Flying is amazing, I love it. I have to just point that out right from the start because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The excitement and anticipation of the impending trip, the thrill of acceleration at take off, even the sometimes insanely long periods of time spent in transit or on a layover in a dull airport is bearable, because I know deep down that I am about to embark on another backpacking adventure. I am about to embark on a trip that helps to fulfill my innate desire to travel, discover a new place I have never seen before or even delve deeper into a favourite destination I have visited many times, and I absolutely love that with a passion! I live for it! And flying is the means with which I get to fulfill that desire.
But no matter how much I love travel, how much I love flying, there are some things about those long flights which no matter how hard I try still manage to get on my nerves. Some things that despite my love of travel are almost certain to threaten my carefully cultivated British sense of decorum and send my blood pressure rising to the extent that a disapproving sigh or a loud tutting simply won’t do. And I am not alone. Numerous studies, passenger rights groups statistics and surveys have been released over the years that show airline passengers are becoming increasingly fed up with the experience of flying and the service they are getting from airlines, and the growing and increasingly belligerent numbers suggest that maybe it is about time that airlines started to listen.
So in honour of that, and perhaps in a misguided attempt at belated therapy from years of flying and being inconvenienced by selfish passenger attitudes and uncaring airlines, here are my top 10 things guaranteed to make any long haul flight an arduous ordeal for any passenger and send frustration levels of even the most patient saint to the tipping point.
10. Aisle blockers.
We all know the drill. The plane lands, takes forever to taxi to wherever it needs to be, the deified beings in first class are practically carried off the plane on cushioned pillows made from kittens, silk and fairy dust, and then the mad free for all scramble to disembark in peasant class begins.
Except it doesn’t, because half the genius’ have decided to stand up before the plane has even stopped taxiing and are stood in the aisle for no reason whatsoever, blocking everyone else from moving and preventing anyone from disembarking in a timely manner. What do they expect to happen? That suddenly they will be magically transported off the plane because they are stood up? What is even worse are those who stand up for the entire time it takes for the line to finally start shuffling forward, and only then do they decide to collect their carry on from the overhead compartments and hold people up even more!
It isn’t rocket science, we all knew when the plane was landing, so get your shoes back on, get yourself ready, get your bags (and don’t block the aisles with them), then sit back down and wait until it is your rows turn to disembark. Everyone would get off much, much sooner!
9. Airline food.
Almost everyone agrees on this one. Regardless of what celebrity chef endorses it, how many stars or awards they stick onto their menu declarations or whatever fancy embellishments they use on their advertisements, airline food is almost always universally bad. It is edible enough, in the same way a certain fast food burger chains meals are technically edible, but they will generally guarantee to leave your stomach in a really foul mood with you and desperate to get some decent, healthy fare into it. I’m always desperate to hit the street stalls or hawker centres for some fresh, healthy and tasty food when I land! It’s a damn good job that food is one of the best things about visiting new countries and new destinations, as it makes putting up with the cheap and nasty food bearable, just.
8. The sick traveler.
I know you can’t help getting sick, and ordinarily I would have every sympathy for you. After all it is not really your fault that you have come down with a bad cold, a case of the flu or chronic projectile vomiting just a few hours before you are due to take that long 12 hour flight! But that doesn’t mean I want to sit next to you either! We are after all in an enclosed, tightly packed space with badly recycled air and already have to put up with breathing everyone else’s used oxygen, I really don’t want to be breathing your germs or be covered in your body fluids as you cough and sneeze indiscriminately. I’d like to get to my destination and enjoy my trip without getting sick myself.
7. Bad hygiene.
In a small, confined space, filled to capacity with enough bodies to make a battery hen think they don’t actually have it all that bad, is there anything worse than getting someone sitting next to you that absolutely reeks? Well yes there is, but this is pretty bad.
Most of us who travel frequently have had the unfortunate circumstance of being stuck on a long haul flight next to someone who smells like they haven’t had a shower in three days, reek of stale cigarette smoke, halitosis that could curdle the industrial strength airline food, or has somehow managed to smuggle a foul smelling homemade pilchard sandwich!
