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. Although I am in favor of not wearing a mask I am also considerate of those who do. If I was sitting next to someone who is wearing a mask and they would prefer I do the same I’ would to make them feel more at ease. Naturally if I had a sore throat or cough myself I’d wear a mask period. If for some reason I couldn’t comfortably comply to wearing a mask I’d politely ask the flight attendant to be assigned another available seat. Where there is a will there is a way even if I couldn’t be reassigned maybe I could ask someone else near by to change places. Look around and be considerate and aware.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

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