I was listening to NPR the other day and they had on Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, authors of the new book, “Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us.” The book looks at why certain actions annoy us.
It got me thinking. There are a lot of things that annoy me about flying — including fellow passengers. Unless you’re flying with a big group of friends, going on an airplane puts you in close quarters with complete strangers. And you don’t always get the best seatmate.
After being a frequent flyer for over 30 years, I’ve identified the five most annoying passenger types to sit next to on a flight. They are:
1. The person who decides to make you a best friend by talking to you all night. Sorry chatty Cathy, I use flights to catch up on work or relax by watching the in-flight entertainment or reading a good book. Small talk is fine, but spare me your unedited life story.
2. The person who is drinking too much and making you nervous. Drinking is for the bar, not the airplane. It’s actually much better for you to drink plenty of water while flying and keep the alcohol to a serious minimum. Sure, some people need a drink to relax their nerves on a flight. That’s fine. But when you can’t control your alcohol intake and you start getting sloppy, you’re only embarrassing yourself and making people around you feel very uncomfortable.
3. The person who makes you get out of your aisle seat all night to go to the bathroom. If you know you’re the type of person who needs to use the restroom a lot, just book an aisle seat. If you book early enough, you should be able to snag that sought-after spot. I don’t mind getting up a few times if I’m in the aisle seat, but if I’m trying to sleep or eat a meal, having to get up and down every time you need to use the restroom is anything but convenient.
4. The person using a computer in the aisle seat, who resents having to move when you need to go to the bathroom. This doesn’t contradict #3, and here’s why. I know I will eventually have to use the restroom if I am seated in a window or middle seat. I even try to go the same time as someone else in my row, just so that person won’t have to get up twice. So it really annoys me when the person in the aisle seat gives me the evil eye when having to pick up electronic equipment to get up. If you buy an aisle seat, expect to have to get up every now and then.
5. The person who has a cold (or allergies) and sneezes and coughs all over you during the flight. I know you can’t help getting sick before a flight, but take medication before you fly or, if possible, cancel your flight all together if you’re really sick. Travel insurance protects your investment in your ticket as long as you can verify your illness with a doctor’s note. Just remember that your germs are entering the plane’s air circulation with every cough or sneeze, putting not only me, but every other passenger, at risk of getting your illness too.
So, how do I handle myself if I have to tolerate any of these troubling passenger types? I do my best to use charm, sympathy, and a big smile to get a little relief. The chatty person will leave you alone if you just say, clearly and sweetly, “That’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing,” and promptly return to your book.
For the frequent bathroom visitor, you could offer to switch seats, as even a middle seat might be less bothersome than having to get up frequently from your aisle seat. The same strategy can work in reverse for the person using the computer in the aisle seat, and if not, you’ll definitely have conveyed the message to your seatmate. Hopefully, they will understand and respond with a bit more patience.
The person who’s drinking too much is much harder to control, but you can speak privately to a flight attendant and see if a different seat can be found for you. Flight attendants might not be aware of the amount your seatmate has had to drink, and your report will put them on alert to avoid serving more.
The only troubling traveler for whom I have no strategy is the one who is sick, sneezing, and coughing all over the place. Even if that person is flying in another cabin, there’s a good chance those germs are circulating throughout the plane, through the air and all over the surfaces in the bathrooms.
Your only true weapon is to take good care of yourself, drink plenty of water while you fly, and wash your hands as much as possible (or use hand sanitizers). That’s really the best you can do. Personally, I travel with cold medications in my carry-on. So if I do get sick, I can at least treat the symptoms that could ruin my trip once I arrive at my destination.
What type of passengers annoy you on a flight? Tell me about it on a comment on this post. In addition, let me know how you deal with handling annoying passengers on a flight.