter. But by all means, it’s okay to trash the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo

  24. For those looking for sanctuary, in the One World Lounge in Frankfurt they now prohibit the use of mobile phones, altogether. Several times, I’ve seen “offenders” asked to leave and make/take their calls in the corridor by the very polite BA or JAL desk team (to the delight of all others in the lounge)!

  25. This is why i hope they never allow cell phone use while in flight.Can you imagine the cacophony, especially on overseas flights..

  26. The snacks offered in the lounge are just that snacks not an entire meal.

  27. Excellent advice, not only for airline club lounges, but your everyday public transit, the elevator to your dentist’s office and the sidewalk you’re sharing with your fellow citizens. People are completely self-absorbed.

  28. An old post, brought to life again by a tweet from @TripIt but couldn’t agree more on all counts.

    My personal biggest bugbears are the phones and seat-hogging issues. Some lounges (Such as the Admirals Club at ORD) have no cell-phone zones which I will sit in if I’m not expecting a call and then some people still have the audacity to make loud phone calls. I once called someone out on it (in MIA) and got a response that I cannot repeat here. In future I will just get the lounge attendants involved right away. Really sad that common courtesy has flown out the window and people’s sense of entitlement has grown.

    As an aside, without looking at the URL of the photo I also instantly recognized the First dining section of the BA lounge at YYZ. Kudos.

    E

  29. I disagree about taking your shoes off and lying down. I do this all the time in BA lounges and its the whole reason that I use the lounges. After being awake from an ungodly hour and making it to a connecting flight, I like to nap in the lounge if I can. Mostly its just a lie down but if theres space and plenty of seats around I don’t see why not.

  30. Great story. Let’s also not forget the food etiquette.

    Why do people need to drink their beverages directly at the buffet. There is an 8 oz class and all the lowbrows need to take a sip at the fountain and then refill. It is free for God’s sake. Do they need a 9 ounce cup?

    And the grazers. Look like horses at a watering hole and feedbag. have to munch at the feed stations and work their way down

    So much for first class

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.