A few weeks ago, the airline trade group International Air Transport Association announced that incidents involving unruly passengers increased more than 16 percent in 2015 over the previous year. Unsurprisingly, drugs or alcohol are involved in quite a number of such incidents.
We talked to three people who know all too well what it’s like to be on a flight when a rowdy flier starts acting out.
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“During the 1990s, [I’m] flying home from Europe. A football hooligan goes into bathroom for a smoke. The alarm goes off. A flight attendant opens the loo door and said hooligan punches the flight attendant.
“A cockpit crewmember and a random big dude passenger then wrestle the hooligan to his seat and bind him to the seat using oxygen tubing. When we land at Dulles International, the plane sits on the tarmac until the cops come to squire the dude away.” — Mark Rovner, Takoma Park, Maryland
A Tall Order to Expect Respect
“On a stopover in Las Vegas en route to San Francisco, a very drunk and very tall man boarded our plane. He insisted that, because of his height, he should be in one of the bulkhead seats.
“He tried to bully the people out of those seats. They ignored him and refused. The staff intervened, at which point the man became verbally abusive to the passengers in the seat he wanted and to the flight attendants. The pilot and copilot came out.
“The situation escalated to the point that the police boarded and removed him from the plane. He may have even spat on someone in the ruckus.” — Amy Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
They Finally Quit in Quito
“Midway through a flight from Miami to Quito, Ecuador, the ringleader of a group of early 20-somethings whipped out a paper bag-masked bottle of liquor and started passing it around among his friends. They got progressively louder and more obnoxious.
“The flight attendants would tell them to stop, they’d say okay and then they’d start drinking again. That happened a few times before the pilot came back and threatened to land in Panama and have them arrested if they didn’t turn over the alcohol. They complied — then started smoking cigarettes! And this was well after all flights became non-smoking.
“After we landed in Quito, the Ecuadorian police came onboard and arrested the obnoxious ringleader.” — James Hannum, Urbana, Illinois
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Have you ever been on a flight with an unruly passenger? Share your story in the comments below.
— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma
There’s one on every plane: a person who kicks the back of your seat, puts stinky feet in your general vicinity, gives the flight attendant a hard time or just plain forgets to shower before a long-haul flight. With the dawn of social media accounts like Passenger Shaming, it’s becoming easier to publicly call out the cretins who can’t seem to mind their in-flight manners. But one fed-up flier, Mun Yee, crafted an eloquent letter to chastise a particularly awful flightmate on a recent trip from Singapore to Sydney.
“Despite my common economy seat, you offered me a full back massage by repeatedly kicking the back of [my] chair,” Yee writes. “To date, I have yet to regain full mobility of the lower half of my body.
“Also, could you tell me where you bought those obnoxious snacks? I assume that they must have been delicious ’cause you rip[ped] one open every 30 minutes.”
Reports of excessively loud talking also appear in the letter, as does this:
“… my nose was assaulted by a putrid smell of death and decay. It was so nice of you to take off your shoes and put your feet between my seat and the plane window.”
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We want to give a shout-out to you, Mun Yee. We congratulate you, sympathize with you and hope your letter reaches the eyes of anyone who thinks this conduct is socially acceptable.
What’s the worst behavior you’ve encountered on a flight? Be sure to comment below.
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— written by Ashley Kosciolek
A San Francisco-based frequent flier is fed up with reclining passengers and, quite frankly, so am I. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been unable to use my laptop or read a book without having to hold it up to my face because the person in front of me had pushed his or her seat back as far as it would go.
But although an October 2013 poll by flight search website Skyscanner found that just under 50 percent of fliers would like reclining seats to be removed from all airlines, IndependentTraveler.com readers are not so inclined.
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In fact, when we recently asked our Facebook followers their thoughts on the subject, the majority of respondents reported that they always recline their seats, though most said they do so as politely as they can.
Wynne Gavin wrote, “I have a bad back and need to be slightly reclined. Since I am cognizant of the person behind me, I do so very slowly, carefully and just enough to be comfortable. I’ve never had it fully reclined.”
Ron Buckles and Trisha Hynes agreed. Recline slowly and just enough to be comfortable.
Clyde Roberts said he always reclines on long flights “for a while,” but never during refreshment service — and he eyes the person behind him first. “I check to see if the traveler behind me has reclined and if so I think he/she must be ok with me doing the same.”
