There's so much plane "etiquette" nowadays that I'm not really surprised when complete novices find themselves breaking the unspoken rules.

Whether it's who gets the armrest or who is allowed to recline and how far, there are lots of rules meant to moderate behaviour on planes.

More so than on other modes of transport. Between the cramped cabins and the added "etiquette" we're supposed to observe, it's nearly impossible to get comfortable in an economy class cabin.

I'm not talking drying your underwear under the air vent comfortable, but not feeling like a hostage in a basement dungeon comfortable.


No doubt, infrequent travellers might feel confused about what is and isn't acceptable behaviour on planes.

One of those questions that often comes up is when it's okay to press the call button. As a frequent flyer, I'm going to tackle this and be really unpopular in a minute (#highschoolflashback).

Firstly, what constitutes an emergency?

A lot of times, the call button is referred to as an "emergency call button". But what constitutes an emergency? If the plane door flies open? If someone has a heart attack?

Because I'm pretty sure the appropriate reaction to all three scenarios would be to stand up and shout "somebody help!" in panic.

There are hardly ever emergencies in-flight, so to assert that that's the only purpose for all of those call buttons is a little ridiculous.

I'm not advocating for the opposite approach either. The call button should be used appropriately. Flight attendants are not "waitresses". Yes, they serve us food but they're also supposed to help keep us safe during flights.

Do I recommend pressing the call button incessantly when you're hungry, thirsty or need an extra blankie? Absolutely — if you want to end up in a viral video.

But is it bad to press the call button if the cabin lights are off, you're sitting by the window, and wake up from a nap completely starving? Or if you need some water to take your medication?

No. In those cases, I think the considerate thing to do would be to inconvenience one person (the flight attendant) rather than two (the passengers sitting in your row).

My conclusion

All this "emergency call button" stuff is overblown. Yes, economy class cabins are huge, especially on international flights, and the flight attendants can't spend the entire flight responding to call button requests.

But within reason, I think it's fine to use the call button in order to get the crew's attention. In fact, it's less intrusive than barging into the galley where they may be talking among themselves or eating.

For most of the flight, passengers' needs are addressed within structured time frames. With so many people on board, there are bound to be moments when a few passengers need something outside of those times.

It shouldn't be taboo for those passengers to press the conveniently located button above their seats in order to get what they need.