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Airplane Etiquette Infractions: What Would You Do?

You’re stuck on a plane sitting in between two people hogging both armrests, one of whom hasn’t stopped trying to talk to you the entire flight; what do you do? Do you ignore it? Say something? Passively fight back?

A new survey of travelers by the franchise travel agency company Travel Leaders found that whether people will say something or not depends on the infraction. For instance, nearly 70 percent of 1,788 travelers surveyed would say something directly to a passenger in front of them if their personal space were “invaded” with an article of clothing or someone’s hair. But slightly less than half would sit quietly and say nothing if they were stuck in the middle seat and had no access to either armrest.

Personally, when I have a woman with long hair sitting in front of me, I do the passive-aggressive thing. If her hair is hanging over the seat, I blow on it or “accidentally” tug it when I’m putting down the tray. Without fail the woman gets the message. As for being stuck in the middle seat, yeah, I do sit quietly and do nothing (though I’ve challenged myself to do it differently the next time I’m in that situation).

I’m not alone in my hesitancy to say something to someone impacting my comfort on a plane. In only two hypothetical situations did more than half of respondents say they would say something directly to another passenger. Both involve the person in front of them: the passenger invading personal space via clothing/hair (as above) and the person whose chair is so far reclined that you can’t lower your tray table or open a laptop computer. In the latter case, 55.4 percent of respondents said they would say something directly to the person.

In some cases, calling on a flight attendant for help is a popular option, though by and large, survey respondents did not indicate eagerness to “tattle” on another passenger.

In only three hypothetical situations did more than a quarter of respondents say they would turn to flight attendants for help:

– 28.1 percent said they would call a flight attendant if the person in front of them ignored crew member instructions to have their seat back upright for takeoff and/or landing;

– 27.9 percent would hit the call button if someone on the plane were talking so loudly everyone could hear;

– 46.7 percent would ask a flight attendant to speak to a parent of a screaming child who was making no attempt to comfort or control the child.

Travelers were also asked what they would do if the person next to them on a flight insisted on trying to talk to them the entire flight. Most (38.1 percent) said they would use a book or other reading materials to limit the conversation, while 18.9 percent said they’d put on headphones and use reading materials. Some (12.2 percent) said they’d actually engage in conversation for the entire flight. Just over 10 percent said they’d be honest and tell the person they prefer not to talk.

Ever found yourself in one of these situations? How did you deal?

— written by Dori Saltzman

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