For seasoned travelers, there is always that moment after the rush of booking a vacation (and nabbing cheap airfare, to boot) wears off: the moment when they are faced with the prospect of the actual journey to their destination.
From packing to hauling that over-stuffed luggage across the airport to sitting on a cramped plane for hours, there are plenty of irritating things associated with air travel.
In 2010, airline passengers filed 25 percent more complaints with the Department of Transportation than in the previous year – mostly about flight cancellations, reservation problems, lost luggage and customer service, according to The LA Times. And while industry experts attribute some of this increase to the DOT’s new, easy-to-use system for filing a grievance, passengers do have more to gripe about than ever.
To prove it, we rounded up the eight most annoying things about air travel.
1. Screaming children
Babies and kids might be cute, but when it comes to flying, passengers do not have a lot of tolerance for a fussy child. In a survey by Travelzoo Australia, 68 percent of respondents said that screaming kids are the biggest irritation during a flight. Unfortunately for passengers, there is not much you can do about a crying baby. If you notice you are seated near a child at boarding, you could request a seat upgrade. Or, if you are on a flight with open seating, just choose a seat farther away.
2. Seat comfort
Airplane seats and La-Z-Boy recliners do not have much in common. Many passengers say cramped seating on planes is the most annoying part of flying, according to a Consumer Reports survey. As airlines attempt to squeeze more passengers into their cabins, the amount of legroom has shrunk in the past several years, according to a Wall Street Journal article. If you crave a little extra room to stretch but cannot afford a seat in first or business class, look to bulkhead or exit rows. Be warned, though: many airlines have started recognizing the value of those prime seats and are charging extra for them.
3. Ticket prices and added fees
The cost to fly has skyrocketed, as most of the in-flight amenities have disappeared (no more free meals!) – and passengers are not happy about it. They are also not too pleased about being charged extra fees on top of the ticket. The worst offender: Checked bag fees. A survey by TripAdvisor found that 56 percent of passengers said that checked-bag fees were their biggest complaint. You can, of course, avoid the extra fee by not checking any bags or flying with an airline that does not charge for the first few checked bags (like Southwest). As for high ticket prices, your best bet is to sign up for FareCompare’s Fare Alert so you can find out the minute ticket prices change, improving your odds of finding a cheaper seat.
TSA and security checkpoints do not get much love from airline passengers. The hassles of security topped the list of most-disliked parts of airline travel for 23 percent of responders in a 2006 Gallup poll. Among the things that annoy travelers about security are the long waits in line; having to remove shoes, belts and coats; unfriendly TSA employees; invasive pat downs; and passengers who bring too many bags through the line. There is only so much you can do to mitigate the hassle of airline security, but one way to ensure a shorter line is to travel during less busy times of the day (early in the morning or around lunchtime, for instance).
5. Other passengers
Unless you own a private jet, chances are when you board the plane, you will be flying with a bunch of strangers. And those strangers come with plenty of annoying habits – like talking too much, hogging the seat, not boarding fast enough, eating the pungent takeout food they bought just before boarding, using your shoulder as a headrest, snoring, climbing over you to go to the bathroom every 10 minutes – the list goes on and on. To a certain extent, you will just have to grin and bare the obnoxiousness for the duration of your flight – although you can politely ask your seatmate to move if he or she is crowding you. And for those frequent bathroom breakers, you can always offer to swap seats to give them better restroom access. Just remember: the flight will not last forever.
6. Flight crew
Whether they are pushy, demanding, impolite or look at the cabin as a practice audience for their new stand-up routine, bad flight attendants can make an already stressful flight worse. In most cases, it pays to be patient and friendly when faced with a cranky attendant – you just never if they are dealing with the passenger from hell a few rows ahead of you. If you are really unhappy with the service, you can always complain to the airline or the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Aviation and Consumer Protection office.
7. Delays and cancellations
Nobody likes to deal with the hassle of getting to the airport and waiting in line at check-in and security only to find out that their flight has been delayed or canceled. It is even worse when these delays and cancellations mean you are missing connecting flights. The Department of Transportation reports that the number of complaints it received in November 2011 was up 30.7 percent from the same time in 2010 – despite the fact that airlines had improved their on-time record that month. You can improve your odds of avoiding delays and cancellations by choosing carriers with the highest on-time arrival rates – these include Hawaiian Airlines, Delta and Southwest, according to a USA Today article. Those with the worst on-time performance? ExpressJet, SkyWest Airlines and American Airlines.
8. Amenities (or lack therof)
Ticket prices might have gone up, but that does not mean passengers are getting more for their money – and they are not happy about it. The disappearance of a free hot meal (or even a free cold meal) on most flights has been a recent gripe among passengers who just are not satisfied with their dinky bag of pretzels and can of Coke. More and more often, passengers are buying meals in the airport or saving a few bucks by packing a bagged lunch. Another gripe is the lack of in-flight entertainment options of some flights. Now, in the age of portable DVD players, iPods and tablet computers, the argument could be made that passengers can easily bring their own entertainment onboard without having to crane their necks to watch reruns of CBS sitcoms. Of course, if you do not want to invest in new technology, you could always just fly JetBlue, which earned top scores for entertainment in a Consumer Reports survey because of its seatback TV screens that offer passengers a choice of 36 channels.