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.

Spirit Airlines to Congress: paying for overhead bins helps the poor


You just don’t need to take your bags on vacation, said Spirit Airlines CEO, Ben Baldanza. He’s told Congress that his airline, which brands itself as a “super-low-cost” carrier, actually makes it easier for the proletariat poor to take to the skies, even if it does require that they plop down $45 to stuff a carry-on into the overhead bin.

In a sense, it does. If you choose not to check a bag, that’s $5 bucks shy of half a C-note you’re tucking back in your wallet, but the cheap tickets can run a tad costly if you go with all the up-charges, according to a report by ABC News. So, the poor are all set as long as they exercise some restraint, it seems.

According to Baldanza, “We are certain that Spirit’s decision to unbundle services not essential to the transportation of passengers, has enabled more passengers to fly at lower cost.” He added, “Indeed given our low fares, it has allowed many to travel who otherwise simply could not afford to do so.”

So, what’s next for Spirit? I’m guessing that cake will be served on every flight, for a fee of course, which the airline will gladly let the poor eat.

Five ways to beat the competition to the overhead bin

There’s nothing so gauche as to stick your carry-on into an overhead bin far ahead of your seat, grab a book or magazine from it and walk 17 rows back to your seat. Because, whether you know it (or give a damn), one of the passengers sitting under your bag may not have a place to put his. Then, when the plane settles in at the gate, he’ll try to shove his way to the back of the plane (where he was forced to stow his stuff) while everyone else is moving the other way. It’s a recipe for disaster.

And, it’s getting worse.

Airlines have had to cope with shrinking budgets, thanks to a dismal travel market, and that means making cuts. So, when there isn’t another pill water, peanut or blanket to chop, the airlines have to take away the planes themselves. Airline capacity is falling almost across the board this year, making planes more crowded. That translates to fuller overhead bins. The other airline money-making scheme – charging fees for extra baggage – has also cramped the cabin. Passengers are hoping to dodge the extra cost, even though it is modest.

When there’s an airline problem, of course, Congress rushes to devise some sort of solution – an obvious move given the track record legislators have had “fixing” the industry. The latest move appears to be an effort to limit and standardize carry-on sizes across airlines, with the TSA enforcing the rule at checkpoints. What will this accomplish? Well, your security wait just got longer. Not only will they have more work to do, but you’ll have the joy of waiting behind 27 people who all need to argue with the TSA employee about how the new rule is bullshit.

Until Congress comes in and accomplishes nothing, what matters most are strategies for making sure you can get as much of your stuff as possible into the overhead bins, especially if you want to keep some foot space under the seat in front of you. Here are five ways to make the whole process easier.

1. Board early
Chance favors the prepared. Get onto the plane as soon as you can. If you have elite status, use it. Linger by the gate to wait for your zone to be called. Then, strike when the announcement is made.

2. Be honest
You could become a scumbag and toss your carry-ons into the first overhead bins you see … or you could play it straight and put your bags in the appropriate bin. Become a part of the solution, not the problem.

3. Consolidate
Don’t carry too many carry-ons, and if you do max out the gear you can tow, bite the bullet and stick some of it under the seat in front of you.

4. Gate-check
You’ll have to wait a little longer for your bags, but it isn’t nearly as bad as having to linger by the carousel. This is as close to a win-win as you’ll find in the hell we call air travel.

5. Deal with checked luggage
Sometimes, you’re going to have to suck it up and check your damned bags. Don’t try to fight with the flight attendant or gate agent over size or amount. You’ll only delay the process … especially if the flight attendant has to announce that some of the bags in overhead bins will need to be checked. Don’t push the envelope, and learn to live with the rules.

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Bag too big? Check with Congress

Every carry-on could become a federal case, so to speak. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-IL, has proposed legislation that would cap the size of each carry-on. Right now, airlines are left to their own devices, leading to a bit of confusion for fliers who use several carriers throughout the year. Since a de facto industry standard hasn’t emerged, Lipinski feels it’s a job for the folks in Washington.

Lipinski is quoted in USA Today as saying, “It’s clear if anything is going to be done, it’s going to take an act of Congress to do it.” The airlines aren’t enforcing the restrictions that they’ve enacted, he continues.

As with anything regarding Congress – and, for that matter, airlines – the public is divided. Supporters are glad to see a proposal that would keep oversized bags out of overhead spaces, seeing it as a safety measure or simply an increase in available space (they fill up quickly with large bags). Of course, on any flight, you’ll find people on the other side, passengers who refuse to check luggage and would cram a compact car into the overhead bin if they could.

Available space in the overhead compartments has become a problem recently. With airlines cutting flights in an effort to reduce costs, the remaining flights are becoming more crowded – as are the storage spaces.

The Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, doesn’t see overhead storage spaces as a matter for Congress. Instead, he believes it should be left to the airlines to decide.

Less space in overhead bins? Blame it on the airplane

There’s a video of Aaron trying to close an overhead bin. He’s a determined sort, so eventually it looks as though he hits pay dirt once he moves the bag to another location. If you noticed the first bin, you’ll see it was full. Very full. So was the final bin, for that matter.

That’s becoming a common problem according to this article originally published in the St. Petersburg Times. More and more overhead bins are proving to be quite the challenge for passengers scoping out space. Is it that people are carrying on more than ever before to avoid those pesky fees? One of Scott’s posts today pointed out how those fees are continuing to climb.

Actually, the number of carry-ons hasn’t increased that much.

What is happening is that as flights are becoming fewer as airlines have cut back the number of flights each day, planes are becoming more crowded. More crowded planes equal more carry-ons because there are more people. In research terms, this is what can be called a direct correlation.

Also, because airlines are tending to fly smaller, older planes, the bin space is smaller. Newer planes are the ones with the bins that look like they could double as sleeping quarters. Think of the closet space difference between brand new homes and those built before people could buy so much inexpensive stuff.

And here’s one more reason given to explain the lack of bin space. Last summer the baggage fees weren’t charged to people who had purchased their tickets prior to early June. Now, we’re having a different scenario.

Regardless of why bins are becoming more full, know that they are more often than not stuffed to the maximum and be prepared. Hopefully, you won’t have to work as hard as getting the bin to snap closed as Aaron did.