Travel Tips

How to Cope with a Terrible Traveler on Your Flight

June 8, 2021

Now that people are getting back to more regular air travel, is it any surprise that reports of rude and aggressive behavior on flights are on the rise?

people on a crowded plane from behind

Last month the FAA reported a surge in passenger altercations. To put it in proper perspective, there are usually a handful of “aggressive or disruptive” passenger reports annually, and this year the number has already hit more than 1,300 reports!

This may seem like an astounding number, but keep in mind this has been a very unusual year and people have been feeling unprecedented levels of stress.

We want to share some ideas about how to cope since irritating behavior from air passengers is not really anything new. The best coping techniques all start with a sense of humor and perspective – and a level head, of course!

Here are a few scenarios you might come across and tactics for defusing a volatile situation.

The “Close Sitter”

Who among us hasn’t been seated next to someone who spreads out and takes up too much room? The first step is to take stock of the situation and make sure you’re truly stuck. Maybe there’s a free seat somewhere close by where you can ask a flight attendant to “relocate” you. If not, politely ask your seat mate to share the space.

Sometimes people are so in their own heads, they just don’t realize that they’re taking up too much space.

The “Chatty Kathy”

To be honest, this person is probably the easiest to deal with. When you know you’re not someone who wants to learn someone’s life story on a plane, keep a set of earphones in and give the universal sign for “I can’t hear you.” If they don’t take the hint you can politely tell the person that you prefer to not chat, or that you’re quite tired and just need silence for a bit. Usually a firm, “no thank you” will keep people from overstepping your boundaries.

The “Smelly” Seatmate

You know this one. He or she can take a few different forms. Maybe it’s a seat mate who immediately pulls out a giant, warm tuna salad sandwich and proceeds to nibble away at it. Or maybe it’s a person who sits down and immediately takes off his or her shoes and socks, to everyone surrounding’s utter chagrin. What can you do?

In this instance, we recommend enlisting the flight attendant’s assistance. This will keep you out of the direct line of fire and earn the respect of everyone they’ve subjected to this bit of rudeness. You cannot get on an airplane and disregard other people’s feelings. The flight attendant can help correct the offender.

The “Unhealthy Boundaries” Guy

In the past, someone who sneezed on you or snored loudly during a flight was irritating, but probably not an active health threat. These days, we’re all aware that someone having a coughing or sneezing fit might actually be putting people’s health at risk. In this scenario, you’re well within your rights to report an unmasked seatmate who is coughing on the surrounding passengers.

If that person refuses to mask up, you can politely ask for a seat reassignment. It’s also a good idea for this exact scenario for you to bring your own mask to protect yourself.

A Final Note

We’re so excited to be getting back to travel, and we don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s enthusiasm. These tense altercations between passengers have often been kicked off by the various stresses of the COVID-19 era. We do believe that air travel should be safe and secure for everyone. People who fight on airplanes can be banned for life from flying specific airlines and will get slapped with steep fines up to $35,000. We recommend trying some calming techniques if you’re particularly susceptible to flight stress.

Getting back to air travel means that we’re coming out on the other side of this pandemic. Let’s keep things safe and sane for all of us.  In the meantime, we’d love to hear your personal stories of terrible seat mates in the comments section below. We’re all in this together!


  1. Those are great ideas and things to know, I appreciate all of the tips, keep up the good work, it’s very important and appreciated!

  2. I was on a flight to NOLA. in April face mask 😷 required. I was on Spirit. A flight guest was so horrible with the attendant. I feel horrible. I gave the attendant my information. I just hope she didn’t get in an trouble over it.

