8 Tips to Avoid a Mile-High Meltdown

Interior of airplane
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The last time I booked a flight with WestJet, I paid a fee to select my seat in advance. I also paid extra for a Comfort Plus seat. Before the plane took off, the flight attendant asked me if I would give up my seat so that two adults could sit together for the 3 hours and 20 minutes it would take to reach our destination. If you were me, what would you have done?

My list of travel etiquette pet peeves is longer than the line at a LAX security checkpoint, but a request to switch seats is probably my biggest grievance. Others include passengers that crowd the gate long before boarding begins (un-affectionately known as gate lice) and window seat passengers who need to visit the bathroom during mealtime.


Expedia recently released the results of their 2nd annual Airplane Etiquette Study, which asked 1,000 Americans to rate the most annoying behaviour of fellow passengers.  Their official ranked list of onboard violators include:

  1. Rear Seat Kicker
  2. Inattentive Parents
  3. The Aromatic Passenger
  4. The Audio Insensitive (talking of music)
  5. The Boozer
  6. Chatty Cathy
  7. Carry-on Baggage Offenders
  8. The Armrest Hog
  9. Seat-Back Guy (the seat recliner)
  10. The Queue Jumper (rushes to de-plane)
  11. Overhead Bin Inconsiderate (stows bags in first available spot, rather than nearest his/her own seat)
  12. Pungent Foodies
  13. Back Seat Grabber
  14. Playboy (reads or watches adult content)
  15. The Amorous (inappropriate affection levels)
  16. Mad Bladder (window seat passenger who makes repeat bathroom visit)
  17. Undresser (removes shoes, socks, or more)
  18. The Seat Switcher

Interior of airplane

Air rage incidents are increasing over everything from delays and cancellations due to winter weather, to seat reclining issues and intoxicated passengers.

Jacqueline Whitmore, an internationally recognized etiquette expert, author and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach, who is also a former flight attendant, offers the following 8 tips to make the skies more friendly and your flights less stressful:

Prepare ahead of time. Research the rules of your particular airline to find out what luggage requirements they have. If you plan to leave from a busy airport, give yourself enough time to go through security and make it to your gate — even if there are long lines. Prior planning will help relieve stress.

Don’t pack more than you can lift. The number one pet peeve of flight attendants is passengers who bring carry-on luggage too heavy for them to lift. Don’t expect the flight attendant to lift your bag into the overhead bin. If you pack it, you stack it. Or flight attendants will check it for you.

Check before you recline. Airline seats recline to allow passengers to sleep and relax, but it may cause discomfort for the person behind you. If you intend to recline your seat, do it gently or better yet, turn around and make sure you don’t inconvenience the person behind you. Raise your seat during mealtime so the person behind you can enjoy his or her meal.

Be respectful of those around you. Airplane seating is tight and interaction with your seatmates is inevitable. Keep the volume of your headphones at an appropriate level and lower the light on your electronic devices so you don’t disturb or distract the person next to you. Many people are sensitive to strong scents including garlic and onions so be mindful of what you eat on the plane.

Allow those in front of you to disembark first. Rather than grab your luggage and make a run for the door, follow protocol. If you need to make a connection or know you’ll be in a rush, try to arrange to be seated near the front of the plane.

Hold your tongue. If you have a complaint about another passenger, don’t take matters into your own hands and don’t demand that the plane land at the nearest airport. Alert the flight attendant.

Parents, be prepared. When babies cry uncontrollably in flight it’s probably because their ears hurt from the air pressure. It’s a good idea for parents to be prepared with a bottle or a pacifier or something to make their children swallow and relieve ear pressure.

Smells travel. Parents should not wait until the plane takes off to change their baby’s diaper. Change your child’s diaper in the lavatory – not on the tray table.

Jacqueline isn’t the only one offering pointers. JetBlue recently launched a series of etiquette videos for passengers. The problem with etiquette advice though is that the people who need it the most are the ones least likely to seek it.

What did I do when the flight attendant asked me to switch seats on that WestJet flight? I declined. Without guilt and without apology. Considering the extra seat selection fees passengers are now faced with, I think the airline crew should stop asking – or at least stop asking without offering some sort of compensation in exchange. How would you have responded? What’s the most irritating behavior you’ve experienced while travelling?


8 Tips to Avoid a Mile-High Meltdown

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Laura Goyer is a world traveler and culinary travel professional, on a mission to help busy prime-time women find the best local food when they travel.

2 thoughts on “8 Tips to Avoid a Mile-High Meltdown

  1. Dina says:

    Laura, thanks for this. You have touched on an important topic in travel experience and I have experienced several of the behaviours you mentioned in your post. My worst experience so far was a pair of smelly bare feet belonging to the guy behind me perched in my space in the space between the seats. It was almost funny if it weren’t so offensive. I called the flight attendant who of course had him take his feet back but you know, it ruined my flight. Another incident is a luggage landing on my head when the passenger was insisting on getting it down when he could barely reach it. Some passengers on the other hand are very considerate. And to answer your question on changing seats: unless it is of same quality and situation I would not even consider it. Even then I think it is rude to ask.

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