Top Ten Worst Air Passengers of 2010

Christmas in Singapore
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Another installment in the series Lessons from a Wise Sky

Merry Christmas, everyone! If you don't celebrate Christmas, well Merry all-the-other-holidays too! I thought some of you might be taking to the skies this holiday season, so I've decided to go all informative on you and count down the ten worst air passengers of 2010.

On my trip to Southeast Asia this November, I boarded six flights and spent at least two days of the eighteen-day vacation 30,000 feet above the earth. As you can imagine, this gave me lots of time to work on my list. So let's get to it. Starting with the least irritating of this odious bunch . . .

10. The guy who stands up and starts rifling through the overhead bin when the FASTEN SEATBELT sign is lit. He's also the guy who stands up before the plane has reached its final parking position and the captain has turned off the FASTEN SEATBELT sign. This person has always thought the rules were made for everyone but him. He's irritating, but unless he's opening the bin over my head, he's only mildly so.

9. People who mosey out of the plane as if they're on their way to their own execution. You've been sitting for ten hours. You'd think you'd want to spring through the air like a gazelle. Still, I can skip around these folks unless they're poking in packs. Here's a tip (this blog is FILLED with useful tips): When you're traveling to a foreign country, you have to go through passport control. The more snails you squash on the way to immigration, the faster you'll get out of the airport. In Bangkok, it took us almost two hours to get through immigration (and that's even after I elbowed at least 50 people out of the way). There were actually airport employees taking the elderly people and babies through a special line (maybe because they've seen people die in the queue before?).

8. Men who need to talk politics when they find out you're a US-American. This happens very rarely due to the fact that I almost never open my mouth on planes. Often I pretend I no parlo Americano. Tip: if you don't want to talk to someone on a plane, pretend you're from Estonia. No one speaks Estonian. The Estonians started speaking it themselves again only after the fall of communism.

7. Women with six carry-on bags (when carry-on bags are limited to ONE). I once witnessed a woman come down the aisle, slapping every seated aisle person in the face with an enormous shoulder bag. Man, that was funny. OK, not so irritating unless you're the one she slaps. The aisle-people contingent (to which I proudly belong) has to suffer bumps and bruises from drink carts and flight attendants' butts. Most of us are mentally armored. We understand the concept of the aisle. We're smart. We know what comes with our territory.

6. And speaking of territory: The endless struggle for armrest territory has lasted longer than the cold war. The guy--sorry guys, it's usually a man--who thinks he deserves two armests and MORE because he's BIG AND HAIRY deserves a place inching toward the height of irritation. I was sitting next to one of these creatures on my nine-hour flight from Munich to New Jersey last week. About halfway into the flight I actually got my notepad out to write the guy a bill for the six centimeters of my space his BIG, HAIRY ARM was taking.

5. The person who stinks. It's usually a man's feet, but it can occasionally be a woman who thinks deodorant is "unhealthy" and "unnatural." Bodies by nature do all sorts of stinky things, but it should suffice to say that if your feet smell like a rotting zebra carcass, you should probably keep your shoes on. You should also make room for amputation in your sense of body consciousness.

4. The guy who leans back with all his force without checking to make sure my head is not in the path of his seatback. This borders on violence, and it happens more often than you might think. This guy deserves a spot near the height of irritation.

3. The woman--sorry, gals! It's almost always a woman--who holds up the queue boarding the plane because she's waited until she gets to her seat to take out her neck pillow, her magazines, her snacks and her knitting. And she's got six carry-on bags to stow! And she needs help because she's petite and helpless (had no trouble with the mountain of bags, though). And she needs to fill out her immigration form while standing in the aisle oblivious to the 200 people waiting to get on the plane. Tip (so informative, this blog is): Put everything you want to keep at your seat in one, small carry-on bag. Get organized while sitting at the gate! Uh-oh, I feel the emotion bubbling over. We're getting close to the most irritating of all.

2. Packs of passengers on long-haul flights who congregate near the lavatories or kitchens or emergency exits and throw mini-parties while 200 other passengers are trying to sleep. They laugh, they shout, they sing, they do football cheers. Why don't the flight attendants politely tell them to be quiet? I did once. I shouted, "Shut up!" at the top of my lungs (I'm interpreting 'polite' loosely). It worked. And no one got angry at me . . . because I pretended to be asleep after I did it.

1. Drum roll, please. We have officially arrived at the height of irritation. The winner of this year's "Worst Passenger Award" will be magically transformed into the ape in the picture above. Are you doing a drum roll? Because this isn't nearly as much fun without a drum roll. Doing it? OK.

The person who doesn't understand boundaries (which is a universal irritation in all aspects of life).

On my recent flight from Bali to Bangkok, the guy in front of me put his stinky shoes under his own seat. The space under his seat is actually the place for my feet and the carry-on bag of my choosing. It's my space, not his--and certainly not for his smelly shoes. But he's not the worst of the worst (he doesn't get to be the ape).