Have a wash, buy some breath mints, stop smoking and leave the sandwich at home! Strong smells are not acceptable in such close quarters!
There is a certain time period on long haul flights in particular where nothing can satiate your intense need for mental and physical stimulation. The in flight films can’t keep your attention for more than 15 minutes, your book doesn’t interest you any more, you suddenly develop an intense apathy for anything your travel partner has to say, sleep is but a distant memory and all you want to happen is for the flight to be over. Now. But that stupid plane icon on the screen hasn’t moved an inch toward your destination in the last twenty minutes, you are sure of it! You’re bored, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
This isn’t anyone’s fault of course, most major airlines are now really good at providing in flight entertainment, and you still have a responsibility to entertain yourself by bringing a book or whatever happens to amuse you, but it is still something that happens.
Unfortunately boredom is almost inevitable on a long flight, no matter how much you think you have prepared or how many really good films they put on that tiny little screen, in such a cramped, claustrophobic environment feelings that you would normally shrug off such as boredom and frustration are amplified ten fold without a release.
The only thing you can do at times like this is close your eyes and think of the destination you are heading to. The beaches, the blue skies and fresh air, the people, the food, all will be in your grasp in exactly 7 hours, 52 minutes and 34 seconds, 33, 32, 31 …
5. How the hell can that be considered carry on?
A general theme amongst the things that stress passengers out is space, or lack of it, and the luggage compartment is no exception to this. Space is at an extreme premium on flights now, and anything that impinges on that can have us fuming and seething into our ridiculously miniscule plastic cups of orange juice.
One thing that really grates on me more than anything is those people who bring far too much carry on luggage on board with them, or those who bring a bag or case of such ridiculous proportions that it makes you think that someone somewhere is having a laugh at your expense.
The rules are simple and very clear. On most airlines you are generally allowed one small bag each plus perhaps a handbag or laptop case, that’s it, and given the unreasonably small amount of space each passenger is allocated that seems more than reasonable. Those are the rules and that doesn’t mean you can discard them and bring on entire suitcases the size of an average Saint Bernard dog or 23 massive bags full of duty free plus the kitchen sink, yet people still do. On every flight there are always passengers who bring on multiple excessively sized bags and take up far more than their fair share of overhead storage compartment space, selfishly allowing no room for anyone else to stow their belongings.
In one respect you can blame the airlines for this, and I frequently do, first of all for not enforcing their own rules and allowing it to happen, but also for forcing the situation on people in the first place by slapping huge charges on stowed baggage.
The rules are there for a reason and the airlines are the ones that put them in place after all, so why can’t they enforce them? Why did they even allow these people to board with luggage that is very clear to anyone is far beyond the dimensions of normal carry on.
But overall it is the selfish nature of some flyers that causes this issue. Those flyers who automatically deem their luggage more important than anyone else, those flyers who think it is their intrinsic right to take up as much space in the overhead lockers as they damn well please. Well the world doesn’t work like that, and neither do airlines.
Airlines have carry on restrictions and rules for a reason. People need to start following them and the airlines themselves need to start enforcing them.
4. The luggage crammers.
Closely related to the fliers that bring far too much carry on luggage on board are the peculiar breed of fool who insists that no matter how full the overheads are, or how many other passengers bags are inside them, their own excessively sized, hard suitcase can still fit inside perfectly well if only they shove, hit, ram and force their case as hard as they possibly can into them, regardless of other peoples possessions inside.
There are few things on a flight that are as likely to induce in me a propensity toward air rage fuelled anger (some of the others are nearer the front of the list) than this.
I normally travel fairly light, and my carry on consists of a small, soft day pack just big enough to carry my electronics and essentials, and maybe a small souvenir or two. It certainly doesn’t come anywhere near the airlines maximum allowable carry on and can easily slide into those little frames at check in with room to spare.
The last thing I need when sitting down to start my flight is some moron smashing my camera, the little ceramic statue I’m bringing back as a souvenir gift for my mum or whatever else I happen to have in my pack to tiny little pieces because they think whacking other people’s property with a hard case they obviously should have checked in is acceptable.
