Some people are less committed to the well-being of their fellow flyers than others. You know the type: the passengers who wear overpowering perfume, drink too much, or encroach upon personal space. The baffling behavior of some travelers can turn a pleasant flight into purgatory—but there are strategies you can use to reclaim your peace of mind. Read about the five types of people you should avoid on planes, and learn how to cope with unpleasant in-flight situations.
The Space Invader
Your 30-inch rectangle of seat space is a sovereign nation. Stray elbows that cross the border illegally must be dealt with. Same goes for wandering feet, sprawling hair extensions, and heavy, sleeping heads angling toward you. You paid good money for that tiny piece of real estate in the sky.
The following has happened to me on more than one flight: My seatmate’s foot surreptitiously moves toward me until, eventually, his foot is edge-to-edge with mine. I can, at this point, either submit and move my foot away, relinquishing my precious space, or stand my ground and remain in an uncomfortably close caress with my neighbor’s offending shoe. But there’s another option. …
How to Cope: Be direct, yet refrain from breaking down and using your seatbelt as a weapon. Firmly but politely ask, “Would you please move your [foot, elbow, dreadlocks]? It seems to be encroaching on my seat space.”
If your seatmate is a sky-scraping NBA center, let it be. It may be that his foot is wandering into your personal seat space because he physically cannot fit his body into his notebook-sized seat.
The moment you see the person with pallid skin coughing and blowing his nose, vomit bag untucked and ready for action, you want to turn, run, grab a beer, and initiate the emergency slide. Any seat on the plane is better than the one next to that person.
How to Cope: It’s a nightmare sitting next to a flu-ridden, feverish flyer, but be compassionate: It’s even worse to be the passenger who has to fly with a nasty cold or stomach bug. If you’re on a flight that isn’t full, discreetly ask the flight attendant if you could move your seat; he or she will likely understand and find you an alternate place to sit.
If your flight is full, however, relax and accept the situation. Stressing out will only make you more susceptible to illness. Stay hydrated, keep your hands clean, and refrain from touching your face.
The Stinky Seatmate
It’s not uncommon to be stuck on a flight next to a passenger who, for one reason or another, smells offensive. Different cultures have different standards of taste and hygiene. One person’s delicious lunch of fermented shark meat is another person’s putrid kryptonite. Stinky food, cigarette odor, liberally applied eau de parfum, unwashed armpits, and involuntary gas emissions can make in-cabin conditions borderline unbearable.
How to Cope: In this situation, the air vent is your best friend. Turn the overhead air spout in the direction of the smell to blast it away. If you’re particularly affected by bad smells, you could also pack a bandanna or a scarf to tie around your face or some Vicks VapoRub to dab under your nose (it’s great at overpowering odors), just in case.
The Toasted Traveler
You know your limit. And if you’ve decided that a plane is the appropriate place to exceed that limit and spend several hours exhaling hot liquor breath and laughing shrilly at Everybody Loves Raymond reruns, for shame. Flights are uncomfortable and sometimes scary, but that doesn’t mean you should relive your Animal House days at 30,000 feet just to get by.
How to Cope: Stuck next to the lush in the aisle seat? If he or she is being obnoxious or belligerent, notify the flight attendant immediately. You didn’t spend several hundred dollars to have a stranger tell you “what your [expletive] problem is.”
The Frantic Family
Well-behaved or not, an adjacent gaggle of little kids and an exhausted parent does not make for a calm, stress-free flight. But you were a smelly kid once too, so withhold the shock and horror when Junior cries or kicks the back of your seat.
How to Cope: Many families get separated on flights because it’s difficult to reserve several seats in the same row on a flight, especially during the busy travel season. If you’re sitting in a row with only part of the family, volunteer to trade your seat so that they can be together. You’ll likely be moved away from the kids, and you won’t come across as a child-loathing monster.
Also, bring a preemptive pair of noise-canceling headphones. They work wonders.
What kinds of people do you avoid on planes? Share your opinion in the comments!
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Best Airlines You’ve Never Flown
- World’s Strangest Tourist Attractions
- Right to Recline? Readers Fire Back Over Seat Debate
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.
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