And Randi Weiner said that although she understands there are issues with reclining seats “in this day and age when airlines are building planes with more and more seats jammed together,” she believes that if she paid for the seat and it has the ability to recline, then she will do so.
But even reclining passengers have had issues with other recliners.
“On a flight to JFK from Europe, the girl in [front] of me did a fast, full recline and I screamed, ‘Ouch!!’ when the [seat] hit my body,” Wynne Gavin wrote. “I simply pushed the seat forward a bit so I had some more room. She said, ‘I want to be comfortable.’ I said, ‘So do I.’ She had no choice but to compromise, as each time she reclined fully, I simply pushed it back up.”
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But Gavin added she does not think banning reclined seats is the answer. “Airlines removing a few rows and creating more space is.”
Since that won’t be happening any time soon, I’d like the airlines to take a look at Sue Armstrong’s response.
“How about a reclining section on the plane — spaced to accommodate it and part of seat selection and priced accordingly.”
What’s your preference — to recline or not to recline?
— written by Dori Saltzman
I’m fed up. Sick of it. And I haven’t even experienced the worst of it. But I’ve had enough of self-important air travelers believing they’re above the rules and then becoming incensed and unruly when a flight attendant, or worse yet, another passenger, points out they are in the wrong.
In the latest incident of “unruly” airplane behavior, an American Airlines flight actually had to make an unscheduled stop to boot a guy off the plane. While the airline did not give specific details about the man’s behavior, Fox News reports he refused to listen to the crew’s instructions and had to be handed over to authorities in Canada.
Flying is frustrating enough without our fellow passengers making things worse for us. And yet, such incidents are becoming more commonplace. While Alec Baldwin famously refused to turn off a game of Words with Friends on his cell phone, he’s far from alone in such disruptive behavior. More recently, the niece of fashion designer Ralph Lauren was kicked off a plane after she had too much to drink and began threatening and verbally abusing the crew.
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According to CBS News, the reports of passenger misconduct skyrocketed from 500 in 2007 to more than 6,000 in 2011 on international flights. And while I don’t hold the airlines completely blameless for the frustrations that often drive these angry passengers to lash out, I do believe it’s time to do something about such behavior.
In March 2014, CBS reports, the International Air Transport Association will propose changes to global laws against unruly passengers to bring them more in line with the stricter laws that apply to domestic flights. (In the U.S., passengers are subject to fines and even jail time for acting out in the air.)
In the meantime, I believe it’s time to bring back the pillory as a form of punishment. I propose every plane be outfitted with an onboard pillory. Passengers who carry on too much luggage, refuse to turn off their cell phones, yell at flight attendants or in any other way disrupt the travel of the majority of people on the plane should be placed in the pillory and forced to stand in front of everyone until it’s time for the plane to land.
But, because I’m a nice person and don’t want anyone to suffer unnecessarily, unruly passengers should have the option of getting out of the pillory by instead personally apologizing to everyone else on the plane for their bad behavior.
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Have you been on a plane disrupted by an angry passenger? How would you like to see unruly passengers punished?
— written by Dori Saltzman
Once I became old enough to plan my own independent travel adventures, I fancied that if I were smart enough, I could blend in. In Paris, I emulated Audrey Hepburn’s outfits in “Funny Face” and lingered over coffee and croissants like a pro. In Athens, I ordered train tickets with such gusto that I received an enthusiastic response — and had to smile and nod knowingly, because anything not in my phrasebook was all Greek to me. In Tokyo, I confidently boarded each bullet train like a transplant and did my best not to gawk at the sheer number of people, and lights, and people.
Of course, I was fooling no one but myself, but the attempt to be an American incognito was — and remains — important to me. Why? Tourists are loud. Tourists are paparazzi. Tourists are rude. That’s because, worst of all, tourists are ignorant.
On one level, “tourist” is just a word that could be used to describe anyone, like myself, who travels to places other than their own for enjoyment. As travel writer Rolf Potts once eloquently put it: “It certainly can’t hurt to retain a sense of perspective as we indulge ourselves in haughty little pissing contests over who qualifies as a ‘traveler’ instead of a ‘tourist’.'” After all, he says, “Regardless of one’s budget, itinerary and choice of luggage — the act of travel is still, at its essence, a consumer experience.”
To an extent, I agree. I understand it may seem like a silly case of semantics to say my skin crawls when asked to define myself by the “tourist” moniker. But that’s because to me, the word has come to mean something negative, even amateur. Beyond the cliche fashion faux pas (do a Google image search on the word “tourist” and you’ll see what I mean), tourists are a breed, a sect of travelers, who refuse to buy into the place they’re currently in, and to accept that it is … different.