3. Wide load.
There is a moment in long haul travel that is an equal measure of rapture and dread. It is the moment where you find your seat on the plane, put your pack in the overhead locker, sit down and discover that the seat next to you is empty. For a split second it feels like you have won the lottery and gained a tiny little bit of extra space off the airline that normally crams you in like a sardine! Then you start eyeing all the other passengers getting on suspiciously and mentally willing them all away from your seat, desperate to cling on to the hope that for once you may get a little bit of extra space on this flight. Until that is your hopes are dashed and someone stops at your aisle and moves to sit down next to you.
It is then your worst nightmare is confirmed. Is the person who you will be sitting next to for the better part of the next day or night that beautiful petite blonde who smiled at you at check in? Is it the little old dear who will probably doze off five minutes into the flight? Maybe the nice gentleman who will say a polite hello then return to his book? Of course not, it’s the wide load you saw stocking up on snacks and burgers at the airport lounge to keep him going in between in flight meals!
Obese passengers have been a source of controversy in the media and amongst travellers for a while now, with emotions and opinions running strong on either side of the debate. Regardless of your opinion on whether airlines should make obese people pay for two seats or not, the simple fact is you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole, or a fat man into a child size seat, and the airlines are increasingly shrinking the size of the spaces they expect people to squeeze into. At the other end of the spectrum there are an ever increasing number of severely and morbidly obese passengers expecting to fly. I know people come in all different shapes and sizes, and someone can still be large and fill up an airline seat with a very healthy level of body fat, but this isn’t as if we are talking about the naturally broad shouldered 6”5 guy who technically may be the same width as an obese person but has no physical control over his height and build, this is for those genuinely obese people who have full control over their eating habits.
There is physically only so much room for people in one seat, so if you get someone who is obese sitting next to you on your flight it can be horribly uncomfortable for all concerned. The worst offenders are the ones who physically cannot fit into the seats and demand that the armrest be lifted up! This does still happen despite most airlines having a policy on it, they will always care more about filling that seat and taking profit than anyone’s comfort. But at some point there just has to be some consideration for all passengers, and if one passenger is severely impacting on the comfort or space of another, then I would seriously question why that situation is being allowed to happen. There has already been documented cases of people being forced out of their own seats during the flight because of obese people taking up far too much of them. Not only do these obese people take up their seat, they take up half of yours too! Even worse in some cases where the individual involved is severely or morbidly obese it can feel as if they are sitting on you and you can feel their sweat soaking into you! Nice. Your already limited space is being forcibly encroached on, and that is not good when you are already squashed in like battery hens.
The official airline responses to those people who have paid for a seat but have had their comfort and in some cases safety severely impacted is basically ‘tough’. So it is hardly surprising that this is an issue that continues to cause a lot of resentment. There is an almost visceral, instinctive negative reaction to the enforced invasion of your private space, and until airlines either increase the space in between seats or have more consideration for the poor souls who have to put up with having their space encroached on, then this issue will continue to cause a lot of anger, resentment and frustration on flights.
2. Other people’s kids.
Children are an absolute constant source of blood vessel bursting frustration on flights, from the screaming baby who just will not shut up for an entire long haul flight, to the uncontrollable brats treating the plane as a private playground or throwing a huge tantrum and repeatedly kicking the back of your seat. To be fair some kids are great and well behaved, I once sat on an eight hour flight next to a child who spent her time colouring in on her lap and watching cartoons in silence, she even said sorry when she dropped a crayon into the space between me and her (the apology wasn’t necessary, but the manners were nice to see). Unfortunately not all are like this. One single child can be enough to raise the entire collective blood pressure of the whole plane.
People are already tetchy on long haul flights, they are tired, uncomfortable and frustrated, so their tolerance for something as divisively annoying as other people’s kids is so far below normal standards it may as well be considered non existent. I’ve even heard one passenger ask the passing stewardess – in all seriousness – would there be any chance she could stick the baby that had been shrieking for 6 hours straight on a long haul flight in the cargo hold with the rest of the luggage! She obviously explained that was not possible, but the glance she and I shared as she passed me in the row behind showed that we both sympathised with the man’s predicament.
