Avoid agitating fellow fliers this travel season

Forget about your occasional armrest hogs or fussy baby. These days, sitting next to seat kickers, intoxicated passengers and fliers with poor hygiene has become a new reality for travel and with the holidays just around the corner, a time when many of us will take to the friendly skies, dealing with irritating behaviors on top of already cramped cabins and steep airfare is enough to bring our rising frustrations to a boil. From trying to dodge the person’s smelly feet next to you to tuning out the seat recliner in front of you, let’s be honest: It’s tough to avoid disturbances at 35,000 feet. But here’s the silver lining: At least you can rest assured that you’re not one of these headache-inducing fliers. Here are eight common ways people alienate fellow passengers, plus simple ways you can avoid being a frustrating or flat-out disrespectful seatmate this holiday.

Skipping a shower before your flight

Bad hygiene is the leading frustration among 520 adults who flew the previous year, according to a recent Airline Pain Index study conducted by analytics company Qualtrics. In fact, 45 percent of participants reported poor hygiene as a top aggravator. To avoid irking everyone breathing the same recirculated cabin air, George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, cautions to not only take care of personal hygiene but also to avoid putting your foot on another person’s armrest or doing any kind of personal in-flight grooming.

Indulging in one too many cocktails at high altitude

Sitting next to an intoxicated passenger is a significant pain point among fliers. In fact, 35 percent of Qualtrics survey participants cited belligerent passengers as the leading culprit of bothersome behavior. And 45 percent of participants named intoxicated fliers the most offensive seatmate. Before you consider ordering numerous cocktails for a long-haul flight, keep in mind that altitude can elevate the effects of alcohol, Hobica says. While some experts contend that the lower level of oxygen in the air at high altitudes can trigger fatigue and impact cognitive ability (but that alcohol is not absorbed faster into the bloodstream), others suggest that the effects of alcohol on cognitive ability are elevated in the air.

Being unwilling to switch seats with fellow fliers

“It’s interesting that passengers say they’re not annoyed when asked to change seats with someone else,” says Mike Maughan, head of brand growth and global insights at Qualtrics. In fact, the study revealed that nearly half of fliers are not inconvenienced by changing seats upon request. Maughan emphasizes general communication and common courtesy as key ways to uphold decent in-flight etiquette. And Hobica advises staying flexible and being willing to change seats not only to be polite to elderly passengers or parents who want to sit with their kids but also to prevent unnecessarily stalling your flight.

Insisting on hogging the armrest

As a general courtesy, “the middle-seat person gets the armrest,” Hobica says. Rather than elbowing your neighbor in a squished cabin, exercise manners and give the extra inches of space to the poor passenger stuck in the undesirable middle seat. He also advises staying conscientious of fellow fliers by respecting boundaries and not taking up extra space across the armrest. “Be courteous,” Maughan says. And if extra space is most important to you, consider springing for a premium-economy seat for added legroom, he says. While there’s not much you can do once you’re up in the air aside from controlling your own environment with tools like noise-canceling headphones, Hobica advises communicating with fellow passengers and exercising kindness to de-escalate a situation versus fanning the flames.

Acting rudely or aggressively toward flight attendants

“Most people are doing their best. That goes for airline staff and passengers,” Maughan says. To the extent that passengers can defuse a situation by treating their neighbors with dignity and respect, they can make for a more comfortable trip and avoid the risk of having to divert the plane, he says. “A few kind words can de-escalate a situation,” he adds. Tim Winship, editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, says even if you’re well-prepared, nothing is going to “make holiday flying a breeze. So relax. Expect travel to be stressful,” he advises. “And hope that other travelers do the same.”

Smuggling smelly food on to the plane

Instead of settling into your seat with a greasy meal in tow, Hobica advises enjoying your food on the ground to prevent disrupting fellow fliers. In fact, 30 percent of respondents to Expedia’s survey recorded “pungent foodies” as top etiquette offenders. Rather than disgusting your fellow fliers, skip bringing odorous meals or snacks in your carry-on.

Over-stuffing the overhead bin

Rather than trying to cram a bulky suitcase into an overhead bin a few rows away from your seat, consider your fellow fliers and their needs, and whether you’re encroaching on their limited space. Expedia found that 32 percent of participants consider “overhead bin inconsiderate” behavior to be among the worst flier characteristics. Many passengers get very irritated by limited cabin space, Maughan says. If plenty of overhead storage space is an important component of overall comfort, consider splurging for priority boarding, he advises. It’s also critical to be mindful of others when boarding by not shuffling through your bag when you arrive at your row and stalling the passengers behind you or overcrowding the overhead bin with smaller carry-on items such as backpacks, which not only take up plenty of storage space but can also make overhead bins more difficult to close.