Skip Nav

Airline Travel Don'ts

19 Annoying People You Meet While Flying

Living in New York, I'm comfortable being surrounded by throngs of strangers on a daily basis. Riding the subway and hustling down crowded sidewalks rarely fazes me and never enrages me. But everything changes when I enter an airport, where I walk around in a near-constant state of annoyance with the humans around me.

Partly, it's because I fly a lot. I have perfected my security-line process, and I have no patience for people who haven't. In the city, I'm surrounded by other New Yorkers who also understand how to go about their business in the most efficient way possible. But in the airport, I'm surrounded by amateurs who seem ardently opposed to efficiency.

So please, don't be one of these people. Be a responsible air traveler and make it easier for all of us to get where we are going. Ahead, please find the 19 most annoying types of people you meet during air travel, plus my tips on how to do it better.

  1. People who can't carry their own luggage. If you are moving or traveling with several children, then you might need to rent a Smarte Carte. Otherwise, you should be able to hande your own luggage. Luggage with wheels need not be transported on a cart.
    Tip: Try planning your outfits in advance, and don't pack as much.
  2. People who don't know how to go through security. I don't even mean people who don't understand the nuances of the liquid rule. I mean people who are baffled by the entire experience.
    Tip: Watch what the people in front of you are doing. Even if you have never flown on a plane, seen a movie, or learned to read, you can just watch and observe.
  3. People in the TSA precheck line who don't understand how it works. Listen, it takes effort to get TSA precheck. I paid $80 and had to make an appointment at a dingy federal office. If you're going to pay the $80, please understand the rules of the precheck line.
    Tip: Again, watch and observe. Read a sign. Or get out of the way.
  4. People in the TSA line with lots of kids. The whole point of the Precheck line is that it's fast.
    Tip: I've got nothing against kids, but why not teach them the values of efficiency and preparedness early on?
  5. People who stop right at the end of the security line to put their belt and shoes back on. Again, even if you haven't flown before, isn't this pure common sense and courtesy?
    Tip: Just keep your shoes off for another few minutes, quickly grab your luggage and your bins, and just carry it over to a bench, where you can sit and get situation in a less hectic space.
  6. People who crowd around the gate when their zone isn't boarding. Listen, I don't like the boarding zone thing either; it seems horribly inefficent. But if you're standing in the path to the gate when you're in zone three and we are boarding zone one, it just makes things worse. No one is sure if you're in line or just hovering.
    Tip: Just sit down until your zone is called. I promise we won't leave without you.
  7. People who should have checked their bag but get miffed when it won't fit into the overhead bin. I also hate that we have to pay to check bags, but that's just how it is. Now, everyone is worried there won't be enough overhead space, hence crowding the gate to be the first to board.
    Tip: Just be realistic about how big your bag is. Don't pretend you don't know it won't fit. Just pay the $25 and consider it part of the price of your ticket. Not having to hoist a heavy bag over your head is worth $25. Or, you know, pack less.
  8. People who don't understand what "stow smaller items under your seat" means. The overhead bin space is precious, and flight attendants know how to organize it for maximum volume. If you try to get away with taking up an entire luggage spot with your ballcap, I have no qualms about crushing it with my suitcase.
    Tip: Just stow small stuff under your seat. You aren't going to be that comfortable anyway.
  9. People who sit in the wrong seat. Sometimes, they are a row ahead or behind where they are supposed to be. Sometimes they are in the aisle seat when they should be in the window. The worst is when they argue with you if you politely point out that they are in your seat.
    Tip: Keep your boarding pass out until you sit down. Before you settle in, double check your boarding pass against the number printed above your row. Then, double check the letter and see if it's next to the window icon or the icon of the human. You don't even need to know how to read. You simply match the letters and symbols.
  10. People who are rude to flight attendants. Flight attendants don't make the rules, they just enforce them. They are just trying to keep everything running smoothly in a very small space, and being rude won't help at all.
    Tip: Just don't be rude. You don't even have to be nice (though you'd be surprised the perks you can get), only mildly civil. Being rude is entirely counterproductive, because even if you do get bad service, no one can solve your problem. You're better off sending an email or tweeting at the airline later.
  11. People who complain loudly about crying babies. It's not the baby's fault. It's not the parents fault. It just happens.
    Tip: Buy some noise-cancelling headphones. They will change your life.
  12. People whose headphones are so loud, I can hear what they're listening to: Not only is this annoying, but it's terrible for your ears.
    Tip: Again, noise-cancelling headphones.
  13. People who stare straight ahead and neither read nor sleep. I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does. To me, the best thing about flying is that I get a few hours of relative alone time. You can get so much done! Read, watch a movie, do a crossword, catch up on work, nap. People who just sit there weird me out.
    Tip: I guess I should work on not letting this annoy me.
  14. People who stay in the middle seat even when they don't have to. I once sat next to a woman who sat in the middle seat the entire flight, even though the window seat was open and I was on the aisle. It baffed me. Why wouldn't you want some room to move around? Are you that much of a stickler for rules?
    Tip: Once the seatbelt sign is off, feel free to move over so there's an empty seat between you.
  15. Strangers who don't put the armrest down when they sit. Often when you board a plane, the armrests are raised. But unless we are planning to cuddle later, let's utilize that barrier, shall we?
    Tip: As soon as you sit down, politely lower the armrest. Do as at part of your "settling in" process so it doesn't seem rude.
  16. People with "service dogs." I don't mean real service dogs. Those are regal, well-trained, and necessary. I mean the dog in your lap that you claim is a service dog but clearly isn't. Really, the airlines are to blame for this one: all you need is a doctor's note saying you need to fly with your dog to calm your anxiety. But we all have different methods of coping with anxiety, and smoking cigarettes and carrying on a fifth of vodka isn't allowed, so why should your chihuahua be?
    Tip: Clearly, this requires a rule change.
  17. People who take their shoes off. If it's an international flight or a red-eye, it's acceptable. But otherwise, keep your shoes on. After all, we are in a public place, and people are eating. You wouldn't take your shoes off in a restaurant or on the subway.
    Tip: Wear comfortable shoes or bring a pair of slippers if you must.
  18. People who start unbuckling their seatbelts before we get to the gate. I promise you will get to exit the plane. Unfastening your seatbelt in advance will not save you any time.
    Tip: Whenever the seatbelt sign is on, just wear yours. If you don't believe me, see the movie Flight.
  19. People who don't put their phones on silent. My latest pet peeve is when we are allowed to use our electronic devices again, everyone takes their phone out of airplane mode and a million text-message alerts echo through the cabin. Please spare me from having to hear your text message alert five times in a row.
    Tip: Put your phone on silent before you turn off airplane mode.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Mark Popovich
Latest Career & Money