Of All the Terrible Things People Do on Planes, This Is the Worst

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Air travel is a marvel of modern technology that has expanded our capacity for knowledge and cross-cultural experiences in incalculable ways. It also turns people into absolute jerks. Is it because airplanes don’t seem like fully private or fully public spaces? Or is it because rules don’t matter at 35,000 feet?

I don’t know what it is about airplanes that makes otherwise reasonable individuals lose all sense of the space and people around them, but from opening pungent food to getting hammered on bloody Marys at 8 a.m., people do a lot of irritating things on airplanes.

If we started making a list of terrible things people have done on planes, we’d be here all day. Fortunately, the travel experts at Expedia decided to do it for us, and they came up with a definitive list of the most annoying airplane behaviors for the rest of us to gawk at.

According to Food & Wine, Expedia’s 2018 Airplane and Hotel Etiquette Study surveyed 18,229 air travelers from 23 different countries and, according to the results of that survey, the most annoying airplane behavior is seat-kicking. More than half of the over 18,000 people who answered the survey said kicking, bumping, or grabbing and jostling a person’s seat is the most annoying thing a person can do on an airplane. And apparently seat-kickers have taken the number-one spot on the survey for four years in a row.

There is actually a solution, though. Expedia pointed out that if you book the row of seats in front of an exit row, the people behind you probably wouldn’t be able to kick or jostle your seat if they tried. That’s actually pretty good advice. My mother was a flight attendant and I’ve been flying my whole life, and I knew that the exit row provided extra leg room, but it never occurred to me that there could be benefits to sitting in front of the exit row, too.

Bare feet is another big one on the worst offenders list. Ninety percent of the surveyed passengers said flying barefoot was unacceptable, which makes me think the other 10 percent of respondents must be barefoot fliers themselves. (This is not limited to airplanes, either. A friend of mine recently served on a grand jury and reported back in horror that the jurors on either side of her took off their shoes and were barefoot the whole time.)

As far as I’m concerned, the absolute worst, most unacceptable behavior is to take off your shoes and socks and then rest your bare feet on the armrests of the seat in front of you. This one still astonishes me.

The third thing fliers hate the most, according to the Expedia survey, is sitting with someone who wants to strike up a conversation and be airplane BFFs instead of putting on headphones and ignoring everyone in the vicinity like a normal person.

These are all pretty bad, but I’m honestly surprised none of the top complaints had anything to do with food. Because bringing food on a plane is a minefield. Martha Stewart is a classy beacon of elegance, and even she horrified the internet recently by revealing that she likes to bring hard-boiled eggs as an airplane snack. Hard-boiled eggs are delicious and healthful, but they have a distinct aroma. And etiquette experts advise against strong-smelling food on airplanes.

“You don’t want to be eating the hot meatball sub,” Anna Post of the Emily Post Institute told CNN. “… In close confines, everybody else has to experience it, too.”

But if she thinks the meatball sandwich is bad, I hope she never finds out about the barefoot seat-kickers.