10 Things I Really Wish People Would Stop Doing on Airplanes

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annoying people on airplanes

I’m just going to go ahead and make a bold statement. I hate planes. I fucking hate them.

I hate airports. I hate people who work in airports (TSA agents I’m looking at you). I hate the hassle of airports. Why we just can’t apparate from point A to B by now is beyond me.

This probably comes from the fact that I spend so much of my time on planes nowadays. In fact, I’m sure that’s why. I’m also a severe introvert so more than 4 people in a confined space tend to stress me out. Lock me in a tiny moving tin tube for more than an hour with hundreds of other breathers, and I start to have anxiety attacks.

Sounds like I picked the wrong profession, right?

annoying people on airplanes

Granted, I have had many flights go by without a hitch, which makes the bad ones hell in comparison. Combined with the fact that I have a special talent for finding myself in really uncomfortable situations makes me really NOT look forward to long travel days.

It’s been a while since I ranted on here but I needed to do something while traveling for days on end over the past week. After years of reflection, I’ve realized it all boils down to two things: respect and awareness. If only people were more aware of all the people around them on flights AND respected them, 99% of flights would take off without general grumpiness.

Of course there is always someone misbehaving. Always.

Here are my 10 things I wish people would really stop doing on airplanes: 

annoying people on airplanes


1. Smelling like, well, anything

As a general rule, you should probably shower sometime close to take-off. And if showering is impossible, bring a change of clothes and deodorant in your carry-on. Please. Can I even begin to count the number of times I’ve been on a flight in close proximity to someone who reeked? I don’t get it, how can you not be aware that you smell like a high school locker room? If I don’t shower, I am painfully aware of it, and I would never consider subjecting someone next to me on a flight to that.

Then of course the opposite happened while I was waiting at Dulles Airport last week to catch my flight to San Francisco. Across the aisle in the waiting area before boarding, as I was sipping my coffee I watched in horror as a woman took out a bottle of some kind of hippy essential oil and proceed to douse herself in it. I could literally feel my eyes prickling from 15 feet away. It was like she was anointing herself in holy communion or something.

As far as I’m concerned, everyone should smell neutral on a plane. Good or bad, I don’t want to smell you at all.

annoying people on airplanes


2. Asking to switch seats

Ok, I’m anal – I like a window seat. I go to great lengths to make sure I have my seat planned, prepped and reserved in advance before I even journey to an airport. Sometimes I even have to pay for it.

Have you ever been on a flight where people are boarding and there’s a family that doesn’t have seats together and they go around asking people to switch seats? It’s happened to me several times, and I feel like a bitch but I always say no. I picked my seat, dammit, and I am not giving it up because someone is too lazy to plan in advance.

Have they heard of the internet? Do they have phones? It’s not that hard to get in contact with an airline in advance and rearrange seats or even when you are checking in, but why wait til you are on the plane to ask is beyond me. The only airline I’ve ever had problems with about seat selection is American Airlines, but that’s a story for a different day.

annoying people on airplanes


3. Overhead bin violations

Flights are almost always full nowadays, which means the overhead bins can be a hot commodity. If you are traveling with a big backpack or rolling suitcase, you have to use the bin. However, I’ve got little legs, and I always stow my canvas tote and camera satchel under the seat in front of me, except for when I take my backpacking backpack on board. And while I settle in my seat, I watch people over and over again stuff tiny purses, shopping bags, coats and other small foldable crap in the empty overhead bins while the plane still boards.

You see my backpack? It can’t fit under the seat, do you mind if I move your feather down jacket and duty-free booze bags so I can put it in the overhead bin?

I always feel like a dick when I have to move people’s stuff around or ask them to move it if I need to stow a bigger bag up there. Use some common sense and don’t be an idiot. Wait until the plane has boarded THEN put your smaller shit away if you need to.

The lack of common sense in people continues to astonish me.

annoying people on airplanes


4. Using the headrest in front of you to stand up

This drives me bananas. It takes a lot for me to fall asleep on a plane, especially when I forget to bring my Ambien with me. It makes me want to scream if I’ve finally fallen asleep only to be physically jerked away when the person behind me grabs my seat to sit up.

