Why is it flying sucks when travel is great?

by Planning

There is so much about the travel experience that is fun, fulfilling, enriching and inspiring. But ask most any traveler these days to name the one thing they hate most about traveling, and flying will likely top the list. For many of us, the experience of flying sucks all too often. Sure, for those willing and able to splurge — or for those who garner the coveted upgrade to business or first class — flying retains a certain sense of enjoyment. But for those behind The Curtain crammed into economy seating, the flying part of travel is just not much fun.

Back in economy, the flight experience enters a surreal world of narrow aisles, tiny seats, no legroom, and only two toilets for several hundred passengers. In this cramped and confined space, passengers are jammed together and forced to engage in armrest wrestling, overhead compartment jousting, an ongoing personal space infringement dance, and paying for any food or beverages other than water – and sometimes even water.

Rather than enjoyment, the experience becomes one of pure survival until you can escape the plane. Add to that growing airline nickel-and-diming for seats or luggage, the high cost of airport food and amenities, airport parking, hassles dealing with getting through security, and perhaps confusion trying to find the gate. And don’t forget trying to understand the ever-changing boarding process while worrying if there will be any overhead bin space left for your bag when it is time to board. Put it all together, and there is little wonder that many passengers feel overly stressed and tense. And that often results in bad, rude, insulting behavior – frankly due to the stress of it all (“Passengers behaving badly” exists in upper-class seats too).

Flying Sucks Inside Packed Airplane

Like it or not, there appears to be little incentive for the airlines to invest in comfort beyond the bare minimum in the economy section. Airlines are, after all, for-profit transportation companies. Even the innovative Richard Branson (Virgin Atlantic) discovered that competing with the low-cost airlines and the big airline companies such as United, American and Delta, was nearly impossible.

Which means the onus of finding ways to take care of ourselves and our fellow passengers so flying sucks a little bit less is really on us.

HITT Tip: If you are on the aisle, you can often find a little more room by folding the aisle armrest up or pushing it down. Although there are a few exceptions, in many cases if you fumble around under the armrest itself, you will find a little button or hook by the hinge you can depress that will allow you to move the armrest. This extremely useful if you need to slide out while your tray is down, or if you simply want a little more room. But keep in mind if you are spreading out into the aisle, any protruding body parts are fair game for being whacked by carts or passing passengers.

Work together so flying sucks less

A little bit of flying etiquette – just be nice — goes a long way to making an already challenging experience tolerable. The key to making the experience of flying more enjoyable is to remember the airplane is not your personal living space. It is a mode of transportation, where you are sharing time and space with several hundred other souls, confined in an aluminum tube hurtling through the sky. So, in the interest of getting along, please, do your very best to not be one of these 11 types of passengers who really define why flying sucks:

Get your feet outta my space

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Flying Sucks Feet By Window

The airplane is not a place for your bare feet, period! That means no trimming your toe nails (it’s happened) or putting your feet over the armrest to reside on my tray table (happened too) or sticking your feet past the seat in front of you to rest in the window (yep, this happened too, in First Class no less — see image above from our friend Lisa Jhung). Keep your feet in socks or shoes, and keep them on the ground, in front of you at all times.

No place for laundry

Flying Sucks Underwear Drying

The airplane window, seat back, and tray table are not a place to hang your socks or, heaven forbit, your undies to dry. You think we are kidding? Facebook and other social sites are full of images of folks thinking nothing of hanging their laundry around their seat while flying. And there is even an infamous video of a woman (screenshot image above) drying what appears to be her underwear under the air vent … eeewwwwwww! (if you wish, you can watch a video of the underwear incident here.)

Say no to dousing yourself in perfume and cologne

I get that you want to smell nice for whomever you are meeting on the other end of a 24-hour travel day but turning the airplane into your personal aromatherapy zone where everyone around you is tearing up and gagging under a cloud of aromatic misery is not cool. Go light on the scents please!

