How Not to Be The Seatmate From Hell

Some airline passengers are terrible. Everyday, we have people like Heather Poole and the guys at Passenger shaming to remind us of that fact. I don’t think I’ve ever had a notably terrible experience with a seatmate or fellow passenger, until a recent flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco. My seatmate was rude, belligerent, and passed gas like he was powering a methane generator. We often come across advice articles about how not to be a bad passenger – here’s how not to be The Seatmate From Hell:

Airplane seats

1. Be polite. We all sang songs about this in nursery school, but somehow people still don’t know how to act. When I approached my seat on the aforementioned flight, the guy occupying the aisle seat in my row had a chip on his shoulder, greeting me with, “You know there are other seats on this plane” (as if the long trek up the aisle hadn’t already affirmed that fact). “Yes, but this one’s assigned to me.” He hesitated, then got up (with an attitude) to let me through. You would have thought he was the one sitting in the middle seat during the 5-hour flight based on how annoyed he was about the seating arrangement. He then spent the next 30 minutes scanning the plane for another place for me to sit…

It started with him looking around the cabin, trying to find me another seat. “I bet there’s an aisle seat empty somewhere.” I responded with, “Not likely. All the other seats were taken when I picked this one.” He pointed one row back and across the aisle, “That seat is empty.” Now he’s getting on my nerves: “Yeah, until the person it’s assigned to boards the plane.” Then the fun started (and maybe the reason for why he wanted me gone – or maybe this was his way of getting me out of there), which brings me to my next point…

2. Airplanes are powered by gas; no need to bring your own. Sometimes people can’t help it. They cash in their free burrito at Chipotle before getting to the airport, they sample too much free cheese at a grocery store/Costco, or they eat something funny just before boarding the flight. Totally understandable. But if it’s possible to do that in the bathroom, by all means spare the air. After his attempts at finding me a new seat failed, my seatmate started passing gas. Like, enough to take out a small village. I started to wonder whether this was the reason for his persistence in finding me another seat. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I did move to the seat he pointed out to me earlier. Shortly after, a woman apologetically trudged up the aisle to that very seat and I had to vacate, making my way back to the methane farm.

3. Let people get to their seats. One of the most annoying things about sitting any place other than the aisle is getting to your seat. Why? Because too often, the person sitting in the aisle will pull the retracted leg maneuver. They simply pull their feet back and look at you like it’s totally feasible for you to pass through 3 millimeters of space. In my case, my seatmate had legs so long, his knees hit the back of the chair in front of him. So when he was feeling generous, he’d simply pull his legs into the aisle. When he wasn’t, he’d look at me like his feet inching closer to his seat would give me enough space to pass. At one point, he even pretended to be asleep just seconds after snorting loudly as he woke from what I was hoping was a nightmare worse than the one I was experiencing during the flight. Don’t be a jerk: Get up and let other passengers get to their seats without inadvertently giving you a lap dance. 

4. Respect your seatmate’s personal space. I remember during my college years, when the recession had slowed down business travel, I’d often board an almost completely empty plane and have an entire row to myself. Those days are long gone. The economy class cabin is a small space and no matter how much extra legroom you pay for, you’re still going to have to sit next to people. Be mindful of their personal space. For example, if you’re sitting in the aisle and have a neighbor in the middle seat, don’t toss your arms over both armrests like you’re Joffrey Baratheon sitting on the Iron Throne. Or practically fall on your neighbor as you’re drifting off to sleep. It’s not fun to have to think about other people’s comfort when you’re traveling, but outside of chartering a private jet, there’s no other option.

After getting booted from the aisle seat, I made my way back to my old seat. That’s when my seatmate started shifting around and grabbed his oversized tent blanket. He threw it over himself and went out cold, invading my armrest with his elbow, which dangled off the edge like I wasn’t even sitting next to him. His blanket was practically covering my entire left arm! So I nudged his elbow away, tossed his blanket back, and let him know about my frustration with, “Go ahead and invade me space. I’ve got tons of room here in the coveted middle seat.” He was completely unbothered and simply continued to pretend to be asleep (narcoleptics don’t fall asleep this fast).