This is something that also baffles me. Why can’t people stand up putting their hands on the arm rests, the wall, or heaven forbid their own seat?

In-flight behavior 101 – never touch the seat in front of you unless it’s an emergency. And for some reason if you do need to, apologize or give some heads up first.

5. Not patrolling your kids

Another hot topic in the travel world – traveling with kids. Normally I’ve got no problem with kids on planes, I don’t even mind babies. Kids are kids, babies cry, I get all that, no problem.

My beef starts when parents don’t control their offspring on planes. That drives me nuts. Whether these feral kids are kicking my seat like a soccer ball, running up and down the aisles, or screaming while the parents just sit there, that’s when I get pissy. No one invades my personal space cave on a flight. NO ONE.

This is why I’ve reverted to the Oatmeal school of thought where I believe airplanes should be laid on with special kennels in the back for children. Sigh, one day.

annoying people on airplanes


I’m not a mom yet; I’ve made the decision I’m not ready to deal with all the baby stuff yet, which means I don’t want to deal with your parent issues either. I’ve had a kid spill a drink on me because mommy was too busy watching the movie in her aisle seat once, but the absolute worst was getting barfed on a transatlantic flight in 2009.

Actually I’ve been puked on twice while traveling, both times because of parental negligence. This time I was minding my own business in a window seat while the mom next to me bottle-fed her baby. She then props him up to burp on her right shoulder and guess who gets vomed on? Yours truly.

They say that when its your kid, it’s different and you can put up with all those bodily fluids. Well it wasn’t my kid and I lost it. Big time. Feed your baby in your seat, but go burp him by the bathrooms.

annoying people on airplanes


6. No snoring, no drooling

This goes hand in hand with number 1. I’m guessing that most people who snore are aware of it and know they snore. Am I right? So when you are on a plane with a bazillion other people, try not to snore. If that means drinking a coffee, drink a coffee. If that means not reclining your seat, don’t recline your seat.

On my San Fran flight, my seatmate was a massive snorer. Like I could hear him over my headphones with the volume on max. Now that’s just impressive. Even the flight attendants were astonished. As they were serving drinks, one took a look at him, and said out loud, “Sweet Jesus.”

It was a 6 hour flight during the day. Stay awake.

annoying people on airplanes


I should probably add in here one of the grossest things that happened to me on a plane, right up there with the baby barf. I was seated next to this little old lady, I mean very nice and sweet, but she kept dozing off, like old ladies do. The thing was that she couldn’t stay upright and would inch by inch lean over until she was basically napping on my shoulder in which I would wiggle around to sort of wake her up.

But the third time she slid on my shoulder, she drooled all over my arm. Like a fucking faucet. Oh my gawd. I was horrified, horrified but I couldn’t say anything because she was so old and sweet and we had chatted while boarding creating a mini-connection. All I could think was thank god I wore long sleeves that day! So I kinda poked her and she propped back up while trying to discreetly wipe her slobber off. Then I basically spent the next hour trying to keep her from falling over on me. It’s kinda like the baby issue, not my grandma, I’m not ok with being drooled on.

If you can’t sleep like a normal person and not bother those around you, you lose your in-flight sleeping privileges. End of story.

annoying people on airplanes


7. Bringing smelly food on board

Just like I don’t like smelling people, I also don’t like smelling food. Have you ever been on a flight where people bring on McDonalds? That odor lingers, people. Greasy fast food smell is not something I like having to deal with in an enclosed space for hours, I don’t know about you.

If you’re going to need to eat some hot food, eat it in the terminal please. My only other pet peeve about this is unique to me, in that I am deathly allergic to peanuts. This means the smell makes me want to die a little.

As most aware people have probably noticed, peanuts haven’t been served on planes in the US in years because of allergy peeps like me, except for Southwest, which I can never fly because even if my flight doesn’t serve peanuts, it doesn’t mean the plane is clean from peanut dust from previous flights – imagine having to live like that!

Anyways, it’s a very violent allergy compared with others and it’s the one food that really reeks; I don’t have a dairy, gluten, shellfish allergy, but from what I understand, the smell is not as potent as peanuts. Smelling peanuts in an enclosed space makes me nauseous, dizzy and prone to getting sick and I risk going into anaphylactic shock and DYING, which nobody wants, right?

