Let's all agree that the airlines often behave like monsters that need to be tamed, even caged. (See The real reason fliers hate the airlines.) Okay, done. But who of us would deny that, as often as not, it's our fellow travelers who are the true ogres of the travel experience?
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Following are some of the most egregious (and common) offenses of our fellow travelers. We've gone over many of these before, but I couldn't resist listing them out in one place. (We've seen worse as well, no doubt.)
What behavior drives you nuts? Vote in Independent Traveler's poll and share your biggest pet peeves!
10. Carry-on baggage offenses
These come in all stripes: too many bags, oversized bags, refusal to put bags in the overhead bins, showdowns when attendants insist you check them, etc. etc. ad nauseam world without end.
Old news, I know, but it's not like anyone ever learns.
I've met some interesting folks on planes; in fact, I find most people interesting in some way or another. Just not three-and-a-half-hours-nonstop interesting.
9b. Strangers who will be visiting your hometown soon
I have a friend who is always getting this one: "You live in Seattle? I'm going to be visiting Seattle! I could give you a call when I get there..."
8. Seat etiquette
Seatbacks and tray tables, the heroes of in-flight announcements, are the tools of choice of most offenders; see The etiquette of seat backs and elbow room for a hard look at this one.
Another: there are two seats, one armrest between them. Seems to me like it's shared space, naturally. We learn this stuff in kindergarten; why do so many folks forget it on planes?
Seat and personal space encroachments are among the worst offenses, but again, old news that no one seems to learn.
7. First class staring at the rabble
As regular readers know, I pay my own airfare, and I fly coach. But if you're in first or business class, why waste your seat scowling at everyone boarding the plane schlumping their way back to coach. Some more Perrier, thanks...
(I know, worrying about this nonsense is a waste of my time, but I'm always astounded at how consistent these folks are with this one.)
6. Traveling with pets
I love my pets. I love my friends' pets. I love strangers' pets. But I don't love your dander factory of a cat so much that you should feel free to let it crawl across both of us in flight.
As much as I like the idea of bringing my dog along, I don't think I'll ever do it again after having seen a baggage handler drop my dog's cage during a connection through St. Louis. When my traumatized dog was delivered to me at the trip's end in a completely collapsed, destroyed cage, the skycaps hovered waiting for a tip. Then they saw my face and nearly sprinted away.
One reader suggested to me that the same goes for kids, but that's another story entirely. (See The hue and cry over babies onboard.) Traveling with kids — which I believe is fantastic when done correctly — presents its own special set of challenges, so I'll leave this for another time.
5. Asking favors
I'm as helpful as the next guy, always willing to lend a hand to a fellow traveler. So please don't take advantage of me.
"Uh, do you mind if we switch seats? I have a seat in the last row of the plane because I slept in and showed up late, but my companion and I want to sit together."
"Uh, I see you don't have anything under the seat in front of you. Do you mind if I put my things under your seat? I can't fit these extra bags/my slobbering dog/my child that I smuggled onto the plane under my own seat."
"Do you need your extra pillow? I know it's an all-night red-eye, but I can't sleep with just one pillow."
"Are you going to watch this second movie? No? Can I use your headset?"
"I know there's only one overhead bin for our whole row, but I have Mickey Mouse hats for my closest 200 friends and relatives back home. Can you find another place for your briefcase?"
You get the idea.
4a. Poor planning, terrible timing
These are the people who get up to walk around while the flight attendants are carting food in the aisles, the folks who need to get their magazine out of the overhead bin just as you are falling asleep — the folks who do everything at the worst possible time.
4b. Jumping up as soon as the plane reaches the gate
These people pull their monstrous bags out of the overhead bin, then lean them on top of your seatback because they can't stand up straight and can't hold their suitcases themselves. Not only is this annoying; it's dangerous as well.
3. Workaholic habits
My name is Ed, and I am a workaholic. However, I try not to inflict my habits on everyone around me.
For example, you've gotta love the folks who leave their cell phones on until the last possible second, subjecting everyone in earshot to the annual company sales report.
And just because you have a laptop out and feel busy and important doesn't mean you have any rights to any part of your neighbor's seat. Tuck your elbows in and pile your papers in your lap, please.
2. Any-aholic behavior
Boozing on planes is the primary cause of air rage incidents, bar (pun intended) none. I'd bet these incidents occur most often on delayed flights — that is, those flights where passengers have already had an opportunity to fuel up at the bar while waiting for boarding.
1. Traveling while sick
Everyone knows that airplanes, buses and trains are petri dishes on wheels; in fact, many global epidemics are disseminated by air travelers. Is it any surprise that the first known cases of West Nile virus occurred a few miles from LaGuardia airport?
There is nothing worse than sitting down next to a person who is gushing from every orifice, dabbing his raw-skinned snout with a tiny scrap of tissue and happily sharing his vile bug with everyone on the plane. (While you can bet these folks would be stingy about sharing the armrest, who would try to get that close?)
If you absolutely must fly when you're sick, have a little courtesy. At the very least, take the most powerful drugs you can find, including a sleeping pill that just about stops your breathing and puts you under for the duration of the flight, and impose a self-quarantine as best you can. (For more on this topic, see Traveling while contagious.)
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