  3. I flew from MSP to FLL from June 15 to June 25 on Horrible spirit,
    My bag was 5lbs over the limit in MSP no problem they charged me 35 dollars, no charge for my carry on which set easy under the seat. On the return trip, my bag was 5.5lbs and I was charged 45 dollars??? When I arrived at the plane I was approached by a person, who started I would have to pay for my carry on, why? 60 dollars.
    To add insult to injury, the plane was late boarding and if you can believe it, a Black and White passenger got into a verbal confrontation. Those of us in the first 5 rows were in a precarious position, what can you do 30,000 miles. in the air. I feel I’m owed a refund for a disastrous trip. Lastly, by the time, we landed my ride was asleep, taking a Lyft cost 44.00 dollars.
    Should anyone have any advice, please feel free to email me?
    Unless I’m in dire Straits, never will I EVER fly this get what you paid for clown sky show!

  4. The last flight I was on I was sitting in the middle seat. The person sitting in the window seat had a dog that was not in a pet carrier and it was sitting on her lap. It was not a small so the dog’s butt was on my leg! I tried to put the arm rest down but the dogs butt was in the way. The dog was too big and did not have enough room on only one seat. I think the “comfort dog/pet” thing is out of control! Anyone can get their doctor to give them documentation saying they need a comfort pet to fly. I am hoping the airlines stop this pet nonsense.

  5. You’re also well within your right to refuse to wear a mask. If the writer of this article is so naive to think coughing or sneezing now is any different than coughing or sneezing before, they shouldn’t be writing travel articles. COVID is no different than the flu except a different virus strain, but that’s not exaggerated to the point of absurdity. How about the terrible travelers are the ones who harass others on whether to wear a mask?

    1. To J: Although you are entitled to your opinion, I have to disagree with you. COVID IS different than the flu. First of all, remember that some passengers are more vulnerable than others. Second, as a senior citizen, I know of three classmates who died from a bad case of the flu over the last four years, but have had four former classmates, three friends, and two relatives die from COVID-19, and one 67 year old friend who was hospitalized and came very close to dying from COVID-19, all ONE year! She still has to fly for her job. These viruses are more contagious, and more lethal than even “the flu!” And, now we have variants to deal with. Admittedly, we are fully vaccinated, but have no idea if my “seatmate” is, so we are not flying yet. We should be able to feel safe and to take as many precautions as we deem necessary. We can’t take the chance! It’s a small inconvenience and the compassionate thing to do…to wear a mask to protect others. So, yes, it is your choice to wear a mask or not, unless it is required. But, I will wear that mask for your safety, and hope that you will do the same for others.

  6. People have to understand that flt. attendants are there solely for the protection and safety of passengers, crew and aircraft. Yes, report someone who is a safety threat, or ask to change seats but they are not babysitters, garbage collectors or teachers of etiquette.

  7. I’m so glad for this post when u fly take heed wear your mask mind your daMN business don’t touch what doesn’t belong to you sneeze onot your arm if no tissue fasten your seat belt and pray to get to the destination safely and use common sense and if u follow simple protocol Ulla have a good flying experience

  8. Another way to get out of a conversation politely is to acknowledge, smile then put headphones on.
    Often rejection is a catalyst so this method helps people not take things personally.

  9. another problem I foresee is pets. I suffer from lung issues and to sit next or near by a cat will kill me. this has happen twice and I have been reseated. But when I feel threaten in a plane for 4 hours that kills my vacation. Because I fear my lungs are gonna suffer. and no this is my first time ever writing a comment

  10. Well one way to stop the people that are just fed up with the masks therefor upsetting alot of travelers to finally drop the face mask mandate on planes… write Congress and the CDC

  11. Whatever does one do on a fully booked flight when the passenger beside you takes up half your seat? I had this experience recently. The flight attendant said there was nothing she could do. I am healthy and reasonably athletic, yet I had to have help and a wheel chair to deplane after sitting on one hip for 3 hours. I could not even get out of my seat.

  12. I was on a flight from DC to Chicago with a group of 8th grade students. I got stuck in the middle seat. I am not a tiny person, nor was I huge. I was seated next to a normal size man on one side and a football player/body builder on the other side. I was not only unable to get up to check on the kids, I was unable to move my arms or legs! Worst flight ever.

  13. So well and simply explained.
    True, these are testing times, hence I think all of us have to be a little accommodating and more understanding.

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