And yet, people still feel the need to eat peanuts on planes. It makes me feel like a massive douche to either have to ask you to stop or complain to a stewardess, so please do us all a favor and just don’t eat anything with peanuts in the first place on a flight. Or better yet, think about what food you’re going to eat on a plane beforehand.

annoying people on airplanes


8. Walking down the aisle and grabbing everyone’s seat

Normally I never sit in aisle seats; I have this weird habit where I like to feel cocooned and snug and can lean my head against the window to nap on flights. However, somehow in spite of my talent for fighting for the perfect window seat, I ended up in an aisle seat this summer on one of my long-haul redeye flights, in which my abhorrence for this seat along with passenger in-flight behavior was firmly reaffirmed.

For some reason, certain passengers on flights feel the need to touch the headrest of every aisle seat on their way to and from the toilet; I lost count at 25 on this flight alone. It’s safe to say I got zero sleep on that flight thanks to people lurking in the aisles and playing headrest war.

IT’S NOT A GAME PEOPLE! You can keep your hands to yourself. If you can walk down normal hallways without grabbing the wall, I’m guessing you can also walk down the aisle of the plane without annoying every passenger in seat C, D, G or H.

annoying people on airplanes


9. Seat reclining do’s and don’ts

On long-haul flights, you’re gonna definitely want to recline your seats. I’m a premature grandma and have a bad back, so if I sit too long straight up without changing positions, it really starts to bother me. But with most people who have common sense, you easily realize how and when do recline your seats.

Personally, I never recline my seat on short flights; I can deal. I also do not recline my seat until after the first meal is served and I usually warn people behind me. Do you know what happens when you recline or upright your seat when someone has their tray table down behind you? Shit goes flying. FLYING.

Don’t even get me started if I have my laptop out. If you break my laptop screen or even come CLOSE to breaking my laptop screen, shit.will.hit.the.fan.

annoying people on airplanes


To the lovely man who reclined his seat 100% on my 13 hour flight to Auckland before the seatbelt sign even came on, you’re dead to me; though thanks for inspiring this article. Snoozing through the meal and the numerous announcements asking passengers to put their seats up for supper, the flight attendant asked me if I wanted her to wake him up when she was serving dinner. Ok, of course I want you to wake him up – I can’t even put anything on my tray with his seat down, but can you not put it on me so I feel like a dick for not being more accommodating in front of my row peeps? Thanks.

Also, I take it to the next level and always look behind me and occasionally ask the person behind me if they’re cool with me reclining. Oh you’re six feet tall? I’ll just go ahead and keep my seat up.

Just a few simple, polite words make all the difference. Just like relationships, flight communication is key.

annoying people on airplanes


10. You tell me

What’s the most annoying thing people do on planes? Have any horror stories? What’s the most obnoxious thing you’ve witnessed on a plane? Do you have any in-flight pet peeves?

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615 Comments on “10 Things I Really Wish People Would Stop Doing on Airplanes

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  1. I once sat next to a man from SLC to Annapolis who ate an entire bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Needless to say, he also spilled over his seat into my seat. Worst. Flight. Ever.

    1. omg what a cliche! I also can’t deal when people move into my space, but I was not prepared for the hate mail I would receive if I wrote no fat people on flights

  2. I never actually thought about not bringing my own peanuts on a plane, but I’ll be cognizant of that in the future (I just really love trail mix, okay?).

    A few years ago I was seated next to a mom and her young daughter. The daughter was wretched for all but the last 30 minutes of the 5-hour flight. She was coloring in a book for a little while before deciding it was cool to start coloring on the kids’ shirts in front of her. Her mom didn’t say much about it. And when her mom finally decided to say something, it was “I’m going to take away your stuffed animal and tell daddy that you misbehaved.” Yeah, that obviously totally helped–shrieking ensued, the stuffed animal was returned, and the horror continued.

    My other pet peeve is people bogarting my space. I also always sit at the window, and I try to sit as close to the wall as possible because I hate feeling like I’m taking up too much space, but then I get people whose arms are all the way across the armrest, poking into my side; or their things/legs start to creep over into my under-seat space.

