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The 10 passengers I hate getting stuck next to on a plane

June 22, 2021
9 min read
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The good news? We're now in the summer travel season after 15 months of being grounded. The bad news? You're back to dealing with all the annoying behaviors of your fellow travelers.

Personally, I'm a firm believer in airline etiquette. A modicum of decorum makes the travel process better for all, especially during what is expected to be a busy summer travel season as more people get vaccinated and are ready to hit the road. But not everyone agrees with my need for friendlier skies. Here are some examples of the most egregious behavior I've seen during my 30-plus years of travel.

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The loud cellphone talker

(Photo by Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

You know this person: He or she boards the plane with a cell phone glued to their ear, talking loudly. Sometimes, they're screaming out every detail of their flight. Other times, it's just conversations about things better left private. I've heard a guy break up with his girlfriend after the aircraft doors had closed. I also heard a lawyer having a conversation with a client that was clearly privileged (I love legal television shows). They continue to talk loudly -- even after being asked by the flight attendant to end the conversation.

The unprepared parent

Children on a plane. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)
(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

My daughter took her very first flight on Delta Air Lines when she was 10 days old, and we've been traveling around the world ever since. Now 15, she's a seasoned traveler. But when she was younger, I carried a bag with all her favorite toys, a fully charged iPad and (non-smelly) food to keep her happy on long flights.

I was always complimented on her behavior, even during her "terrible twos" (which really weren't that terrible). So, I’m alway shocked at how many parents I've seen come aboard a flight with nothing — no toys, no coloring or reading books, no food — to keep their kids entertained. And worse, they throw their hands up when their children misbehave out of sheer boredom. At that point, we all have to suffer. I started carrying extra kid-friendly supplies and never hesitate to hand them out when needed.

The chatty Cathy

(Photo by Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Look. I have a lot going on in my life on the ground. Dealing with a surly teenager, my work, the myriad organizations I support and more. Planes have always been sacred to me. Yes, I'm packed into a tin can, but I can have time to myself.

I can watch movies, read a book, listen to a podcast or just rest. I do not want to have a conversation with you. I have my Bose noise-canceling headphones on as I board and make it clear I'm not interested in conversation. If you insist on trying to chat, even though you see my headphones are on, it will be a firm no.

The seat switcher

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

When I travel, I insist on having an aisle seat, whether it's through my Southwest Airlines A-List status or paying extra, since I'm claustrophobic. Because my travel has been sparse this past year, I haven't had to encounter this particular peeve -- until recently.

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With planes packed to the gills again, some of my fellow travelers are back to their old ways of asking me to switch my aisle seat for a middle seat so they can sit with family or friends. This doesn't happen on Southwest, but on other airlines, there are those people who sit in your seat, knowing full well it isn't theirs. I guess I just have one of those "sure, I'll give up my aisle seat to sit in the middle" faces.

I had a woman actually call a flight attendant on me because she was angry that I refused to give her the aisle seat I paid for. Please don’t ask me to give up my seat — the one I booked months ago and paid for — because you either didn’t plan accordingly or declined to pay for your seat of choice. It will be a hard no.

The carry-on bag mover

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

With more crowded planes come more jockeying for overhead bin space. On a recent flight to Baltimore, the bins filled up quickly. Several passengers were determined to get their bags into the overhead bin, moving the bags of others in a desperate, yet fruitless attempt to find space to avoid checking it.

During a past trip, I was in my seat and my bag was in the overhead bin. A woman came up with two large carry-on bags, looking into bins that had no space. First, she started trying to rearrange bags. Then she removed mine and put hers in the bin. I had to tell her, politely, that she couldn't remove my bag. A debate ensued, and it was resolved when a flight attendant checked the woman's bag since she knew I was an early boarder. Either check your bag, or board early enough to ensure your bag can fit into a bin.

The salmon spawner

(Photo by tanyss/Getty Images)

This is a companion to the bag mover. There are always passengers who board a flight later in the process. There's still overhead bin space but it's located behind where their assigned seat is. So they're forced to put their bags in a bin far behind the row where they’re seated. And as soon as the plane touches the ground, they make a mad dash to the back to get their bag, pushing folks out of the way -- then pushing back to the front. I was on a flight with a woman who made the mad dash, started rudely pushing people to get back to her seat, then got angry when her fellow travelers — including me — refused to move.

The man- (or person-) spreader

(Photo by Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock)

We all know that airlines have been making seats more narrow and giving us less pitch. When I fly, I always stay in the confines of my seat. However, there's always that person (sorry, it's usually a man) who likes to spread their legs, encroaching into the confines of your seat. This is especially egregious if you happen to be stuck in the middle seat. My approach is to start by moving my leg over, hoping they'll get the hint.

The earphone-less gamer

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

I was on a flight where a young boy decided to play with his gaming system at full volume. Several travelers asked his father to give him earbuds or mute the sound because it was annoying. The father was quite rude and declined to tell his kid to lower the volume. A flight attendant came over to resolve the issue and the father was still quite rude — until she told him he could either mute the volume or take another flight.

The stinky food eater

Man eating sandwich in economy class in airplane. (Photo by amriphoto/Getty Images)
(Photo by amriphoto/Getty Images)

I fly Southwest Airlines for almost all of my domestic flights, so I bring my own food on board (cheese, nuts and crackers). I try and be considerate by leaving the smelly food at home. Once on a flight from Baltimore to San Francisco, a person two rows in front of me unpacked something that smelled like dirty feet. Not to be gross, but you could hear passengers retching from the stench.

Related: Battle of the airlines: Why I think Southwest Airlines is the best

The rude person in the aisle seat

(Photo by Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

I know that as the one sitting in the aisle seat, I'm going to have to get up to let my seatmates out to use the lavatory or stretch their legs. I don't have a problem doing this, as I see it's the price I must pay to get up whenever I want.

However, I hate seeing fellow aisle seaters get passive aggressive -- or even groan or moan -- whenever the middle or window seat person needs to get up. I will confess I broke this rule once. The person in the middle seat wanted me to switch with her and I refused. So she decided to get up excessively (yes, I counted). After the ninth time within an hour, I decided that she was punishing me for not giving her my aisle seat, so I refused to move for 30 minutes. End of problem.

Bottom line

After being homebound for 15 months, we are all ready to go somewhere -- anywhere. If you're flying, we know it's going to be a long, hot summer. We all deserve to get from point A to point B without any issues. So please, fellow travelers, do us all a favor -- please don't be one (or more) of these people on your next flight.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.