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In my view, there is a distinct difference between being new to a country or culture, and clinging to “I don’t know any better” as a mentality and as an excuse. I’m neither Cambodian nor Buddhist, but respect and reverence for a monks’ religious ceremony is something I’d assume would go without saying — and I cringe when I realize my instincts aren’t always shared by other “travelers.” (You know them: the ones with the flashing cameras and flapping jaws.)
It’s easy to pick up a camera or phone these days and capture everything secondhand — and I’ve been guilty of this in the past — but you become removed from what’s happening. I’ll never forget a group tour of an impoverished Cape Town township in South Africa. I was glad to be exposed to a local way of life, and many of my companions began to take pictures of the children there. I followed suit until it felt so bizarre that I finally had to stop. They were people, not just points of interest on a sightseeing tour. I could never learn what their life was really like in mere hours, but I didn’t want to waste that time by just photographing them. That’s when many of us decided to hand the cameras over and let the children take their own pictures.
While voyeurism is inherent to leisure travel, I’m also aiming to lose myself (and that includes my one-sided perspective). Despite the vulnerable position of being in a foreign land, I still find faking it (even if you don’t make it) outweighs the doe-eyed sponge you become when you stick to the “I’m just a tourist” routine. You can be more! It doesn’t take any extra time, money or resources. The secret is a little effort: a few words of the language, understanding the currency, adhering to any regional religious restrictions or even stretching your own culinary comforts.
To me, the debate is less about word choice and more a state of mind. Don’t be a patron at the global zoo — join the wild and wonderful things. Don’t be a tourist — be a traveler.
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What are your thoughts? Is there a meaningful difference between a tourist and a traveler?
— written by Brittany Chrusciel
Every so often you see a travel article about people who think babies and kids should be banned from air travel or moved to a separate section of a plane. These curmudgeonly business travelers assert their right to a library-silent, no-wails-allowed flight. They outline a mile-long list of grievances from squirmy infants grabbing their iPads and magazines to kindergarteners kicking the backs of their seats. As if the disappearance of people under 12 — make that 18 — would make flying so much more pleasant.
To everyone who has shot daggers at the bedraggled parents with the crying baby, daring them to even think of sitting in their row, I’d like to present the view from the other side. As a travel professional, who has flown many times with my son in his two years of life, including a solo cross-country flight without Daddy, I have learned many new things about flying since I became part of the diaper set. Here are some tidbits I’ve gleaned that might make you think differently about flying with babies onboard.
Families need to travel. I spend 40 hours a week writing/editing/talking about travel. I would be a hypocrite if I suddenly stopped flying just because I had a kid. My family lives across the country, I love to explore new places, and I want my son to be exposed to a variety of people and cultures. I’m not going to do that solely within road trip distance — and nor are many other families.
You can predict where babies will sit. Smart parents choose seats in two locations on a plane — the back of a domestic flight and the bulkhead on international flights. While most travelers avoid the back of the plane, parents flock there for easy bathroom access and extra time to hunt for dropped pacifiers while everyone else deplanes. International travelers book bulkheads because this is where the in-flight bassinets hook up so babies can sleep on long-haul itineraries. Kids will be scattered throughout airplanes, for sure, but avoid these two areas or you’ll really be in the baby zone.
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Babies will not scream the whole flight. Except in rare cases of illness or colic, babies do not scream nonstop for an entire five-hour flight. They’re most likely to cry while you’re still on the ground, likely because parents are delaying their next meal until the airplane takes off because nursing or sucking on a bottle helps with the pressure change. Once the airplane levels off, it actually becomes baby heaven — white noise plus vibration is the magic combination that makes most children sleepy.
It’s toddlers you really have to worry about. Babies can be soothed and older kids understand threats (and the power of in-flight movies and video games), but if you’re going to fear anyone, be afraid of toddlers. They’re willful, mobile and vocal, and do not respond to logical arguments. And they love to throw things.
Don’t blame the parents. At least, don’t blame them until you see them ignoring disruptive children. Most moms and dads I know freak out about being “that family” on a flight, so they come prepared with new toys, stickers, coloring books and toddler apps to distract young ones, and they’ll start shushing the instant a disgruntled peep emerges from their child. I’ve even heard of parents handing out goodie bags and drink coupons to their neighbors on long flights. So please don’t judge sight unseen.