In all fairness, I can’t blame a baby for crying, we all know of the physical effects of cabin pressure and ear pain, and let’s face it babies have no other way of communicating other than crying (not one’s that don’t involve bodily fluids anyway). To a large extent I can’t even blame children for getting bored and acting up, no matter how much I feel like giving them a dictionary and telling them to look up the word discipline.
What I can blame though is the selfish parents who drag their little darlings onto long haul flights in the first place and then refuse to do anything at all when junior decides to make his presence known to everyone in the cabin! Those parents that at least try to do something about the situation at least get the benefit of the doubt and maybe even a little sympathy from other passengers, but those that do nothing should be ejected from the plane along with their little brats.
If you are a parent, then the responsibility falls on you to ensure that your children don’t adversely affect me or anyone else on the flight. I don’t care if you have gotten so used to it you can sit there and ignore it, I haven’t, so sort it out.
Whether that involves taking a series of short haul flights with layovers instead of one long flight to make the journey more comfortable not only for other passengers but you and your baby too, preparation in the form of snacks and entertainment to keep older children occupied or simply disciplining the damn stroppy brat who insists on disturbing everyone else around him with his little antics (and no, he isn’t just being a kid, he’s being annoying so control him). Either way it is your responsibility as a parent to deal with it and minimise the disruption to everyone else.
1. The dreaded recliners!
This is my all time, ultimate frustration on any flight, and one that continues to polarise passengers today. Recliners. Not just the seats themselves and the function they provide, but the selfish fools who think it is their right to lean back into my space as much as they can the second they sit down in it.
Space on any flight is getting increasingly small as airlines continue to make smaller seats and add extra rows to maximise the amounts of passengers they can squeeze in to maximise profits. The pitch (or the space between seats) has shrunk on most airlines by a good few inches over the last decade alone, and what was once considered ‘normal’ spacing between seats is now being sold as ‘premium’ extra leg room seating. This has happened to the extent that modern seating in economy class does not reflect the average build of most people today.
I am 6”2 tall and I can only just squeeze into the space allocated to me by most airlines, but my knees are uncomfortably pressing into the back of the seat in front of me as it is. This is not my fault – unlike obesity – no one can help or have any control over how tall they are, this is the fault of the airlines who have minimised the seat space. So those selfish, inconsiderate fools who recline as soon as they can really wind me up.
There is the issue of personal space, and absolute lack of it when some idiot reclines right into your face and pins you to your seat. I want to watch the in flight film on a flight, not your dandruff riddled head. The usual arguments that the seat has that function and it is your right to use it or that it is your space to use are absolute nonsense. The space directly in front of my face and body is mine, not yours, and the seat also has a TV screen and a tray which you are preventing me from using by your selfish actions. So really it is not your right at all. It is a principle built into our entire legal and justice system that the rights of the individual cannot impinge or compromise the rights or safety of others or cause them harm, and that is exactly what reclining seats are doing.
The most important issue for me however is the fact that actual physical pain and injury are often a result of the selfish passengers who recline. I have lost count of the amount of times someone has just slammed their seat back suddenly, causing me intense pain as the seat literally crushes my knees that were until that point pressed up against the back of it. How would they like it if I walked up to them in the street and broke a wooden chair over their knees? It is the exact same feeling! I of course would be arrested for assault, so what does that say about what recliners are doing to me? Then there is the constant pressure of having my knees and legs crushed into a tiny space that is not only uncomfortable and painful, but also a health risk.
Since airlines refuse to have any common sense policy on the matter (such as having a non reclining section at the front and a reclining section at the back, allowing reclining only between certain hours at night for sleep on long hauls or even banning reclining seats entirely), and they will never make more space available in economy class because that would involve taking out a couple of rows of seats which they can make revenue from, then the onus is on passengers to have a bit of consideration for their fellow travellers and not recline.
So what do you all think? Do you agree with the list or do you have any others to add? What annoys you about those long flights? Please feel free to comment below.