Do not use the headrest in front of you for support

No question it is challenging to leverage yourself up and out of the cramped space the airline claims is a roomy seat, however that conveniently placed headrest in front of you belongs to someone else’s seat and they can feel it jerk back and push forward every damn time you stand up or sit down if you grab it. Learn to use your own seat’s arm rests to lift yourself up and your own seatback to help you find your way comfortably back into your seat. And if you do inadvertently grab the seat in front of you, please apologize! Also, please do not use the headrests of seats as a balancing tool as you negotiate your way down the aisles to and from the bathroom – that just jostles anyone sitting in every seat you grab, and that’s not cool either.

Stow your carryon near your seat

There is a very special place in airplane purgatory for the entitled person who boards first, shoves his or her bag into the overhead at row 8 or 9, and then proceeds back to their seat in row 28. And while we are on the subject of carry-on luggage, if you have a shoulder bag or large backpack, take if off and hold it carefully in front of you when walking down the narrow airplane aisle while boarding. It prevents inadvertent whacking of fellow passengers who would just as soon not start the flight slightly concussed.

Your smartphone or tablet have earphones – use them

I am very sorry your son didn’t make the team or that your coworker hates the boss as much as you, but seriously, I don’t really care to overhear you talking about it, on the plane, or ever. That about covers phone calls during boarding. Now, when you are on the plane, none of us want to hear your favorite playlist, or soundtrack to the movie you are watching. Please … your device has headphones, use them. Oh, and while we are on the subject, if we can hear the music from your phone two seats over, it’s a tad loud, don’t you think?

The plane is not a rumpus room for children

As a parent (of a child now well into her 30s) I know it can be challenging to fly with children. That that does not give you a pass to allow your child to treat the plane as his or her personal romper room. I’ve experienced children using my seatback for kicking practice, the tray (attached to my seat) as a drum, and recently a young lad around 3 toddled down the aisle past me with a saliva-laden roll in his mouth and then proceeded to trade his roll for a fresh one – from another man’s dinner tray. When the lad went to put his very sticky hand on my leg in an attempt to upgrade his new and now half-chewed roll with mine, I grabbed his arm and admit, joined several other passengers in glaring at his mother who was simply watching all this from afar. She got the message and quickly corralled her young one.

No stinky food

I know you love that stinky cheese, or the spicy bean burrito with layers of garlic sauce, but the plane really doesn’t need to smell like your dinner either now, while you are eating it, or for hours afterward. Be considerate of smell sensitivities when you purchase food to carry on.

Flying Sucks Airplane Window

Close your window shade, please

You love your window seat, I get it. And there are times when the scene outside demands viewing, I get that too. But for most of the flight, keeping your window shade closed helps ensure the glare from outside is not making it difficult to view the tiny movie screen your seat mates are trying see, and it also allows those around you to actually sleep, if they wish.

Blocking seat reclining is simply inconsiderate

It is not your imagination: it is a fact that airplane seats are getting closer together. That means less legroom and, when the person in front of you reclines their seat, it might feel as if they are leaning into you. Using your hands, knees or any other device to block the recline of the chair in front of you is just not cool, though, since everybody’s money bought the same (stingy) recline option. If you demand more space, you do have the option to purchase a seat with more legroom and space on most airlines. Otherwise, quietly curse the airlines, but not your seatmates. And gently recline your seat then too. (However, seat-recliners, remember that a sloooooow recline – with perhaps a glance back at the person behind you first – is very considerate. A SLAMMED-back seat can spill drinks and knock computers off tables.)

Flying Sucks Jammed In Seat

Luggage-allotment hogs should not pass go

Who hasn’t seen somebody roll on the plane with enough carry-on luggage for a family for two weeks? And it pisses you off, right? You obliged by the limitations and perhaps paid $25 or $50 or even more to check your bag, knowing the process of checking would also slow your departure upon arrival. And here comes the luggage hog who not only didn’t pay but is also now going to take up more than his or her fair amount of space. You simmer. Of course, some play the game of carrying on, then do a gate-check – at no cost. Also just not fair to those who followed the rules. But until the airlines start cracking down, those are the end-arounds that do exist.

Got more annoying passenger types that make flying suck? Tell us about them in our comment section below.

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Why Is It Flying Sucks

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There is so much about the travel experience that is fun, fulfilling, enriching and inspiring. But ask most any traveler these days to name the one thing they hate most about traveling, and flying will likely top the list. For many of us, the experience of flying sucks all too often. Sure, for those willing and able to splurge — or for those who garner the coveted upgrade to business or first class — flying retains a certain sense of enjoyment. But for those behind The Curtain crammed into economy seating, the flying part of travel is just not much fun.

