Expedia’s Annual Airplane Etiquette Study

Analyzing inflight passenger behaviors

Picture this: You’ve got your dream trip booked, bags all packed, and you’re sitting cozy on a long flight to your favorite far-off destination. And here’s the kicker. No, literally, someone is kicking your seat.

It should probably be no surprise that the infamous “Rear Seat Kicker” topped our list for the third year in a row in our annual Airplane Etiquette Study. Soliciting feedback from 1,005 Americans, we ranked some of the most problematic passengers with bad behaviors like boozing, excessive chatting, inattentive parenting, and the one that earned 64 percent of the vote: rear-seat kicking.

Sadly, once again, “Inattentive Parents” claimed second place annoying 59 percent of the survey participants, and “Aromatic” passengers, those with poor hygiene or those wearing excessive cologne or perfume, came in close behind at 55 percent. Proof that it can only take one person to turn even the greatest flights into a less than desirable experience—or that we all really need to be working on our hygiene or spraying a little less of the eau de toilette.

This year, the “Audio Insensitive” and “The Boozer” both tied with 49 percent as notable misbehaviors that irritate us. Interestingly enough, according to the study, only 12 percent of Americans claim to consume more than two alcoholic drinks when flying. Makes you wonder what flights those people were on!

Silence is golden

The notorious “Chatty Cathy,” your neighbor who probably means well but feels compelled to tell you their whole life story. These people who strike up conversations and just don’t stop frustrate 40 percent of American fliers. Even more so, a whopping 65 percent said they “dread” sitting next to this type of person.

Passengers value their silence so much that more than 35 percent would pay extra to be seated in a “designated quiet zone,” if the airline offered one. I guess silence really is golden.

To recline or not to recline

It’s easy to imagine becoming the “Seat-Back Guy” when you’re dealing with a “Rear-Seat Kicker.” Actually, a quarter (25 percent) of respondents claim that they would recline their seat for these reasons—like if the passenger behind them “showed aggressive behavior or was rude.”

Overall, more than half (that’s 53 percent) of the participants reported that they do recline their seats when flying, while 23 percent never do as a violation of airplane etiquette, and 11 percent don’t just because it’s uncomfortable.

Speaking of rude behaviors, did you know that 13 percent said that they record someone being offensive on their phone? Of those, five percent would turn to social media: three percent would shame them on their social channels and two percent would simply “tweet about it.” Be careful if you’re acting up, there’s a chance you could be sitting next to one of those and potentially going viral the next day. (Especially if you’re amongst the percent of Americans who report having “been physically intimate” with a fellow passenger aboard a plane.)

If you’re wondering how the other passengers react to misbehavior, 62 percent would alert a flight attendant, 33 would endure in silence, and 10 percent would confront the offending passenger directly.

Flight attendants aren’t unaffected by these bad habits either. About four in 10 Americans (39 percent) “always” pay attention during safety presentations, while a nearly equal percentage (42 percent) say they do “occasionally.” How about when they ask you to switch your phone to Airplane Mode? Do you? In world where it’s hard enough to switch off, surprisingly, two-thirds (66 percent) of fliers turn their phone to Airplane Mode when instructed to do so—while 15 percent “never” do.

Cool to be kind

Now all of this can make you feel like every flight is going to be full of the most annoying people ever, but to my delight, an overwhelming 79 percent agreed that “for the most part, fellow passengers are considerate of one another,” and 74 percent “thoroughly clean their space before leaving the plane.” There is hope for us all yet!

As you reevaluate your 2017 travel resolutions, maybe being more considerate and conscious of your fellow travelers should be on your list. Or, at the very least, just make sure you don’t kick anyone’s seat. Because as my good friend John Morrey, vice president and general manager of Expedia.com, says about flying, “we are quite literally all in this together.”

What annoying passenger behaviors do you think should be on the list?

Click here for the full study and complete ranking.

Expedia compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site, such compensation may include travel and other costs.

Sarah Waffle Gavin

As head of PR and communications at Expedia, Sarah Gavin holds responsibility for influential programs for the Expedia brand and is the force behind the creation of the Expedia Viewfinder blog. Sarah has a strong background in technology communications and came to Expedia after six years of working on the Microsoft business for Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. Part foodie, part tech geek, part mom, part traveler, when she's not strolling through the shops of Manhattan or sitting poolside in Mexico, she hangs her hat in the burbs of Seattle, Washington at the intersection of travel, technology, and motherhood.

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