    1. Yeah that’s just a personal quirk, I can’t hold it against people for not knowing, but at the same time I hope people will learn. Peanuts are smelly in general too. Also bogart, new fave word 😛

  3. LOVED this post Liz, agree with everything on this list… If only they posted lists like this on the back of every single chair in an airplane. Boarding a long haul flight shortly & dreading it.
    My biggest pet peeve would definitely be people messing with my seat, actually usually it’s children kicking it… & I just don’t understand how a parent can’t notice this.
    Also I get annoyed if I know someone has chose a window seat but they proceed to get up & disrupt you to use the bathroom 10X during your flight (legit, 10X). I myself KNOW I have a small bladder, so I choose the aisle seat accordingly, if only others would do the same.

  4. Sometimes families do have seats together and the airline, in their infinite wisdom, changes their seats and splits them up. That happened to my best friend who was with her family – husband, 3 kids, 1 son in-law, 1 sister and 2 small grandchildren. She had booked seats together and they were split up and put all over the plane on the day of the LAX to London flight…. I’m picky about my seat too and agree about choosing your seat ahead of time. 5 years ago BA switched my seat – from Premium Economy to Business Class! Heaven flying LHR to LAX! Happy camper!

    1. no problem being bumped up, but if you get moved around you can complain at check in, but I think it’s fairly rude to ask people directly on the plane, just my two cents

      1. Love this post. You can add toilet usage instructions to your list as well – ugh.
        Just to clarify – about families that want to sit together….
        This summer traveling internationally with 2 kids my husband and niece, we had gone through a lot of trouble to get seats together, and on each flight, we were split up all over the plane at check in and told by the airline check in agent to get the steward/stewardess to help us get seats together once on the plane. No matter what we said (and they saw the two little kids standing next to us) they insisted they could not give us seats together, even though we had CONFIRMED seats together, planned way ahead of time. Because they were international flights we could not print the boarding passes beforehand as we always do for domestic flights.
        This was so annoying, and embarrassing, but I had to ask people to move as my kids are too young to sit alone. On top of that, it was just me with the kids, my husband was on the other side of the plane, so no added help on a 10 hour flight.
        So next time you see a family trying to get seats together, realize its not always their fault.

      2. So don’t bring your kids until they are old enough. Why should children (and passengers around them) suffer because YOU want to travel? Wait until they are old enough to appreciate everything… which isn’t until they are out of the house anyway!

      3. What a dumb thing to say. Though I don’t love sitting next to babies and small children on planes, I also don’t care that much. There are so many excellent reasons-besides teaching your children that there is more to life than you’re own personal bubble-that children would be traveling. Funerals, weddings, family living on opposite sides of the country/world, family in the military. I personally wouldn’t want to take a small child on a long haul flight, but more power to you if you do. As for children not being able to appreciate travel, that’s a big no. Some of my fondest memories are of family vacations I took as a child. I would also assume that much of the time, the family members have selected seats together, only to get screwed over. I assume that because I’m always screwed over by airlines when it comes to my seating arrangements. It also irritates me to know end that airlines don’t do more to seat families together.

      4. *to no end of course, not to know end, and your own, not you’re! Yikes, guess I need to edit more!

      5. This really depends on the airline. AA did this to my family at Heathrow for a flight to LA. We asked when we checked in, and again at customer service, who told us to ask at the Gate Desk, who told us they would see what they could do. Which was nothing, precisely. We selected seats together, months in advance, but they screwed us over – and when you are military organized to feed and entertain two toddlers being opposite ends of the cabin SUCKS. The cabin crew are the best way to go about it though, asking them to ask for volunteers means no personal embarrassment or emotional blackmail, and if people say No then my focus is back on the airline for changing it in the first place, not the other passengers.

        Incidentally on a recent redeye the people in front had the reading lights on pointing back in our faces for much of the flight, which is fun, but the worst had to be a big group of French exchange students flying out of LAX who hung out in the aisle for several hours chatting loudly and even began helping themselves to drinks out of the galley. Tres Bon.

      6. That is sometimes the only option, because people travelling together are being split up by the airlines.

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