On a recent trip to the US, three girls in their late teens took the row in front of me and proceeded to convert it into a slumber party bedroom. When all three of them draped their hoodies over their seats, the hoods drooped down, blocking all three monitors on my row.

"Um," I said to the girl in front of me.

"Yes?" she replied in a Russian accent.

"Your hoodie is blocking my screen."

She grunted as if I was a troublemaker and continued nesting. The girls occupied the overhead bins with eight carry-on bags among them. It was unbelievable how much stuff they were allowed to carry onto the plane.

"Um," I said again. The girl was trying to stuff a medium-sized bag under her seat, literally on top of my feet.


I smiled, but it was one of those smiles that says 'Careful, honey. I'm about to eat you.' "See, the space under your seat is actually for my feet, not your bags."

"But where am I supposed to put it?" The girls were sitting in the row with a wall in front of it. This is a bit unfair to these passengers, but such is life, right?

"I don't know. Somewhere else?" I said.

About this time the two other people in my row were realizing that their monitors were blocked. The flight attendant intervened and the girls grudgingly retreated to their own territory. Maybe Papa had told them he'd bought the whole plane for them?

Thank goodness these ten terrible passengers are a small minority among the multitude of sweet and wonderful airplane folk. Most passengers are great. They let you up when you need to go to the lavatory. They talk to you when you need to talk; they shut up when they can see you want to sleep. They keep themselves out of your space. They help you clean up your wine when you spill it all over the seat.

Being on an airplane brings out the worst in some people (myself included). I'm probably on someone's list of worst passengers. I'm the guy freaking out because the airline misplaced his gluten-free meal. Tip: Freaking out usually gets you a meal from business class.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. 


  1. Ten years ago I was on a flight to New York. One off the passengers was an actor from UK soap Emmerdale, who- with his mates- drank ALL the alcohol on the plane, threw their drinks over nearby passengers and shouted "ride the punani" at the top of his voice. Eight hours of annoyance. Spoiled "celebrities" are terrible passengers. Okay, mass generalisation. One off incident.

  2. Ha and ha and ha and ha. An invaluable and brilliant guide. Just the Xmas (or other non-Catholic alternatives) treat I need. :)

  3. yippee that I'm driving home for Christmas (cue music by the guy whose name I've forgotten)
    did you see this over at Michael Solender's "NOT"?

  4. Hi, CageFightingBlogger (a very specific type of blogging indeed). Sadly I've never experienced this type of celebrity acting out. Sounds fun.

    Hey, Mark! Thank you, Thank you and thank you.

    Hi, jkdavies. I just read Michael's article. Babies didn't make my list. I love babies. See, one day I'm going to run for president, and I can't afford to bitch about babies.

  5. The seven carry-ons is the one I hate, and they have no idea how to stow them properly. I get pretty nasty. I take their crap out of the bin, put my one, perfectly sized carry on wheels-in, and then stuff their crap back in best I can. Attendants are pretty good at spotting the issue and usually come up and politely offer to take the bag up front. Only time anyone ever challenged me I calmly stated the regulation says two, you have four, I have one. It worked.

  6. why not? they won't have a clue who you are by the time they get to voting age ;)

  7. *giggles* Some people are so COMPLETELY annoying! I'm an aisle person, too, but yes, some passengers are total menaces. (can't say I blame you for the no hablo Americano, but the Estonian bit cracked me up. I actually like to talk to people, but imagine claiming Canadian heritage would have some benefits. Nobody hates Canada.

  8. I love it! How come I always get the spot between two huge hairy-arm guys?

    But maybe I should have made the list too, for the time a half-filled travel coffee mug in the side pouch of my pack "rained" from the overhead compartment, all over the guy in the seat behind me. It was an accident, honest!

  9. Hi, Cathy. That sounds messy and very funny (for everyone except the guy in the seat behind you).

    My crutches once fell out of the overhead bin and hit a woman in the eye. Long story. I had a broken ankle. Her husband was "unkind" to me, so I think the crutch must have been trying to get even. It wasn't me.

  10. Thanks for not including any "mothers with small children" in your list. I'm sure that a few years ago, me and mine were on someone's hit list. Though I was trying to teach them. And now (as teenagers) they are model fliers who get irritated by their non-trained fellow teens.

  11. Pleased I saw your article on TBEX. Great article. My other one for long haul flights is when you are asked whether you want the fillet of beef or the curried Thai fish with coriander, and I don't want the curried Thai fish with coriander, but that's all they have left. Then on the next flight the same thing happens!!!

  12. Number 10 and 5 are the worst for me! Why do they always have to unbuckle their seat belts and reach for their carry on just after the FA warned them not to. Might I also add: passengers who keep kicking the back of your seat!

  13. I hate passengers that stink the most! The problem with airplanes is that they are a small confined awkward space and you are normally stuck on board with complete strangers and rubbish service for long periods of time.

    I also hate people who go to the toilet more than twice on like a four hour flight. I sat in the back row once (next to the toilet) and for the whole journey I had a queue of people on my left which got annoying quickly.

    Would agree that seat kickers are awful too!


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