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The 8 Most Annoying Airline Passenger Behaviors


Air travel is rife with annoyances: Unexpected airline fees, last-minute delays, and low-quality high-cost food at the airport or onboard the plane. And then, there are the other passengers.

full airplane

Air travel is rife with annoyances: Unexpected airline fees, last-minute delays, and low-quality high-cost food at the airport or onboard the plane. And then, there are the other passengers.

The travel website Expedia last month released its second-annual Airplane Etiquette Study, which asked Americans to discuss the ways other passengers annoy them. The answers aren’t terribly surprising, and most could be cured if everyone simply followed the Golden Rule.

“You’re in a tight space at thirty thousand feet with hundreds of fellow travelers,” said John Morrey, vice president and general manager at Expedia.com, “so even the small things—helping your neighbor stow a bag or switching seats to put a mom next to her child—can make a huge difference.”

Of course, not everyone follows the Golden Rule, and even the calmest of us tend to get a bit prickly after dealing with notoriously shoddy airline customer service.

The study also makes clear that we don’t exactly have the most direct way of dealing with these annoyances. In fact, Americans seem to be downright passive-aggressive about it. The survey found 48% of passengers simply remain quiet and try to ignore annoying behavior. About 1 in 5 (22%) said they would say something directly to the annoying passenger. And, because this is 2015, 12% said they would record the incident on a mobile phone or camera, and 6% said they would use social media to shame the passenger.

In other words, airline travel doesn’t exactly bring out the best in most people. If we can’t elminate the problem, at least we can laugh about it.

Expedia took the most annoying habits reported by its survey respondents and compiled them into a list of the most annoying behaviors. Among the passenger types to make the list, “The Playboy” — someone who watches or reads adult content on the flight, and “The Mad Bladder”—a passenger who has a window seat and makes repeated trips to the bathroom.

What follows are the 8 annoying passenger types most often cited by survey respondents, as determined by Expedia’s survey of 1,000 airline passengers. (Don't miss the hilarious bonus video at the end!)

airplane seats

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 38%

We all know this passenger—the one who immediately glues her or his elbow to your shared arm rest, relinquishing the valuable real estate only briefly to accept their Pepsi—no ice—from the flight attendant.

woman with giant bag

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 39%

You know those boxes by the flight attendant stand at airport gates? The ones you are supposed to use to ensure your carry-on bag is small enough to fit on board and comply with airline regulations? Well, the survey suggests those boxes don’t get used enough. Instead, many passengers lug their obviously oversized carry-ons onto the plane, only to try for 5 minutes to shove it into the overhead compartment. When it doesn’t fit, they try multiple ways to cram it into the too-small space, including shoving your carefully packed, size-compliant bag to the side. Yeah, it’s annoying.

airplane passengers talking

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 43%

The vast majority of survey respondents—78%—said they prefer to keep to themselves during a flight. A little small talk is fine, but most Americans don’t want to be locked in a conversation with a stranger for an hours-long flight. So it’s likely no surprise that nearly half of respondents said they’re annoyed when they find themselves sitting next to someone who likes to turn a flight into a one-on-one cocktail party.

Woman on plane with drink

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 50%

Speaking of cocktails, while many Americans enjoy an adult beverage or 2 to take the edge of during a flight, only 12% of respondents said they drink more than 2 alcoholic beverages during a flight. Only 15% said they use medication or alcohol to help them sleep while flying. The survey suggests many flyers start to get a bit on edge when their seatmates start trying too hard to take the edge off.

man with headphones

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 51%

A chatty seat-mate isn’t the only kind of audio assault that annoys many passengers. Just over half of the survey respondents said they get frustrated when they have to listen to a seatmate’s overly loud music, personal entertainment, or talking.


Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 56%

Just as passengers don’t want their very limited personal space invaded by unwelcome sounds, they also don’t want their space invaded by pungent smells, such as aromatic foods. This is the second-straight year this particular annoyance came in third place, though the percentage of people reporting being annoyed by strong aromas doubled.

sick kid on plane

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 64%

This one probably explains itself. Most passengers feel a healthy amount of sympathy when they see a passenger trying to entertain or soothe a rowdy child on a long plane ride. Kids will be kids, after all. However, that sympathy dries up when the parent in question seems oblivious to their child’s behavior. This annoyance was the number one annoyance on last year’s list, though it fell one notch in the newest study.

woman on plane

Percentage of respondents citing this behavior: 67%

Many people get annoyed when the passenger in front of them abruptly reclines his or her seat into their lap. Such frustrations have prompted devices like the “Knee Defender,” which aims to forcibly prevent passengers from reclining. However, seat reclining was only cited as an annoyance by 37% of passengers. Far more annoying, according to the survey, is when the person sitting behind you insists on banging his or her feet against the chair, over and over again.

Now that you’ve read about the most annoying behaviors, how about a visual aid? Expedia put together this infographic to explain the survey results.

And for those who prefer a dramatic interpretation, try this bit from Jimmy Kimmel Live, featuring the great Sir Patrick Stewart:

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