Frequent fliers, attendants share stories of rude travelers
By Kristin Stoller, USA TODAY
"Passengers are cramped, tired and petty," says Goltsch, an electrical engineer in West Caldwell, N.J. "It has gotten to the point now that the people who travel for business just don't enjoy it anymore."
Increasingly, business travelers and airline attendants complain about the lack of respect passengers have for fellow travelers. Among them: Passengers who talk too loudly on cell phones, bring smelly food on board or recline their seats too much in a cramped cabin.
In close quarters, it's almost impossible for savvy, frequent business travelers or infrequent leisure passengers to keep their cool and not become annoyed.
Goltsch, who is 6-foot-4, recalls one Continental Airlines flight from Newark to Puerto Rico.
Having bought a last-minute ticket, he was stuck in a middle seat, and his long legs were pressed against the back of the seat in front of him.
"The passenger in front of me kept trying to push his seat back, but there was nowhere for it to go," Goltsch says. "He got out of his seat, came back to our row and asked me to stop blocking his seat movement."
Goltsch says he explained that he was wedged into his seat with no spare room and wasn't purposely trying to cause discomfort. The passenger suggested Goltsch move his legs to the side. But a passenger sitting next to him protested that he'd be uncomfortable if Goltsch did that.
The passenger who wanted to recline his seat then called a flight attendant and asked her to make Goltsch move his legs. "One look at me wedged into the seat, and she knew there was little we could do," Goltsch says. "She tried to explain that I simply had nowhere to put my legs. He asked for another flight attendant or the pilot to come back, because this was unacceptable to him."
Eventually, Goltsch was moved to another seat: a window seat in first class. That worked out, but not all problems do.
"My expectations for travel have gotten so low that the highest praise I can bestow upon a trip is that it was 'uneventful,'" Goltsch says.
According to flight attendant Kelly Skyles, the No. 1 thing passengers should understand is that they are not the only people on an airplane.
"Passengers come on board, and it's all about them," says Skyles, who is a national safety and security coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union. "I realize in our society it has come to be like that, but space is very limited, it's confined and it's shared."
Many passengers, Skyles says, overestimate a flight attendant's power.
"We have limited abilities to fix things immediately," Skyles says. "If your reading light isn't working, it is very unfortunate, but we do not have the ability to fix the reading light. We will definitely write it up, but it's not our fault that we can't fix it immediately."
Skyles advises passengers to treat everyone with respect. They'll get it in return, she says.
Though many business travelers say rookie, infrequent travelers are most likely to annoy them during a flight, others say it's veteran travelers with entitlement issues.
Thom Coughlin of Cincinnati says the rookies are usually the quiet, meek or mild passengers on a flight.
"Business travelers are the most annoying," says Coughlin, a sales manager in the industrial supplies industry. "They feel they have earned the right to be first in line, first for attention, first for overhead space and first to complain."
Elizabeth Toedt, who lives in Olympia, Wash., and works in the aviation industry, says it's amateurs who create the most disturbances, especially when going through security.
"After 10 years of dealing with the Transportation Security Administration screenings, I have to shake my head at the numbskulls who don't have ID ready, still carry liquids, don't know they must remove their shoes, jackets and computers, and treat security like a school lunchroom social hour."
Skyles advises respect for another reason: In addition to being transportation, a plane is also someone's work environment.
"It really makes every flight attendant happy when people walk off the plane and say, 'Oh, man, this was a really pleasant flight,'" Skyles says.
Top 10 pet peeves of frequent business travelers
USA TODAY's Road Warriors, frequent travelers who fly many miles each year, have their gripes. Ten of them:
•Loud cellphone conversations.
•People who disobey the rules and try to carry on too many bags or carry too much liquid through security.
•People who play music so loudly, even with earplugs or headphones, that others can hear it.
•Disrespect that passengers show to flight attendants and gate personnel.
•Parents who don't try to control their children.
•People who think the "turn-off-all-electronics" message is not for them.
•Passengers who carry on and eat messy or smelly food.
•People who board with multiple or oversize bags and fill the bins in the front of the cabin when they're seated in the rear.
•Reclining a seat in a tight coach cabin.
•Leaving a window shade open when everyone else has closed theirs and is trying to sleep.
Flight attendants’ Top 10 pet peeves
Travelers can irk flight crews, too. Here — from members of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union, which represents nearly 18,000 American Airlines flight attendants — are 10 ways:
•Walking around the aircraft without shoes, especially in the lavatory.
•Changing a diaper in the seat or on the tray table.
•Clipping fingernails and toenails on the aircraft.
•Keeping headphones on when you start talking to attendants.
•Speaking in a condescending and angry tone when it's not appropriate.
•Hanging arms or legs out in the aisle when the food and beverage cart is coming.
•Standing in the galley and restroom areas to stretch and do exercises.
•Keeping electronic devices on after the announcement has been made to turn them off.
•Bringing stinky food on the plane.
•Carrying on a bag you can't lift into the overhead bin.