There I was, in my sixth hour of sitting at Chicago's O'Hare airport, watching another foot of snow fall on the closed runway, getting the caffeine shakes from my third cup of overpriced coffee, listening to an incessant stream of political blabber from the TV screens in the terminal. Seemed like I had two choices: Read the USA Today — again — or do some people watching. I chose the latter and, taking a good look around, came to a sudden realization: There sure are a lot of annoying people out there.
Of course, flights attendants are among the most annoying people in the airline industry. I know this because I am a flight attendant myself, and I know how we sometimes behave. We shout at you to take your seat when the seat-belt sign is on, but we think nothing of getting up to use the lavatory ourselves. We shrug our shoulders when you complain, wear fixed smiles the entire flight, and threaten to call the authorities if you dare to cop even the slightest attitude. Believe me, we know that we are annoying at times.
But what about these clowns?
1. The line moron
This clueless individual holds up the line through sheer inattention. Here's an example: In a 20-person line at Starbucks, with enough time to memorize the menu, the line moron waits until he gets to the register to begin thinking about what he wants to order. After he changes his mind a couple of times, the people behind him, who desperately need a caffeine jolt, are contemplating strangulation.
2. The stop-and-starters
These folks are guilty of what is called in the airline world "pulling a Christopher Columbus." They are the people who, in a busy airport, feel a need to stop on every whim — oblivious to the people walking behind them. Whether it is to check for their passport, window-shop at the novelty store, or look at the departure monitors from 20 yards away, these airport cruisers will come to a sudden and complete stop. Then, as you try to go around them, they start walking again and you have to stop, thus creating a chain reaction of stop-and-go traffic.
3. The hands-free guy
This is the man with the hidden cell-phone device in his ear. When he speaks directly at you, causing you to utter some polite but confused reply, he points to his cell phone and frowns at you as if you are the idiot. This is also the guy who broadcasts unwanted details of his conversation to the entire gate area.
4. The hurry-up-and-wait agent
Your flight is late because of a late inbound aircraft, but when it is finally ready for boarding, the gate agent hurries all the passengers aboard as if they are to blame for the delay. Then the aircraft sits at the gate for 20 minutes while the baggage handlers board all the luggage ... and parcels ... and crated cats and dogs.
5. The security buffoon
This is the person who ignores all the instructions on how to get through security smoothly. He keeps his laptop in his bag when it goes through the X-ray machine, has a liter of water with him, and is surprised when his cell phone goes off in the metal detector. Who suffers? Everyone behind him in line.
6. The boarding bumbler
This is the passenger who, with a hundred people behind him at boarding, decides to stop in the aisle to methodically unpack his bag for every blessed thing he might need during the flight — newspaper, earplugs, breath mints, three snacks — you name it. And when you try to squeeze past, he fumbles something then grumbles, "I'll just be a minute."
7. The foot-stink neighbor
This is the guy who takes off his shoes in the middle of the flight and, even though he knows that the smell is paralyzing, ignores the stink or even jokes about it. If this happens to you, feel free to either pass the hint to this person or tell a flight attendant. We are not normally the stink patrol, but I have insisted to more than one passenger that if he didn't put his shoes back on, I would have the authorities meet the flight. Same goes for nail polish and products like Vicks VapoRub, Bengay and smelly carry-on food.
8. The water guzzler
Now, we all know that drinking water is very healthy and I encourage everyone to do so. But the passenger I am speaking of drinks several gallons of water in flight, insists on sitting next to the window, and has a bladder the size of a peanut. If this describes you, at least offer to switch seats with the person on the aisle.
9. The sneezer
This is the passenger who sneezes or coughs without covering his mouth. To me this is one of the worst. We all know that sometimes we are forced to travel when we are not 100 percent but, please, let's all practice proper hygiene. I recently flew as a passenger and the person behind me sneezed and coughed the entire time without once covering her mouth — even after I turned around and asked her to. By the end of the flight, the back of my head was damp. Needless to say, I caught a cold soon afterwards.
10. The stacker
This passenger stacks all his newspapers, snack wrappers, used Kleenex and empty beverage containers on one meal tray and hands it to the flight attendant. When the mountain of garbage unfolds like an accordion all over the passengers nearby, he looks at the flight attendant like it's her fault.
11. The strategic complainer
This is the passenger who is angling for an upgrade, a free drink or some other sort of compensation. He has a complaint about every aspect of the flight — seat size, connecting flights, boarding hassles, air quality, you name it — and he won't stop until he gets some kind of freebie. Unfortunately, these people are the ones who often do get compensated, while the kind, patient and courteous passengers don't.
12. The late arrival
This is the passenger who somehow remembers to check in his bags but then forgets about his flight. Gate agents page him at every terminal, and when he does not respond, are forced to remove his bags. The problem is that it takes about 30 minutes to locate luggage in the cargo hold, and the errant passenger usually shows up after 15 minutes. Biggest excuse? "I was in the duty-free shop and lost track of time." Really? You show up three hours prior to departure and it flies by just like that?
I know this list is only the tip of the iceberg and you probably have many more annoying people to add. So speak up: E-mail me someone who really bugs you when you fly. I will update the list and send out a copy of my new book for the best responses.
James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, For more information about James, visit or send him an .