Back in economy, the flight experience enters a surreal world of narrow aisles, tiny seats, no legroom, and only two toilets for several hundred passengers. In this cramped and confined space, passengers are jammed together and forced to engage in armrest wrestling, overhead compartment jousting, an ongoing personal space infringement dance, and paying for any food or beverages other than water – and sometimes even water.

Rather than enjoyment, the experience becomes one of pure survival until you can escape the plane. Add to that growing airline nickel-and-diming for seats or luggage, the high cost of airport food and amenities, airport parking, hassles dealing with getting through security, and perhaps confusion trying to find the gate. And don’t forget trying to understand the ever-changing boarding process while worrying if there will be any overhead bin space left for your bag when it is time to board. Put it all together, and there is little wonder that many passengers feel overly stressed and tense. And that often results in bad, rude, insulting behavior – frankly due to the stress of it all (“Passengers behaving badly” exists in upper-class seats too).

Flying Sucks Inside Packed Airplane

Like it or not, there appears to be little incentive for the airlines to invest in comfort beyond the bare minimum in the economy section. Airlines are, after all, for-profit transportation companies. Even the innovative Richard Branson (Virgin Atlantic) discovered that competing with the low-cost airlines and the big airline companies such as United, American and Delta, was nearly impossible.

Which means the onus of finding ways to take care of ourselves and our fellow passengers so flying sucks a little bit less is really on us.

HITT Tip: If you are on the aisle, you can often find a little more room by folding the aisle armrest up or pushing it down. Although there are a few exceptions, in many cases if you fumble around under the armrest itself, you will find a little button or hook by the hinge you can depress that will allow you to move the armrest. This extremely useful if you need to slide out while your tray is down, or if you simply want a little more room. But keep in mind if you are spreading out into the aisle, any protruding body parts are fair game for being whacked by carts or passing passengers.

Work together so flying sucks less

A little bit of flying etiquette – just be nice — goes a long way to making an already challenging experience tolerable. The key to making the experience of flying more enjoyable is to remember the airplane is not your personal living space. It is a mode of transportation, where you are sharing time and space with several hundred other souls, confined in an aluminum tube hurtling through the sky. So, in the interest of getting along, please, do your very best to not be one of these 11 types of passengers who really define why flying sucks:

Get your feet outta my space

Flying Sucks Feet By Window

The airplane is not a place for your bare feet, period! That means no trimming your toe nails (it’s happened) or putting your feet over the armrest to reside on my tray table (happened too) or sticking your feet past the seat in front of you to rest in the window (yep, this happened too, in First Class no less — see image above from our friend Lisa Jhung). Keep your feet in socks or shoes, and keep them on the ground, in front of you at all times.

No place for laundry

Flying Sucks Underwear Drying

The airplane window, seat back, and tray table are not a place to hang your socks or, heaven forbit, your undies to dry. You think we are kidding? Facebook and other social sites are full of images of folks thinking nothing of hanging their laundry around their seat while flying. And there is even an infamous video of a woman (screenshot image above) drying what appears to be her underwear under the air vent … eeewwwwwww! (if you wish, you can watch a video of the underwear incident here.)

Say no to dousing yourself in perfume and cologne

I get that you want to smell nice for whomever you are meeting on the other end of a 24-hour travel day but turning the airplane into your personal aromatherapy zone where everyone around you is tearing up and gagging under a cloud of aromatic misery is not cool. Go light on the scents please!

Do not use the headrest in front of you for support

No question it is challenging to leverage yourself up and out of the cramped space the airline claims is a roomy seat, however that conveniently placed headrest in front of you belongs to someone else’s seat and they can feel it jerk back and push forward every damn time you stand up or sit down if you grab it. Learn to use your own seat’s arm rests to lift yourself up and your own seatback to help you find your way comfortably back into your seat. And if you do inadvertently grab the seat in front of you, please apologize! Also, please do not use the headrests of seats as a balancing tool as you negotiate your way down the aisles to and from the bathroom – that just jostles anyone sitting in every seat you grab, and that’s not cool either.

