8 Dos and Don'ts for Dealing with Rude Passengers

We don’t have to tell you planes are packed these days – and not all passengers are people you’d pick for friends.Here are some suggested coping mechanisms for dealing with rude or outrageous seatmates.

Bonus: Rick Seaney has met a few jerks in his time – but let him tell you about it, in the podcast below.

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1. Do be polite

Sometimes rudeness crumbles in the face of courtesy. Even when it doesn’t, anger may feel good but rarely accomplishes much and can quickly get out of hand.

Example: A female passenger on JetBlue recently became upset when a coach flyer was moved into her elite section due to a broken seatback screen. She was angry because she paid a premium for her seat and the interloper didn’t – but the situation escalated to the point that she took it out on a flight attendant (allegedly with a head- butt). As a result, the pilot made an emergency landing and the angry passenger’s was removed from the plane.

2. Don’t refuse to negotiate

If you have a problem, speak up. If you’re stuck in a middle seat and the passengers on either side of you have commandeered both of your armrests, they may not realize it – and they won’t unless you let them know politely (see #1). Communicate and negotiate – trade off armrests, perhaps. Use a reasonable approach and if everyone involved is a grown-up, your problem is solvable. If not, keep reading.

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3. Don’t try the gadget approach

One of FareCompare’s most popular blog posts over the years was about a neat little gizmo called the Knee Defender which when used in the prescribed manner, renders the seat in front of a passenger immobile – in other words, non-recline-able. However, flight attendants who spot these gadgets have been known to confiscate them so you’ve been warned.

Tip: Consider flying Spirit – some of their planes have pre-reclined seats which is Spirit-speak for they don’t recline, period. Of course that means yours won’t either.

4. Do stay clear-headed

Drinking too much alcohol on a plane has led to plenty of unruly passenger incidents including flyers who mistook aisles for restrooms (gate areas, too) and a flyer who attempted to bite cabin crew members. Do not be tempted to work off your own frustrations with such passengers by overindulging in alcohol; it may lead to an early landing and even a little jail time.

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5. Do know when to contact a flight attendant

If communication with a fellow passenger is impossible, if the passenger is drunk or threatening or makes you uncomfortable in any way – up to and including a passenger who smells bad – this is the time to press the call button for a flight attendant. Do not hesitate! This is one of their jobs, and they are trained to handle such situations.

6. Do know when to take matters into your own hands

Passengers have been taking down bad guys ever since the dark days after 9/11. They helped capture the would-be Underwear Bomber and in another incident, helped duct tape a rampaging passenger to his seat. Sometimes, crew members can use a hand.

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff

If someone is wearing an outrageous T-shirt or maybe pants that are way too low, you can always avert your eyes – or just hope you’re flying Southwest where they sometimes have a low tolerance for perceived dress code violations.

8. Do have a sense of humor

After reading all this, it should be clear there will be times when you’ll need one.

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Published: March 14, 2013