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Speak Out: Who’s the Worst Plane Passenger?

Every time I fly I am reminded of my favorite Seinfeld quote:

Elaine: I hate people!
Jerry: They’re the worst.

Hour four is usually my witching hour on a flight. That’s when I morph, Incredible Hulk-like, from a fairly patient being who has been known to go out of her way to hold the door open for others, into a real live George Costanza, ready to snap at annoying strangers.

Hey, I’m not proud of this, but something about the close quarters of an airplane make me meltdown. I’m sure you’ve been there, trapped between a smooth operator and the bubble-brained woman he’s hitting on. Or perhaps you’ve known the true torture of sitting in front of a pint-size Pele, as he sharpens his kicking skills on the back of your seat for hours. Forget the hypothetical–on Tuesday a man in New York made headlines with his own brand of passenger monkey business when he smuggled a marmoset onto a plane under his hat.

And though websites like Seat Guru are trying to help travelers be as comfortable as possible when flying, I find that naughty passengers are just the luck of the draw. My only strategy to keep my cool is a very loud iPod and a glass (or three) of wine. Of course, by doing so I inevitably become a bad passenger myself. I turn into not just the Girl-Who-Must-Go-To-The-Bathroom-Every-Hour but also the person whose music is turned up so loud that everyone in the direct vicinity “gets” to enjoy it with her.

And so for this post, I want you to speak out on who is the worst plane passenger ever.

Here are my top five:

1) The Pint-Size Pele–Someday, kid, you will learn how annoying seat kickers are.
2) The Smooth Operator–Hey, buddy, she ain’t buying what you’re selling.
3) The Gabber–Wait, I didn’t know I was traveling with my new best friend.
4) The Leaning Sleeper–You know that song, “Lean on Me”? It didn’t mean me.
5) The Armrest Thief–If you can’t share, then maybe you need a time out.


My name: Alison Presley

Nickname: Presbo, because I'm good police.

How I earn my keep: I'm the manager of Travelocity's Travel for Good program. Visit Travel for Good to learn more about our green travel and voluntourism initiatives!

What kind of traveler am I: I'm an intrepid food explorer. I usually starve myself on the plane (not that that's too hard to do) so that the moment my toes touch foreign soil I'm ready to sample new and exciting cuisine. I like to dine everywhere from hole-in-the-wall local secrets to Michelin Guide gems. Cannelés, poi, boiled peanuts, oxtail soup, poutine--there's no stopping this adventurous palate.

Greatest travel lesson I've learned: It doesn't cost a lot of money to do good. Offsetting your carbon impact only adds a few bucks to your trip, green hotels are very affordable, and volunteering locally during your vacation is a great way to give back and learn about the culture.



Two words: Stealth Flatulator. Especially one in the seat right in front of you.


Way funny! i’ve sat next to every one of these people. How about the person that is too big for the “seat”? whether fat or muscled, they take up a few inches on your side and the one next to them on the other side. The seats were built for someone really tiny.

The new Boeing Dreamliner has commercials showing how spacious their new cabins “could” be. We all know that they will cram as many seats as possible in there to maximize revenue since the public won’t pay for the additional space.

Oh well, such is life.


My least favorite is DFK in Row 23 Seat A who apparently flies so much that he has MEMORIZED the trivia questions on the Delta in-flight trivia game and beats me EVERY TIME. If you’ve memorized all the questions, WHY IS IT STILL FUN TO BEAT PEOPLE???

But I know I’m a special case.


Hilarious! Misery loves company.

The Armrest Stealer: My least favorite is the person who thinks the middle armrest is solely for their use! A large gentlemen who sat next to me on one flight stole the arm rest and allowed for his really bushy arm hair to lean over on to my side to touch me for the entire flight. Gross! I had to sit there with my arms cross to try to stake out the personal space that was due to me with my seat assignment. I couldn’t wait to go for a 15 minute bathroom break.

Hack and Fly: A close second for me is the person knows they are sick and still continues to fly. Even if they aren’t contagious, they are coughing and blowing their nose every two seconds. Even worse is when they don’t even bother to bring tissues.


I hate the person who uses their cell phone incessantly. Not during the flight, obviously, but in the waiting area, to kill time (ever heard of a book?). And while you’re waiting to push away from the gate. And as soon as the plane lands. Basically every moment you’re allowed to.

Now, I have nothing against cell phones. It’s just that this person is somehow never the kind of person who can talk quietly. And this person also never says anything interesting. Does everyone you’ve ever met need to know that you’re about to get on a plane, or that you just landed? I think not. I certainly don’t need to know, but thanks for sharing!


Okay. I’ll say it: First Class. It’s their smug faces as I walk past them to the back o’ the plane. I purposely try to bump them with my carry-on.

Close second: The person in the aisle seat who falls asleep, mouth wide open–the one whose slumber you’re afraid to interrupt, even though you’ve really gotta go!

Nothing But Bonfires

What about the person who gets ANNOYED if you recline your seat? I’ve had several of those — lets call them The Passive Aggressive Space Hoarders — and they’ve all been on long-haul flights, which is exactly when you DO want to recline your seat a little and catch some Zs, especially since the person in front of you (and the person in front of them, and the person in front of THEM) is doing exactly the same thing. And still, the Passive Aggressive Space Hoarder will sigh heavily when you do it, occasionally even going so far as to tap you on the shoulder and say “excuse me, would you mind not reclining your seat? I don’t have much room back here to begin with.”

In close second place is The Wrencher, who gets out of his seat by hoisting himself upwards while holding on to the back of yours.

