Think about your behaving on an airplane in the same way you'd think about behaving in a dentist's office or at a movie theatre. Picture: AP
Think about your behaving on an airplane in the same way you'd think about behaving in a dentist's office or at a movie theatre. Picture: AP

No, it's not okay to clip your toenails on a flight

By Natalie B. Compton Time of article published Aug 20, 2019

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Washington - There are different schools of thought on what constitutes appropriate airplane behaviour. Some people say people who recline their seats are morally bankrupt. 

Fights have broken out over shoe removal. With more people flying than ever, a variety of travellers with a variety of opinions are clashing over what's acceptable.

This is particularly true when it comes to onboard health and wellness routines. What may seem perfectly innocent to one passenger can be skin-crawling and repulsive to others. To clear up the confusion, we're breaking down the basics of in-flight grooming etiquette.

"I think people are forgetting that they are still in a public environment," says Elaine Swann, etiquette expert and founder of the Swann School of Protocol. 

Swann recommends thinking about your place on an airplane in the same way you'd think about behaving in a dentist's office or at a movie theatre. Yes, you can sleep, but you're still surrounded by people who are very much affected.

Hair care

Brushing your hair might not immediately stand out as a problematic activity. Running a brush through your mane once isn't terrible, but if you're really going for it, that's when you're going to start bothering people. It's one of the most common grooming behaviors United flight attendant Samantha Smallwood sees in the air.

"People don't realise that their hair gets everywhere," Smallwood says.

WATCH: 10 little known trips for perfect airplane sleep


Can you tweeze body hair in your seat during a flight? No. A thousand times no. A million times no. It is weird, it is wrong and it should only be done in private.


Please do not shave your face, head or body while seated next to other passengers.

Oral care

If your grooming needs involve your mouth, do not perform them in your seat. First of all, consider the germs around you. Planes get cleaned quickly, and the tray table often gets neglected. Unless you're pulling a Naomi Campbell sanitation routine, putting your hands in your mouth in-flight is a bad call.

Secondly, mouth grooming - flossing, brushing your teeth, applying teeth whitener - is going to gross out fellow passengers. Relegate this behavior to the bathroom, where it belongs.

Skin care

Planes are so dry, you can probably get more moisture out in the Sahara. In addition to chugging water to stay hydrated, you may be tempted to apply moisturizer while aboard a flight. Go for it!

"I think that (body) lotion and even moisturizer in your seat is absolutely acceptable," Swann says.

If you're applying lotion, make sure the scent is mild, and stick to applying on your hands and arms only.

Applying deodorant

There's something a little too intimate about applying deodorant to do it while on a plane. You're having to shove your hand up or down your shirt and remind everyone of the existence of your armpit while potentially wafting around body odour. 

If you forgot to swipe a stick or roll-on before your flight and want to avoid offending neighbors with your stench, take your toiletry bag to the lavatory and apply in there.

Nail care

Just like brushing your hair, engaging in nail care gets into the caution zone when DNA leaves your body and gets on other things or people. Do not file your nails in your seat, particularly during meal services. 

When Swann was a flight attendant, she had to step in when a passenger was concerned that dust from a nail-filing passenger was getting into their in-flight meal. Because there's no rule against filing nails on planes, Swann had to be delicate when intervening.

"Instead of telling them, 'You can't do that on the plane,' you just ask, 'Can you wait until after our meal service and then you can continue?'" Swann advises. "Yeah, people are gross."


A much more common occurrence than nail filing is nail clipping. Maybe you have a hangnail that's killing you, maybe your toe nails look more like toe talons. Whatever the case, don't solve those problem while you're in your seat. Even if you're being super careful, you can't always control those clippings. Imagine having someone's toe clippings fly on to your lap. If your nail problem is urgent, take your nail clippers to the bathroom. Then make sure to clean up the scraps when you're done.

The Washington Post

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