How to wind up in the airline jerk hall of fame during the holidays

Passengers load their carry-on bags into overhead bins on a United Airlines flight March 6, 2015 at the Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado.
Passengers load their carry-on bags into overhead bins on a United Airlines flight March 6, 2015 at the Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado.
(Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)

Are you a bad travel seatmate? Fly Guy columnist Elliott Hester last week wrote about one of the worst offenders — the smelly passenger — but there are other, less odoriferous but no less odious crimes that could land you on the list of lousy passengers. As the holidays creep toward us, here are some of the offenders — and how not to join the club of contemptible.

The carry-on culprit

When airlines say one personal item and one carry-on, please keep in mind that a tuba is not a personal item and that the bulging duffel should not exceed carry-on dimensions.

Look up your airline’s baggage limits for carry-on — they differ depending on the airline — by finding your airline’s baggage policy. Then take a gander at the weight/dimension limits for checked bags, which tend to be more generous.

You don’t want to check anything you must have (medicine, your car keys, Christmas presents), but at least you can pack your bulky winter items so they’re not springing from the sides of your carry-on.


The solution: Here’s what April Masini, an advice and etiquette expert who writes the Ask April column, said in an email: “If it’s not going to fit in the overhead compartment [and you know it won’t — wishful thinking carries no weight here], check it or send it ahead of time.

“It’s inconsiderate to make other passengers wait for the flight attendants to try to house your over-the-limit baggage.”

And if you think no one will see what you’re doing, think again. Spud Hilton, travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, has started “Carry-on Shame,” in which readers call out those who think carry-on rules apply to everyone but them. You can find them also on Twitter and Instagram.

Hilton said in an email that his campaign was really about getting airlines to enforce their rules, but perhaps the law of unintended consequences will bring some force to bear on the bad boys (and girls) of carry-on bags.

The disappearing parent

Parents don’t get to go off-duty just because they’re on a plane (unless their kids aren’t with them).

“Parents really need to teach their children manners before they fly,” said Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide.


This would include not kicking the seat, speaking in an indoor voice and not running in the aisles.

The solution: Take things to keep your kids amused, she said. Although we may think of electronics, the source of amusement “doesn’t have to be expensive.” (Think dollar store for younger kids.)

If movies keep your kids engaged, download some before you’re in the air (streaming is usually not an option), slap on some headphones and let them find Dory.

The olfactory idiot

“If you’re bringing your own food on the plane, omit the smelly tuna fish and onions,” Masini wrote. Leave the Limburger behind and skip the century eggs.

It’s not just what you eat; it also can be what you spray. “Don’t spray perfume at your seat,” Masini wrote. “What you think is inoffensive isn’t to others.” Some fliers are extremely sensitive to anything perfumed, so maybe skip your scent the day of your flight.

The solution: Keep your cologne capped and your fermented herring at home.

The space case

You want to tilt your seat back? Ask the person behind you.

“The aircraft is shared space, so it’s really polite to ask” before you recline, Schweitzer said.


Do a little research ahead of time ( to find out how much pitch your plane has — the distance from a point on your seat to the same point on the seat in front. If the dimensions on your economy class seat say 28, be especially considerate because that is fairly tight; obviously more is more, but none of it is what might be considered generous.

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Just don’t pretend that what you’re doing won’t affect the person behind you.

The solution: If you’re a claustrophobe, maybe premium economy or an exit row will ease some of your issues, Schweitzer said. If you have a need to tilt back, ask and don’t be offended by “please don’t.”

And perhaps be prepared to engage in the gentle art of compromise: Could I do halfway? Could I do it for an hour?

I speak from some experience when I say that when I’m trying to work on a laptop that’s suddenly shoved into areas usually covered by my lingerie is oh, so wrong. And painful. Yes, I’m short, but if you’re considerate, maybe not short-tempered.

Asking politely and with humor, Schweitzer said, usually brings results. Sometimes a drink coupon helps.


And if things begin to escalate, don’t be afraid to ask a flight attendant to intervene.

I’ve witnessed fistfights twice — once when a parent failed to control his child who was happily kicking a seat-back and once when a careless and clueless recliner invaded someone else’s space — and it was frightening.

Air rage is growing, according to the International Air Transport Assn., whose September report showed an increase of 1,538 incidents of on-board upset in 2015 than in 2014.

In nearly a quarter of these incidents, alcohol was involved, often consumed before boarding.

But Science magazine also traced crankiness to a surprising source: the first-class cabin.

“Researchers found that flights with a first-class section were nearly four times more likely to have air rage incidents in their economy class,” Ben Panko wrote in the May 2 article that cited a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The first-class section, the Proceedings article said, seems to evoke feelings about societal inequality, which apparently trigger all sorts of repressed something.


If that’s an issue for you, fly a one-class airline. Or buy (or try to get) an upgrade.

But behave yourself. It’s not just Santa who knows whether you are naughty or nice.

“We don’t want to make flight attendants referees,” Schweitzer said. But they do have to be prepared to step in and request you quit being a jerk.

Remember, if you are asked to stop doing what you’re doing and you don’t, you may find yourself kicked off a plane or, if you’re in the air, greeted by a welcoming committee of federal authorities upon landing.

You may not like what you’re being asked to do, but it’s not a democracy at 30,000 feet.

Failure to comply means you may spend your holidays in the hoosegow, which is neither merry nor bright.

So sit back, relax and try not to hate the ride. There are two great truths of flying: If you have an equal number of takeoffs and landings, your day is a success. Second? Seeing your loved ones is the end game. Nothing else really matters.

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