And when you get a Passive Aggressive Space Hoarder who is ALSO a Wrencher? Well, then it’s all over, my friend. You might as well ask to be transferred to the cargo hold. You’d probably have a more pleasant flight.


Alison, how right you are! Personally, the Gabber gets me. I like to meet new people, particularly when I travel, but at some point this person has to realize that the book I’ve been holding open in my lap since they interrupted my peace is not being used as a blanket!


My least favorite is the Traveler Who Appears To Be Coming Off A Bender. This is the one who, when you board your early am flight, has clearly stayed up all night partying rather than risk sleeping through the alarm. Generally unshowered, they start making drink demands of the flight attendant as soon as they sit down. Then, they transition into The Very Loud Snorer before their drink even shows up.


I once sat next to a girl who had bathed herself in patchouli and every time she even shifted slightly in her seat I was assaulted with a fresh whiff. What was even worse was the fact that she unpacked half of her carry-on luggage and filled every inch of her seat area with blankets, extra clothes, her laptop, and snacks, which would’ve been okay—I guess—as long as all of that stuff stayed inside of her alloted personal space. But every time she moved, or needed to get out of her seat, her things ended up in my lap as she rearranged everything to dig herself out of her seat.


How about the Shifty-Eyed Seatmate? I relish flights as the only time that I buy and devour trashy celebrity gossip magazines (they’re cheap, and you can unload ‘em as you go), but the unfortunate side effect is that I often have seatmates who do a not-so-surreptitious job of reading along with me. There is nothing more unnerving that catching the random guy in the seat next to you casting his eyes over at your WHOSE ARE REAL? celebrity pictorial spread.

A close second is Louie Lech, usually a (much) older man who insists on using some lame line to start a conversation (“You a New York lady?”) despite the fact that I have Bose headphones the size of small plates crammed over my ears. This usually happens on long-haul flights–within the first 10 minutes, I know it’s going to be a fun one.

Laura Presley

Way funny Alison. We’ve all been there. I especially dislike the kicking kids with parents who can’t bother to say stop. Where are their manners? The very worst ,of course,are the plane delays that eventually turn into sorry no more flights tonight. Airports are really ,really bad for overnight stays!


I have flown the whole cabin, first class to the last seat in coach, with kids or just with my spouse so I try to be patient and considerate with my fellow passengers. A guy in first class was in my seat reading his paper and when I got on board and told him he was in my seat he ignorned me. So I said it a few more times louder and with more enthusiasm. Finally he got up and moved to his assigned seat. DUH! There was also a passenger in the first row of coach who had the worst cough and coughed the whole flight. It was obvious that she shouldn’t have been on the plane or at least she should have had a mask on. Have had the larger passenger in the seat behind me who got mad when I reclined my seat and pushed/pulled my seat back the whole flight! I didn’t say anything but did take a look at her when we landed. She didn’t look very happy. I love flying!


To Jules, the person who takes issue with the larger person behind her complaining of her seat reclining….are you serious!!!@# Where do you think that seat reclines to when the person is say 6’4″ or taller? Directly into their knees! There is literally no where to move your legs to avoid them being crushed by the seat metal. Is this person expected to ride out an entire flight with your seat jammed into their knees? Absolutely not. You should learn to be courteous. What I do have an issue with is passive-aggressive seat pushing. When this occurs, I simply stand up, ask politely if they’d be so kind as to move their chair back up, and if they refuse I simply get the flight attendant. Your “comfort” isn’t assured in a vacuum.



Okay, I’m flying back to Kansas from Honolulu. Doing the math, you know it’s an 8 hour flight. Fifteen minutes after takeoff, the little !*@# in front of me starts trying to lean her seat back, crunching my knees. Yeah, I’m 6’4″, so I don’t need to say any more.

She stands up and looks like she’s going to go one the warpath until she figures out why her chair won’t lean back, and I simply say to her, “your seat won’t recline because those are my knees you are bashing into.

Instead of appologizing and saying something like, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were so tall”, she replied in a snotty little voice, “does this mean I can’t lean my seat back?”.

Funny, she kept trying to lean back the entire flight until I went to the restroom, when she got her way. When I returned I had to sit with my knees in the aisle. Little miss “I have to have it my way” got it her way, but someone my gum found its way into her seat behind her head. I can only imagine where it ended up…. oh, and I turned my overhead light on since it was a redeye, and turned my air on full blast. My knees also made it to her back every now and then also. When we landed, she would not look back at me. At all…


I relate to your atricle :)

If I may there is one item that no one mentioned.

If you sit in the rear of the plane, stow your carry on items in the in the rear of the plane. It is very rude to put your carry on items in the front of the aircraft if you are seated in the rear. The rear is always seated 1st (After 1st Class) So there is pleanty of room for your items. It is quite frustrating when you get boarded zone 7 only to find that there is no space because the zone 2-6 were too lazy to carry their gear to where they are seated. It is compunded when you are in a bulk-head seat and you HAVE to put your items overhead.

My take on the “overhead hogs” is put your stuff where you sit… or ask an attendant where to put it. Next… check your luggage like the rest of us and please be considerate of those that have already placed items. It is very inconsiderate to crush my laptop or my wife’s handbag just because you were too cheap to pay $25.00 to check that over the limit carry on.

In closing thanks to all of you out there that put up with my snoring… and sorry for kicking your caboose at trivia… I cant help that I fly every week :) Just kidding about the trivia.


Being a rather tall person, I hate it when people just recline there seat without asking first. If you ask first I’m happy, If you just force it back without warning I’m liable to push it back or worse. I don’t like broken kneecaps.

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