Galley Gossip: The Worst, Funniest and Most Common Bad Airline Passengers

Photo credit: Telstar Logistics

From time to time I get asked questions about bad passengers. I thought I’d share a few of them here.

What’s the worst passenger behavior you’ve witnessed?

I’ve caught passengers taking other people’s luggage out of the bin to make room for their own bags. I’m not joking. They’ll pull out a bag, drop it on the floor and walk away leaving it in the middle of the aisle for the passengers behind them to crawl over. Have you ever tried stepping over a 21-inch Rollaboard? Not easy. Happened three times last month!

The funniest?

Recently a woman tried to stow her suitcase in that, oh, what do you call that spot? Crevice? Crack? Between the overhead bin and the ceiling? There’s like a millimeter of space there! I don’t care which airline you’re traveling on, that’s not going to fit. Then there are the recliners and the anti-recliners. One anti-recliner got upset at a recliner because she couldn’t get her tray table down. I suggested if maybe she removed the gigantic fanny pack from around her waist it might go down. She looked at me like I was the crazy one! One man actually called me over because the passenger in front of him had reclined his seat. I had to point out that, uh … his seat was reclined too!

What’s the most common bad passenger behavior you’ve seen?

These days, people are so self-absorbed multitasking as they board a flight they don’t even say hello to the flight attendant greeting them at the boarding door. They’re too busy talking on the phone, typing on their laptops, listening to music and texting as they walk down the aisle to notice their backpacks and duffle bags are whacking people in the head. Recently a passenger got mad at me – ME! – because I wouldn’t help him lift a heavy bag. That’s because he couldn’t get off the phone to improve his one arm bag swing. Two arms always work better than one when it comes to getting those bags into the overhead bins.

What are the rules for dealing with bad passengers?

We can’t call the police or the fire department at 30,000 feet. That’s why it’s a good idea to take care of problem passengers on the ground before we depart. Before we kick someone off the plane, we’ll do everything we can to make a bad situation good again. Usually, it involves doing the following:

  1. Getting Down: Literally, we get down on one knee in the aisle at the passenger’s level. This position is less threatening to passengers.
  2. Listening: Most passengers just want to be heard. That’s it.
  3. Keeping Calm: We try not to raise our voices. Staying calm and in control will diffuse most situations.
  4. The Facts: We might ask what the problem is and then have the passenger suggest a solution. This way we’re all on the same page.
  5. Walking Away: A new face is new energy. If I’m not getting anywhere with a difficult passenger, I’ll remove myself from the situation and ask a coworker to step in. Even though a coworker may tell the passenger the exact same thing I did, they could get a completely different response.

If that doesn’t work, and we’re in flight, we might issue a written warning signed by the Captain. All this means is if a passenger doesn’t stop doing whatever it is they were doing, authorities will be called to meet the flight. That’s why I say if you’re going to freak out, might be a good idea to wait until we’re safe and sound on the ground and parked at the gate. No one wants to divert a flight. Plus you don’t want to end up in jail far away from home where no one can rescue you.

Galley Gossip: Elbow attacks and armrest wars (the battle continues)

Recently a friend shared a story about a woman who accused him of being an “elbow assaulter” on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas. To make a long story short, my friend is 6′ 2″ and 230 pounds. The woman who sat beside him was, in his words, not petite. During the flight he made various maneuvers in his seat to try and flatten himself against the wall to give her as much room as possible while still being able to type on his computer. Unfortunately his attempt at making himself smaller failed because the woman became upset when his right elbow accidentally made contact with her left shoulder – not once, not twice, but three (possibly four) times! God forbid.

In his blog post detailing the incident, Brian Cuban (AKA the elbow assaulter) wrote, “This was coach. Space is tight. Baby’s are going to cry. There are going to be unwelcome smells. People are going to recline their seat into your groin. Shoulders are going to occasionally touch.”

I have to agree with Brian. An airplane is public transportation. Unfortunately there is very little personal space on board and therefore anything in the armrest area is fare game for accidental contact.

Sixteen years ago when I first started flying, my roommate who was also new got called out to cover a trip as the lead flight attendant on a 767. As she got ready for the trip, we discussed all the things that could possibly go wrong in flight with her in command of the crew; oven fires, faulty hydraulics, decompressions, medical emergencies, and worse. Not once did it occur to us that an armrest could cause two passengers to come to blows! Which is what would have happened if my roommate hadn’t stepped in and assigned the armrest to one passenger for the first three hours of flight and the same armrest to the other passenger for the last half of the flight. Afterwards we laughed at how ridiculous it was that two grown men couldn’t work it out amongst themselves. Little did we know just how often we’d be summoned to settle disputes over reclined seats and claimed armrests.That said it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that a flight attendant had to step in and sort things out with Brian and his seatmate. The victim of the “elbow assault” was made aware that it is not a capital offense to accidentally knock into someone, even on an airplane. The FBI and Homeland Security were not called to meet the flight. And Brian was not given a parachute or ejected from the plane. When the victim realized that Brian was not going to move to another seat, a middle seat in coach (because the flight was full), she grudgingly did so herself, but not without first telling Brian off with an evil glare.

Do we all need to go back to Kindergarten and learn how to play nice?

Here’s a tip. Don’t jump to conclusions. Most people aren’t aware of what they’re doing. Take for instance the guy with the enormous backpack who keeps knocking into everyone on his way down the aisle. Let him know what’s going on and I bet he’ll be pretty apologetic – and embarrassed. It also helps to get to know the person a little better before tweeting or facebooking to the world that they’re an idiot. When asked politely, you might be surprised to find they have no problem scooting over, putting their seat back up, or stopping their kid from kicking the back of your seat. Keep in mind it’s always easier to make a request when you’ve had a friendly conversation first. This is why I try to make small talk with passengers during boarding. For the record, an evil glare is not the best form of communication. Nor is kicking back or telling someone you’re going to punch their lights out if they do it one more time. It might help to imagine you’re speaking to a long lost relative on your mother’s side of the family, not an A-hole you’ll never see again, when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Most importantly, give each other the benefit of the doubt. It makes life a whole lot less stressful.

Photo courtesy of DavityDave