Stow your carryon near your seat

There is a very special place in airplane purgatory for the entitled person who boards first, shoves his or her bag into the overhead at row 8 or 9, and then proceeds back to their seat in row 28. And while we are on the subject of carry-on luggage, if you have a shoulder bag or large backpack, take if off and hold it carefully in front of you when walking down the narrow airplane aisle while boarding. It prevents inadvertent whacking of fellow passengers who would just as soon not start the flight slightly concussed.

Your smartphone or tablet have earphones – use them

I am very sorry your son didn’t make the team or that your coworker hates the boss as much as you, but seriously, I don’t really care to overhear you talking about it, on the plane, or ever. That about covers phone calls during boarding. Now, when you are on the plane, none of us want to hear your favorite playlist, or soundtrack to the movie you are watching. Please … your device has headphones, use them. Oh, and while we are on the subject, if we can hear the music from your phone two seats over, it’s a tad loud, don’t you think?

The plane is not a rumpus room for children

As a parent (of a child now well into her 30s) I know it can be challenging to fly with children. That that does not give you a pass to allow your child to treat the plane as his or her personal romper room. I’ve experienced children using my seatback for kicking practice, the tray (attached to my seat) as a drum, and recently a young lad around 3 toddled down the aisle past me with a saliva-laden roll in his mouth and then proceeded to trade his roll for a fresh one – from another man’s dinner tray. When the lad went to put his very sticky hand on my leg in an attempt to upgrade his new and now half-chewed roll with mine, I grabbed his arm and admit, joined several other passengers in glaring at his mother who was simply watching all this from afar. She got the message and quickly corralled her young one.

No stinky food

I know you love that stinky cheese, or the spicy bean burrito with layers of garlic sauce, but the plane really doesn’t need to smell like your dinner either now, while you are eating it, or for hours afterward. Be considerate of smell sensitivities when you purchase food to carry on.

Flying Sucks Airplane Window

Close your window shade, please

You love your window seat, I get it. And there are times when the scene outside demands viewing, I get that too. But for most of the flight, keeping your window shade closed helps ensure the glare from outside is not making it difficult to view the tiny movie screen your seat mates are trying see, and it also allows those around you to actually sleep, if they wish.

Blocking seat reclining is simply inconsiderate

It is not your imagination: it is a fact that airplane seats are getting closer together. That means less legroom and, when the person in front of you reclines their seat, it might feel as if they are leaning into you. Using your hands, knees or any other device to block the recline of the chair in front of you is just not cool, though, since everybody’s money bought the same (stingy) recline option. If you demand more space, you do have the option to purchase a seat with more legroom and space on most airlines. Otherwise, quietly curse the airlines, but not your seatmates. And gently recline your seat then too. (However, seat-recliners, remember that a sloooooow recline – with perhaps a glance back at the person behind you first – is very considerate. A SLAMMED-back seat can spill drinks and knock computers off tables.)

Flying Sucks Jammed In Seat

Luggage-allotment hogs should not pass go

Who hasn’t seen somebody roll on the plane with enough carry-on luggage for a family for two weeks? And it pisses you off, right? You obliged by the limitations and perhaps paid $25 or $50 or even more to check your bag, knowing the process of checking would also slow your departure upon arrival. And here comes the luggage hog who not only didn’t pay but is also now going to take up more than his or her fair amount of space. You simmer. Of course, some play the game of carrying on, then do a gate-check – at no cost. Also just not fair to those who followed the rules. But until the airlines start cracking down, those are the end-arounds that do exist.

Got more annoying passenger types that make flying suck? Tell us about them in our comment section below.

Pin it for later

Save This Post For Later

Why Is It Flying Sucks

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Michael Hodgson

Co-Conspirator at HI Travel Tales
Winner of a 2018 Silver Medal from the North American Travel Journalists Association for travel writing excellence, Michael has authored more than 16 books and penned many hundreds of feature articles over the years. His bylines have appeared in Backpacker, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Outside, The San Jose Mercury News, Portland Oregonian and more. His travels have taken him to all seven continents. He is a member in good standing of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the Professional Travel Bloggers Association.
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