These are the most annoying things people do on airplanes

Be polite.
Be polite.
Image: AP/Jens Meyer
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Whether it’s bad habits, inconsiderate preferences, or just a lack of spacial awareness, patience wanes at 40,000 feet. But while everyone has airplane pet peeves, not everyone agrees on just what exactly constitutes an infraction. And in an era where in-flight amenities are being stripped away faster than you can say basic economy, the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior has never felt harder to determine.

The Instagram account @PassengerShaming is just one testament to the different ways that people can offend on board. The creator of the account, a former flight attendant who goes by Shawn Kathleen, recently told The Points Guy that her number one pet peeve is bare feet on board—as evidenced by the number of pictures she posts documenting passengers getting their paws all over public space.

It’s a valid gripe, but to be honest it’s not one that tops my own list (unless, of course, those bare feet are on the tray table or arm rest of course—but that would be disgusting even if they had socks on). But I’ve got other complaints aplenty. On a recent long haul flight from London to Las Vegas, the plane brimmed with the kind of energy that Brits on their way to a Vegas vacation brim with—and many passengers stood in the aisles animatedly fraternizing with their travel groups.

When I politely asked the flight attendant if it was perhaps against policy (aka extremely rude and annoying) for passengers to be standing in the aisles talking loudly for 30 minutes at a time—and causing folks to invade my personal space as they squeezed by—she said, quite simply, no. Passengers are encouraged to get up and move about the cabin on a long flight, she told me. In other words, my gripe was invalid.

It was a reminder that while manners may be manners on the ground, on a plane things are different. Here are just some of the in-flight behaviors that may disgust some and be forgiven by others.

To recline or not to recline?

It’s one of life’s eternal debates: Is it rude to recline your seat on an economy flight with a limited seat pitch, or not? One way of looking at it (the correct way, in my opinion) is that you’ve paid for it, so as long as you wait until the in-flight food service is over to lean back, Miss Manners would approve. But try telling that to people who seem to think it’s an affront to basic human decency to recline, and would rather suffer (needlessly, bafflingly) in silence rather than reduce another passenger’s personal space by a few millimeters. As one internet commenter sensibly put it “you should accept the seats are made to recline, and recline your own seat and relax, and be a human being.”

The over-the-limit luggage

Packing in the age of lean travel is trying, but it can be made even more frustrating when people ignore the rules and take unwieldy amounts of luggage on board, hoarding overhead cabin space and holding up the boarding process. While it’s understandable to avoid checking a bag—and increasingly, passengers are traveling on tickets where they can’t—it’s rather annoying when someone is clearly going over the carry-on baggage limit and even requiring assistance to stow their bag.

Shawn Kathleen aka Ms Passenger Shaming likes to speak of “gate lice,” people who jostle to be the first to board the aircraft to nab overhead bag space for their plentiful items. But the flip-side of this argument? It’s the airline’s fault. It’s airline employees’ responsibility to ensure passengers board the plane obeying the rules, so don’t get mad at a passenger for trying their luck.

Fragrant food

Airline food is…not great. And increasingly, airlines don’t even offer a full service to every passenger. But should seat-mates have to endure whatever tasty (and smelly) lunch their fellow passenger has decided to bring instead? Plenty of flyers would prefer that people limit their packed meal to something neutral and unoffending—a ham sandwich, perhaps—but in the age of bring-your-own-food, that wish is a matter of taste. And other passengers may find it rude to criticize someone’s food preference when they have no choice but to bring their own food on board in the first place.

Unruly children

One thing is certain: Flying with children is anything but easy. There’s been a bit of discussion and debate around what are fair expectations for parents who travel with young children; passing out treats is nice, but parents shouldn’t have to apologize for having kids and flying. But when it comes to allowing children to use the aircraft as their own personal playground, passengers are understandably divided. Fellow parents may have sympathy (anything to avoid a tantrum, right?) whereas other passengers may feel their blood pressure rising when they see an unrestrained child. Recently, a toddler whose “demonic” behavior was filmed on an eight hour flight from Germany to the US, raising the ire of passengers everywhere.

The armrest struggle

And finally, the armrest. That such an innocuous divider has become a proxy war for airline manners is a perfect illustration of the fraught nature of aviation etiquette. Should the middle seat lay claim to both, given their inferior seat assignment? Or should it be a matter of taking turns? It is a divider that will remain divisive forever—just don’t rest your head on it.