Personal grooming activities that are and are not acceptable on an airplane


In this series, Stuff Travel tackles some of the biggest debates surrounding flight etiquette – and offers you to settle them once and for all.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to arrive at your destination looking and smelling as fresh as physiologically possible after being locked in a flying tin can for many hours.

But with limited access to your usual bathing and beautifying facilities (unless you’re flying first class on one of Emirates’ A380s that have an onboard shower), you’re going to have to get creative.

So what’s okay or not when it comes to personal care on an airplane? Here we look at some common activities and whether or not they are likely to steal.

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* Airplane seat etiquette: how you sit determines the rules you must follow
* Are you one of those people who get up as soon as the plane lands?
* Airport etiquette: To stack or not to stack? What to do with the bins after the security check?


Lawnmowers may be allowed in your carry-on, but that doesn't mean you have to use them.


Lawnmowers may be allowed in your carry-on, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them.

Your table top might seem like the perfect place to perform a DIY manicure. And you can bring nail polish in your hand luggage, as it is under the 100ml liquid limit.

But when you think about it, it’s actually a pretty inconsiderate thing to do. By filing your fingernails, you send a cloud of your dead skin cells into the air to circulate around the cabin and be inhaled by your fellow passengers. Followed by a chemical vapor hunter from your varnish.

It goes without saying that any form of shearing, trimming or – gag – removal of dried skin is also unacceptable. But it seems to be oddly common, according to posts on Passenger Shaming’s Instagram account.

The verdict: Don’t. If you’ve broken a fingernail or feel an urgent need to file that odd sharp point, sort it in the toilet and be sure to throw out all your trash.

Hair brushing

Hair brushing can easily go from “fairly harmless” to “rough and boring”.

A quick comb through before landing? He probably won’t bother anyone. Indulging in your Marcia Brady-inspired 100 bedtime brush routine? Certainly not the time or the place.

Just like for your nails, the golden rule is to keep your DNA to yourself. This means there is no over brushing that could lead to heavy shedding.

The verdict: Brush in moderation. And if you have long hair, it’s also very bad manners to drape it over the back of your seat.

Tooth brushing

Brushing your teeth during a flight is not rude – in fact, it is to be encouraged.

But some passengers were spotted tending to their oral hygiene in their seats. In these Covid times, anything involving spitting in public is a big no-no.

Flossing is also something that should be done out of public view. Nobody wants to see those leftover bits of your chicken or beef meal flying away.

The verdict: By all means, brush your teeth. But do it in the toilet.

Deodorant and wet wipes

Like brushing your teeth, taking steps to cool your sweaty body is an act of kindness to your fellow travelers. But it is better to be discreet.

Quickly slipping a roll-on deodorant under your top when your roommates aren’t looking is fine. Making eye contact with another passenger while you bring a wet wipe to every nook and cranny is extremely scary.

The verdict: It’s fine to stay clean on the fly, but if it might mean exposing some part of your body to someone, better do it in the toilet.

Skin care

Cabin air is notoriously dry and dehydrating, so it’s no wonder some travelers board a plane armed with a stash of the best skincare products available in mini-size.

Sheet masks on airplanes - you'll look weird, but the hydration will be worth it.


Sheet masks on airplanes – you’ll look weird, but the hydration will be worth it.

Unless you’re putting on exceptionally stinky products, there’s no reason you can’t get started on your 12-step diet right at your seat. Just be aware if you’re using sprays or mists – the person next to you may not appreciate the unsolicited pampering session.

Feel free to put on a sheet mask as well. The only real risk is to terrify small children.

The verdict: Dark. Just no pimple popping.

To put on makeup

Wearing makeup on the go has proven controversial on other forms of public transport, such as buses and trains. But this is mainly due to the limited space available, as well as the risk of serious injury if the driver brakes while you are using a sharp eyeliner pencil.

On an airplane, since everyone is seated, you’re unlikely to annoy anyone by taking up more than your fair share of space while you’re doing your makeup. But unexpected turbulence could yet see that cat’s eye turn killer (and not in a good way).

The verdict: Proceed with caution.

What do you think of personal grooming on an airplane? Be sure to vote in the poll above and let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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