Miriam B. Weiner
Every day, newswires are clogged with stories of surly stewardesses, impolite pilots and terse TSA agents. We can't seem to go a week without reading yet another story about airline missteps. But for most of us, it's not the airline staff that makes us dread a long flight: It's our fellow passengers.
Anyone who's ever flown the friendly skies knows that there's something about air travel that brings out the worst in people, and we can't help but have a short fuse. Before you lose your cool, check out these culprits of airplane annoyance and our tips for keeping calm and flying on.
[In Pictures: World's Longest Flights]
The Crying Child
If you scan the terminal looking for babies before you board a flight, you're not the only one. A crying child is every passenger's worst nightmare -- so much so that Malaysia Airlines has instituted no child zones on their aircrafts, and more carriers are sure to follow. But until then, you're bound to encounter crying kiddos on board.
How to cope: Noise-cancelling headphones. You may not like it, but babies cry. Before you flip over some spilt tears, bear in mind that children are experiencing the same discomfort as you, including popping ears, cramped conditions and fatigue. And with a lack of language skills to express how they feel, screaming's all they've got.
The Irresponsible Parent
Enduring the wails of a crying child is much easier when you see a parent actively trying to control the situation. But some parents have become immune to their children's behavior and will become defensive if you voice your displeasure. All too often, requesting that a toddler stop kicking the back of your seat is met with a boorish "What do you expect me to do? Kids will be kids." But just because the parent has learned to tolerate a child's rudeness doesn't mean you have to.
How to cope: Don't lose your temper. If the parent continues to allow the child to act up -- despite your polite request to not have your seat jolted or your hair pulled -- notify a flight attendant. It's the staff's job to deal with unruly passengers, not yours.
[See: How to Travel with Kids]
The Armrest Hog
When you're stuck in a metal tube several thousand feet above the ground, every little bit of wiggle room counts. So when you've got someone's elbows encroaching on your space, you're bound to feel irked. But the Armrest Hog takes things to a whole new level, gobbling up your personal space, leaving little or no room for you to lean.
How to cope: Confronting an Armrest Hog usually isn't too difficult, since the offender often doesn't realize there's a problem. Politely mention that you're feeling a little cramped and ask if there's room on that rest for a second forearm. (However, if the Armrest Hog has been dealt the middle seat, cut him some slack: He's in a tight position.)
The Inconsiderate Invalid
The doors are closing and you've settled in for a six-hour flight when suddenly, an unbridled sneeze echoes through the cabin. It's a well-known fact that airplanes -- with their confined conditions and recycled air -- are breeding grounds for germs. The Inconsiderate Invalid makes matters worse, invoking a wave of terror in fellow passengers with every uncovered cough, noisy sniffle and unwashed hand (especially during flu season).
How to cope: Be prepared. Arming yourself with a good night's sleep and staying hydrated will help your immune system fight off in-flight germs. Also, it doesn't hurt to bring along some antibacterial wipes and tissues; offering these items to your fellow feverish flyer will hopefully help him get the hint.
The Rude Recliner
Like the Armrest Hog, the Rude Recliner shows no respect for your personal space. The minute the fasten-seatbelt sign is shut off, his head is in your lap (as is that cup of coffee that was sitting on your tray table). To make matters worse, many airlines -- including Southwest and JetBlue -- have shaved inches off of the already minimal amount of legroom in order to fit more seats. If your knees weren't already knocking the seat in front of you, the Rude Recliner will make sure they do.
How to cope: There's nothing wrong with asking the Rude Recliner to sit up a little. If he refuses (after all, he does have the right to lean back), talk to a member of the cabin crew. An airline attendant can address the Rude Recliner with more authority. You can also plan for the situation ahead of time; booking your tickets online often allows you to request a specific seat; airlines like Delta and United offer roomier (and pricier) coach options, while websites like SeatGuru.com provide legroom comparisons.
The Chatty Cathy
Maybe you're trying to catch some zzz's or you've got some work to do -- either way, you don't feel like talking. That doesn't matter to the Chatty Cathy: She's going to tell you her life story whether or not you want to hear it. Even if you've got your headphones on and your nose is buried in a book, nothing's going to stop good ol' Cathy from asking you about your love life and rambling on about hers.
How to cope: If she lets you get a word in, politely inform the prattling passenger that you need to get some work done or you're desperately in need of some shut-eye. After that, the only thing you can do is ignore her; hopefully, Chatty Cathy will hear you loud and clear.
Sure, not everyone enjoys flying, but the Scaredy-Cat is flat-out terrified. How can you tell? She won't stop talking about the possibility of crashing, and she panics at the slightest hint of turbulence. And like the germs from the Inconsiderate Invalid's sneezes, fear can spread quickly -- especially if the flight is particularly bumpy. Soon, you yourself may doubt that you'll set foot on land again.
How to cope: Before you succumb to the Scaredy-Cat's contagiousness, remember that thousands of planes are flying the friendly skies at any given time. While incidents do happen, they're few and far between. In terms of dealing with your nervous neighbor, do your best to ignore her; let a flight attendant handle it.
The Prima Donna
The Prima Donna believes that the world revolves around him and that codes of conduct need not apply -- think Alec Baldwin and his refusal to pause a game of "Words with Friends" to allow the plane to take off. This person rebuffs requests to end his phone conversation after the doors have closed, presses the call button when he needs something from the overhead bin and huffs and puffs when you turn on your reading light. Simply put, if the Prima Donna is miserable, he won't hesitate to bring you down with him.
How to cope: There's just no reasoning with the Prima Donna -- he's determined to have things his way or the highway. Don't give in to petulance: You shouldn't hesitate to ask him to move if you need to go to the restroom, and you shouldn't turn off your reading light simply because he needs his beauty sleep. If he protests, simply remind him (politely, yet unapologetically) that your needs matter, too.
[In Pictures: World's Longest Flights]