It went on like this throughout the flight: Me having to fight for my personal space, calling him out on it, and him being completely unbothered. Even after we landed, he blocked the aisle while he grabbed his laptop bag from the overhead bin, placed it on his chair, put his laptop in, and rummaged through bag – all at a leisurely pace with complete disregard for the people behind him who were tapping their feet and sighing with annoyance.

The moral of the story? Don’t be the seatmate from hell. Respect other people’s space, try to be mildly polite, and remember you’re basically taking public transportation – you’re not the only person on the plane.

Have you ever sat next to an especially difficult person in a plane? Which habits from your passengers annoy you the most?

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Ariana Arghandewal


  1. Rudeness is fairly commonplace in society today as a whole, at least here in the USA. It’s not just limited to airplanes. Unfortunately, we can expect more and more of this behavior on planes, and elsewhere!

    • I actually think Americans are often more polite than others. When I lived in Germany, that was our impression of Americans (“They’re so nice!” was a common reaction). In Europe the gate lice situation gets pretty out of control.

  2. This past weekend I was on a Delta flight from Memphis to Atlanta, 1st flight out in the morning. There must have been 8 extra flight attendants and 3 extra pilots getting to Atlanta to start their day. We were on one of those relics, MD80, that most every other airline has mothballed away but Delta continues to use them for short flights. I had an aisle seat and a flight attendant had the middle. It’s only 50 minutes in the air but I swear that flight lasted 3 hours! The flight attendant pulled out her mobile phone AND her iPad tablet and either was playing candy crush or doing some type of puzzle with no regards to where her elbows where……like in my personal space….like in my side. I’m not a big guy, 5’9″ and 180 lbs so I ‘fit’ in that seat. I don’t take up both arm rest either. She wasn’t a large or wide lady, she was just spreading out her elbows and poking them into my side which prevented me from sleeping. I kept my left arm straight most of the time but when I saw an opportunity to reclaim my space I bent my elbow and she had to poke my arm. Did she get the hint? Nope. I was so happy to be able to stand up and get off that sardine can. Sometimes people just don’t know they’re obnoxious or invading the personal space of others. I lived and traveled extensively through Europe, I know all about cramming into a subway train or bus. Americans can be some of worst travelers at times.

  3. Horrible! I like the aisle seat, but I always get up when someone needs to get out of the middle seat. This is just a given. There’s not enough space for someone to get through and it’s better than them hitting in you in the legs, feet or other body parts trying to squeeze through.

  4. It’s your blog, so you can write about what you want to. However, complaining about rude & selfish passengers in coach on a flight that was likely paid for by manufacture spend activity comes across as bit self centered and having a sense of entitlement.

    For someone who appear to fund most of her travels by accumulating frequent flier miles that was gained not as most financial institutions intended their account holder do with actual purchases, but rather by taking advantage of loopholes in card companies rules, by depending on mostly careless and low paid Walmart employees willingness to overlook money order purchases with gift cards, just be more appreciative that you’re traveling on the cheap.

    • Paying for a flight with miles doesn’t give your fellow passengers a free pass to be rude and obnoxious. In fact, I’d argue the passenger who was inconsiderate to those around him was the one being self-centered and entitled – not those who took issue with his bad behavior. The airlines were fairly reimbursed by the credit card company for the miles I earned and the bank got their cut of my spending. Neither of those things are relevant to how we as passengers should behave towards one another.

    • James, not everyone flying on miles gets them through manufactured spending. I EARNED more than 500,000 points last year by making legitimate purchase for business expenses. My family and I fly to Europe twice a year basically for free. That said, what difference does it make how someone “funds” their travel?? MS’ers aren’t criminals. I didn’t realize that only people who purchase tickets in the “traditional” ways have a right to complain about rude passengers. Whether it’s points via MS or points via business purchases, we are all LEGALLY obtaining points. Rude is rude in either case. We all have the right (obligation?) to call out people like the idiot Ariana described.

  5. I fly a bit for work and have generally been very lucky with seatmates. But on one occasion on a fight to France the guy next to me, a fellow American, picked his nose the whole time. Gross.

    I have also been in window seats and have had the person in the window seat behind me take off his shoes and stick both feet on MY armrest! This was quite a while ago and I had no idea what to do so I ignored it the best I could. These days I think I would jab his feet with a pen. Just disgusting.

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