Many readers have stories about unpleasant flights and nightmarish seatmates. With around 800 million passengers per year and the huge popularity of cheap flights, airlines in the U.S. are host to the best and worst humanity can dish out. Here are 10 types of annoying seatmates, along with tips on how to deal with them.
1. Drunk and Disorderly. Provide alcohol to someone who is used to giving orders and having them followed, and you have the recipe for a very unpleasant flight. A Jan. 15 Delta flight from Atlanta to Costa Rica had to divert to Tampa because of a drunken couple in First Class demanding champagne and food. Discreetly inform flight attendants about intoxicated passengers so they can cut them off and notify the captain if necessary. Airlines are supposed to prevent already-intoxicated passengers from boarding.
2. Clueless Parents. Of course infants cry on planes. Many adults feel like crying on planes. The problem isn’t so much the babies as the clueless parents who refuse to at least try to calm their children, or worse, think it’s cute when their toddler kicks your seat all the way from Seattle to St. Louis. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to hand them a clue on a silver platter by speaking up.
3. Passengers Airlines Aren’t Prepared For. Most airlines require very overweight passengers to buy two tickets, but enforcement is hit or miss. Anchorage-to-Philly passenger Arthur Berkowitz had to stand for the seven-hour flight last July due to a seatmate who took up his own and Berkowitz’ seat. Let’s hope airlines become more consistent in their enforcement in 2012.
4. Amorous Couples. Frisky couples should be reported to flight attendants, who are now quite serious about breaking up on-board trysts. Last September, Frontier Airlines had jet fighters dispatched to accompany a flight to Detroit after complaints about a couple engaging in mile-high shenanigans in the lavatory.
5. The Unapologetic Knee Cruncher. If you want your next dinner party to end badly, bring up the topic of reclining airplane seats. Most people are reasonable and won’t add insult to injury by reclining if they’re seated in front of a 6’10” passenger who has to intricately fold himself into his seat. But some people insist on their right to recline no matter what. If passengers can’t come to an agreeable conclusion, the flight crew can usually settle things.
6. The Militant Anti-Recline Activist. The corollary to No. 5 is the person who believes nobody should ever recline their seat. Again, most passengers are reasonable, but those who want to make a federal case out of it need to take it up with the airline, not the person trying to catch some shut-eye on a long flight.
7. Chatty McTalksalot. Some people don’t take the hint to stop talking when seatmates wear headphones or stare intently at their iPhones. If obvious clues like neon-bright earplugs or earbuds don’t work, sometimes you have to be more direct. Try saying something like, “I’m so sorry, but I have a terrible headache, so I’m not much for making conversation right now.”
8. The Overhead Bin Hog. Cheap flights plus checked baggage fees equal jam-packed overhead bins. Many flight attendants close the first few overhead bin rows at the start of boarding to discourage bin hogging. But overhead bins are first come, first serve, and the only way to get there first is to pay extra for early boarding.
9. The Hygienically Challenged Passenger. There’s not much you can do if you’re seated next to someone unfamiliar with bathing. However, if you take a small tube of menthol or eucalyptus lip balm (which is legal under TSA rules) and dot it right under your nose, it will help block some of the unpleasantness.
10. The Impatient Deplaner. Everyone wants to get off the plane as soon as possible, but there’s always the passenger who springs up right as (or before) the seat belt sign goes off and pushes past everyone in forward rows. Your only hope is that someone bigger or scarier gets in front of them, or that they’re shamed into being patient by a sweet grandmotherly passenger trying to deplane.