Airlines don’t make it easier for families. Airlines might roll out the red carpet for their super-duper-elite fliers, but kids don’t have expense accounts. Many carriers will not guarantee families seats together in advance, seating 3-year-olds with strangers while Mom is two rows back. Frazzled parents are left to beg the gate reps or flight attendants to facilitate swaps. (Please move if you’re asked. If you think flying with kids is bad, try sitting next to a preschooler who is half a plane away from her parents.) Also, not all airlines let families with small children board first. We are really trying not to bump into you as we drag kids and carry-ons down narrow aisles, and don’t mean for our children to be in your face as we quickly stow our bags, but there’s nothing we can do about our Group Four boarding placement.
Kids are curious. You may think it’s annoying that my son is staring at you over the back of the seat, but he’s likely fascinated with your beard or your colorful shirt or your electronics. Babies love to stare; they’re not trying to be rude. If you’re feeling friendly, engage a kid who finds you fascinating — peekaboo is a winner every time. It will buy a harried parent a moment of peace, and you’re guaranteeing no screams for at least two minutes.
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Kids are just acting their age — please act yours. Little kids aren’t miniature adults. Their growing brains can’t understand the need to sit still and be quiet in public. They learn by being curious and exploring their environment, and don’t understand why certain things and people are off limits. And, depending on their age, the only way they know to express themselves is by crying. You, on the other hand, are old enough to hold down a job and book your own plane tickets. You should be mature enough not to throw a tantrum when your seatmate isn’t to your liking, to understand that a kid being a kid is not the parents’ fault, and to realize that making someone else feel bad will not make you feel better or improve your flight. So grow up. I’ve been more bothered by adults’ B.O., rude manners, snoring and incessant attempts at conversation than any baby’s vocalizations — and you don’t see me trying to get those people kicked off my flight.
— written by Erica Silverstein
How does a mild-mannered person transform into the Incredible Hulk? Try flying on a midnight redeye with a mini-Muhammad Ali sitting behind you. While society dictates that we not act like, well, you know, there are times when no unwritten rule about screaming in Spanish at children or delivering soapbox speeches to annoying fellow passengers can be heeded. I apologize for losing my cool … but here’s what happened.
Toe to Toe with a Toddler
On a redeye from Quito to New York, an infante diabolico shared the seat behind me with his mother. We took off and the punching began. He was a prize fighter in training, standing deftly on mom’s lap, using my seat as a fast bag. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Wait for your opponent to swivel and shoot you the first of a few startled looks. Stay patient. Dance. Weave. Laugh. Taunt. Then … tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. Good, the opponent is getting angry. When you see his face turn crimson and steam curl up from his ears, he’s at his most vulnerable. He’s lost control.
Tap, tap, tap … “Termina el golpeando! Termina el golpeando! Otra vez y otra vez y otra vez!” Summoning my high school Spanish, I made my counterattack.
“I’m sorry,” mumbled Mom.
No more punches.
Still, I think all ringside judges, staring wide-eyed or stifling shocked guffaws, would agree: I fought a little unfair.
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Now Boarding Zone Crazy Eyes
After 48 hours exploring Chicago — Wrigley, Millennium Park, blues club, deep dish — sandwiching four hours of sleep, it was time to fly home to Boston. With the gate lice working their beady eyes, boarding began. First class. Passengers traveling with small children. Zone Two and so on. I was in Zone Two and queued up accordingly. By the time I neared the ticket agent, the floodgates had opened. All zones. To my left, a slight woman, aged 45 to 55, materialized. “I’m Zone Two, do you mind if I jump in?” she said with a warm smile.
“Actually, I do.”
I then proceeded to deliver a lunatic’s lecture about society crumbling if people didn’t follow basic rules, about arriving on time to take advantage of zone privileges and about how she was doing a disservice to everyone on the plane by even asking. “Are you the type of person who has never been told no? Your kind doesn’t deserve to find space in the overhead bin.”
Save for my parents and girlfriend, I’ve never experienced such a look of pure twitching rage. She could no longer form words. She stood, abuzz, gazing into space, as Zones Two, Three, Four and Five slid by.
I had gone too far again. A fellow passenger disagreed. “Thank you,” she said as if I had given a kidney to her brother.
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I know — you hope you never have to fly with me. But how would you have handled each situation? Have you ever lost your cool at 35,000 feet?
— written by Dan Askin