The 7 Most Offensive Airplane Habits, According to Your Fellow Passengers

A man putting his feet on a plane headrest, with no shoes on

Getty Images

A survey reveals the behaviors that make your fellow travelers want to send an SOS.

Air travel is one of our most life-changing modern inventions, so why does it always turn into such a nightmare?

There are plenty of reasons: Long lines at security, constant cancellations, and the nickel-and-diming price structure for “luxuries” like overhead bin space, to name a few. But perhaps the most frustrating part of it all is dealing with the unpredictable chaos of your fellow passengers. When you’re packed like sardines into a metal tube hurdling through the air, tensions are bound to be high, and you never quite know what’ll set off your seat mate when they’re just trying to have a comfortable flight.

To pin down what exactly grinds our gears the most when we’re in the air, the travel planning company Skyscanner teamed up with OnePoll to survey 2,000 American adults who’ve travelled for leisure in the last three years. Here’s what they say are the most offensive infractions:

7. Asking someone to switch seats (31% of travelers are bothered)

Sure, there are those brave adventurers who don’t care where they sit, but many travelers put plenty of thought into whether they’ll be in the aisle or next to a window, how far back their row is, and who they’ll be sitting next to. Skyscanner’s survey shows that it’s pretty likely you’ll be met with a frown if you try swapping seats with someone else at the last minute, so you may want to rethink the request. (And if you don’t love your spot, perhaps you can use it as an excuse to take a little walk down the aisle during the flight, given the risks of sitting for long periods.)

6. Using both armrests (31%)

No one could blame you for trying to squeeze any ounce of comfort from what’s otherwise a pretty dismal seating experience, but chances are you won’t make any friends on your row if you’re hogging the armrests on both sides. You could quibble over which armrest belongs to which person, but some would say there’s a very clear answer about this.

5. Reclining your seat (31%)

We don’t have to tell you that space is precious, especially on a very long flight. In fact, breathing room on planes has shrunk over the years: In the early 2000s, there was as much as 34 inches between seats in economy. By 2019, that measurement was closer to 30 inches — and even as little as 28 inches on smaller aircraft. This space can’t get any bigger, but it can get even smaller if the person in front of you decides to lay back until their headrest is almost resting on your face. So next time you consider getting a little more supine, remember that the person behind you probably won’t take it well.

4. Taking off your shoes or socks (35%)

While there’s an entirely good reason to remove your shoes before you enter your home, it definitely does not apply when you’re buckled in so close to strangers (or your traveling companion — friendship definitely doesn’t mean having to smell someone’s foot funk). Even if you’ve somehow managed to use these tricks for smelling good to banish gnarly scents from your feet, chances are no one wants to see your weird toe.

3. Talking to strangers/being a chatty seat mate (39%)

This is a divisive one. Some people truly feel fulfilled by making friends wherever they go — and some even find love by connecting with a stranger in the next seat over. But plenty of others put in their AirPods, open up a book, or even pretend to sleep — all to avoid having to make small talk with someone they’ll never see again. It’s up to you if you’d like to roll the dice and comment on whatever your seat mate is watching, but just know that more than a third of travelers will be rolling their eyes as soon as you open your mouth.

2. Using speakerphone or taking a video call (42%)

We’re generally free from the torture of distracting phone calls while the plane is actually in the air, but there’s a whole lot of time spent on the tarmac before takeoff and after landing — a sort of liminal period that some passengers use as an invitation to catch up on their correspondence. You’re technically allowed to be chatting away during this time, but it’s clear that many travelers definitely do not want to hear you and your aunt discussing the latest episode of The Golden Bachelor on the tarmac.

1. Personal grooming (42%)

The Skyscanner survey describes this as including “painting your nails, clipping your nails, trimming your beard, etc.” — and that et cetera is doing a whole lot of work here. There are all sorts of self-care behaviors that, while important for grooming purposes, are best left to your own private time. No one wants a front-row seat to your flossing, tweezing, or hair-brushing, so save that for the airport bathroom after you land — or better yet, for your very own home, where you’re free to be as gross as your heart desires.