In-Flight Experience

The Most Annoying Airplane Behavior

As Sartre once said, “Hell is other people,” and nowhere is this more true than on a plane. Crammed elbow-to-elbow in a narrow metal tube with nowhere to escape but the lavatory, airline passengers have the power to make each other’s lives either pleasant — or miserable.

We recently polled our readers to find out which onboard behavior causes the most misery: hogging the armrest? Forgetting that all-important deodorant? Chattering so much you can’t enjoy the newest page-turner from Dan Brown?

It turns out that there’s one plane pet peeve that tops them all: seat-kicking, which took home more than 30 percent of the vote. Grouses member Kayling05, “The worst thing I have found is when people (usually kids) kick the back of the seat! On an 11-hour flight to Fiji, these kids woke me up in the middle of the flight (overnight) kicking my seat and I turned around and screeched at them (in a loud whisper), ‘Can you please STOP THAT?!?!’ Well, they did, so that was nice. I am not a morning person even on the ground, so they definitely messed with the wrong person.”

Parents, take note! We don’t care how adorable your little darlings are — they’d better keep their feet to themselves.

While hogging the armrest and wearing too much perfume rounded out the top three annoyances, many readers wrote in with complaints we’d left off the list:

– “[I’m not fond of] people who have to haul themselves up by pulling on the back of my seat, catapulting me into the seat in front of me when they let go.” — sdtexas

– “There is the avid reader [in] the window seat who doesn’t find the reading light above her seat bright enough for her eyes, and keeps the window blind open when the lights are turned off and everyone else is sleeping (or attempting to), letting the sun’s rays bounce on the glossy pages of her magazine and mercilessly [hit] my face, defying even the the thickest sleeping mask.” — Marco Polo

– “There was one flight that my husband and I took from PA to the U.S.V.I. as a package tour. The very wide man who was seated in the row ahead of us decided to chat, and chat, and chat with someone in our row. He stood for a long time with his wide posterior almost touching my face. The flight attendant just giggled when I asked her to make him move. I lowered my seat tray a bit and crossed my legs, bumping his butt, all the while concentrating on my paperback. He moved.” — tripper707

Don’t let yourself be the subject of a fellow passenger’s horror story! Check out our guide to in-flight etiquette.

By Sarah Schlichter

Deputy Executive Editor Sarah Schlichter's idea of a perfect trip includes spotting exotic animals, hiking through pristine landscapes, exploring new neighborhoods on foot, and soaking up as much art as she can. She often attempts to recreate recipes from her international travels after she gets home (which has twice resulted in accidental kitchen fires—no humans or animals were harmed).

Sarah joined the SmarterTravel team in 2017 after more than a decade at the helm of Sarah's practical travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Budget Travel, and Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "A journal. Even years later, reading my notes from a trip can bring back incredibly vivid memories."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Road tripping and hiking through the rugged mountains of Patagonia."

Travel Motto: "'To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.'—Freya Stark"

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Aisle. I get restless on long flights and like to be able to move around without disturbing anyone else."

Email Sarah at

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