If you've ever squeezed into a tightly packed economy-class seat, you know flying isn't always comfortable or headache-free. From coping with armrest hogs and seat kickers to sitting next to passengers with poor hygiene, in-flight frustrations can easily escalate, especially during peak travel periods. But these days, it's not only poor in-flight etiquette or reduced amenities that are making travelers unhappy – it's the hassle-prone situations they experience before takeoff. If you think it's just George Clooney types from the film "Up in the Air," who are logging hundreds of thousands of miles each year that are agitated by inefficient passengers, you'd be wrong. It's leisure travelers, too.
For this reason, we spoke with seasoned fliers to gather their top hacks for dealing with eight types of irksome passengers at security checkpoints and boarding areas – and smart ways to ensure you're not one of them. So, before you step into the airport, mind your manners and don't fit the mold of any of these top offenders.
The Flier Who's Uninformed and Unprepared for Security Screenings
Beyond forgetting to remove laptops from their bags or take jewelry off, many fliers neglect to ensure their luggage meets the TSA liquid requirements (3.4 ounces or less for travel-sized containers), says Tom Spagnola, senior vice president, supplier relations at CheapOair. Instead of being surprised by security screenings, he suggests brushing up on what's required before you trip. "If you can, online TSA has all the restrictions of what you can and cannot bring through security," he says, pointing out that he's seen people try to smuggle full bottles of wine in their carry-on. "It just gets so backed up," he says.
Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, echoes similar sentiments. "Stalling the security lane is the worse. The more informed travelers are the better for everyone," he says, pointing to clear-cut guidelines such as telling kids under 12 to keep their shoes on (and keeping yours on if you're over 75), ensuring all liquids and your laptop are easily accessible and wearing slip-on shoes. "That's why TSA PreCheck, which lets you breeze through without undressing or unpacking, is a no-brainer," he adds.
If you don't fly often and getting through airport security tends to be stress-inducing, give yourself more time, which allows for a buffer to "irritants like slow check-in and security lines and rude travelers," says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. "If you know being late puts you in a bad mental space, don't sabotage yourself by cutting things close," he says. Instead, give yourself an hour and a half or two hours of extra time, particularly during a peak travel season, he says.
The Gate Lurker
"Avoid the fray when boarding," Klee says. Instead of throwing elbows or jumping the line to board early, "just relax and wait until the flight crew is doing the last call for boarding," he adds. After all, the worst-case scenario is getting detached from your carry-on at the gate if you have to check your bag on a full flight. Rather than getting worked up, stay prepared by ensuring essential items like your laptop case or purse are with you. "Then, you won't have to try and cram your bag into overhead storage at all. Instead, it will be neatly waiting for you at your destination when those doors pop open," he adds.
"I also see a lot of fliers hanging out near the gate because they are waiting to hear announcements or waiting to ask gate agents about seat changes," Saglie says, pointing out that he understands why people choose to linger by the gate to secure overhead bin space access on their flight. But the best approach is knowing your boarding zone and ensuring you're in the right line, he says. Another smart idea: Download your airline's app and sign up for text alerts, which often allow fliers to switch their seats and receive real-time alerts on any delays and disruptions, plus avoid approaching a gate agent altogether.
The Person Dilly-Dallying on Moving Walkways
"I don't mind people standing on moving walkways, as long as they stay to the right," Saglie says. But for many fast-paced frequent fliers, this is a top complaint, as those standing still on moving walkways typically block fellow passengers with large pieces of luggage or companions standing next to them, halting the flow of traffic. While walking alongside a blocked moving walkway, "you pretty much are at the same pace or you leap [in front of] the other person that's not walking," Spagnola says. If you're in a rush to catch a flight, your best bet is skipping the moving walkways to move at your preferred pace.
The Person Hoarding Electrical Outlets
"Outlets are the terminal equivalent to overhead bin space onboard: prime real estate," Saglie says. And though there are an increasing number of airports where outlets are prevalent, many hubs still offer slim pickings, Saglie says. One trick, which can be a huge sanity saver for tech-loving travelers, is ensuring your electronic devices – including your phones, tablets and laptops – are fully charged before leaving home, he says.
"I often need to use two side-by-side outlets, one for my laptop and one for my cellphone, but if I notice fellow fliers hunting for outlets, I offer to give one up," Saglie adds. With limited electrical outlets available, it's important to be cognizant that others around you will likely be vying to charge up their devices, too, Spagnola says, pointing out that many people leave their phones charging at the outlets for extended periods of time or hover over the outlets because they're paranoid. It's a much better idea to stay courteous of those around you and allow others to recharge their electronics, too, he says.
The Person Spreading Across Multiple Seats
"You can't get the seating at the gate like you used to," Spagnola says. Beyond airports and flights getting fuller, "people just block three seats to themselves," he adds.
To compensate for the lack of gate seating, Klee suggests arriving prepared with entertainment options to maximize comfort while you wait. "A good book, some soothing music, even a cozy blanket can help you decompress while dealing with flight delays," Klee says, adding that wearing comfortable clothing and keeping a fully charged phone can make a big difference on your overall experience and can help you cope with disrespectful and flat-out rude seatmates while waiting at the gate.
The Person Shuffling Around Overweight Luggage
Imagine approaching the front of the check-in counter when you're halted by someone who's overpacked and is frantically rearranging items to adhere to the carrier's weigh limit and avoid paying a steep checked bagage fee. Not only is it an annoyance, but it also stalls everyone from getting to their seats and triggers unnecessary pre-flight aggravation. To avoid being this person "streamline as much as possible, and be realistic with the size of your bags," Saglie says, noting that just because a bag can easily get through security doesn't mean it will adhere to your carrier's specific carry-on size and weight requirements, so it's best to do your homework ahead of time and stay prepared. "And remember: Two items per passenger. Three bags stacked on top of each other don't count as one carry-on. I have this conversation with my wife often when we travel together. Most anything we'll need will likely be available at our destination, so no need to overpack just to play it safe," he says. It's also a good idea to be proactive and research which aircraft you'll be traveling on and opt to gate-check your suitcases and extra items, such as car seats and strollers for parents, rather than holding up the line when it's time to board, he says.
The Person Ordering Too Many Pre-Flight Drinks
When a flight is delayed, many travelers head straight to the closest airport bar. But this can be a recipe for disaster for fellow fliers, especially families traveling with young children. Spagnola points to a recent flight he was waiting to board, and fellow passengers returned from the nearest bar swearing and behaving rudely, which disrupted a family with small children. It's best to be mindful of your surroundings, even inside a crowded airport, Spagnola says. And keep in mind your actions at the airport can affect your in-flight experience, too, making for an uncomfortable situation for your fellow fliers, so make sure to exercise basic common courtesy for a smooth journey as well.
The Person Behaving Rudely Toward Gate Agents
Your first instinct when you notice a passenger getting into an altercation with a gate agent may be to help pacify either party, but that's not a smart tactic. "If someone is very disruptive, and their unhappiness is affecting the speed in which other passengers can be helped at the gate, do not escalate the situation by jumping in to help the gate agents or arguing with the passenger," Klee says. The better, more effective way to handle this scenario is writing a letter (after your trip) to your airline's customer service representative that clearly outlines how you and other fliers were affected, along with the gate agent's name and details such as your itinerary date and flight number, Klee advises. And though you may not get a free flight by taking the time to submit a letter, you will get a response and, more importantly, in the moment you can stay focused on finding a solution rather than feeling stuck in a high-stress environment, he says.
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