Last week, my sister took her eight-week-old son on his first flight. They were travelling from Dublin to Lanzarote – a journey of just over four hours – but my sister's nerves before the relatively short trip were uncontrollable. Would the baby behave? Would he scream the cabin down? Or, as they are currently battling a pretty severe case of acid reflux, would he throw up everywhere?
Turns out, she needn't have worried. Benjamin slept for most of the flight, waking up only a couple of times to be fed. But the whole situation got me thinking. If people with babies are this worried about how their kids might irritate other passengers during what is an understandably upsetting time for the little ones, why do some fully grown passengers on a flight not seem to care about their own annoying behaviour?
I can only assume, because my faith in humanity remains intact, that these passengers don't actually realise they're being annoying. So, today, I put to you a manner of ways that you are being annoying on a plane, even if you don't know it.
First up, the late arrivers. To be clear, I'm not talking about the folks who have dashed from a connecting flight through a crowded airport just to make it in the nick of time. Instead, I'm talking about the people that get on board at the very last minute, overloaded with duty-free shopping bags and instilling a crushing sense of disappointment in whichever passengers they sit next to. You see, by this point, my aspirations have elevated and I'm already picturing eight joyous hours during which I can raise the armrest, have a bit of a stretch and have an emergency plan if the crew take an age to clear the tray tables and I need to hit the bathroom. Please, people, save us all the rollercoaster of emotions and just board with everyone else.
Now, let's talk about armrests. Perhaps you're not aware of the common courtesy rule that dictates that these seat dividers are the domain of the unfortunate person wedged in the middle seat. Window seaters – you've got the view and a whole wall that you can lean up against. Aisle folks, you can stretch your legs into the cabin whenever you want to and don't need to disturb anyone if you want to get up and walk around. The middle chump gets nothing, so for goodness sake let them have the two armrests.
In order to fly (the fundamental role of an aircraft), plane interiors are designed to be as light as possible. The downside of this is that flimsy seats react to the slightest of touches, and that’s something to keep in mind the next time you lean on the seat in front of you to get out of your chair, or touch every single head rest on your walk to the bathroom. Your fellow passengers don’t deserve to be shoved around like they’re on a fairground ride. The same goes for the seat-back entertainment panels – it’s touchscreen, not punch screen.
While we're on the matter, bathroom etiquette is another thing to be aware of. If you know you're going to have to go multiple times during a flight, that's fine, but at least book the aisle seat. On the same note, if you have booked the aisle then please don't plan to pass out for the duration of the journey. On the average Boeing 777, there are around 12 bathrooms and up to 396 passengers, plus crew – that's about one bathroom for every 30 or 40 passengers, so it's not the place or time to fix your full face of make-up, do some yoga or take a selfie. Get in and get out.
And then there are the landing applauders. While I hope that particular trait is almost extinct, I just want to stress, nobody does it when a train pulls into a station, so unless you’re five years old, a first-time flyer and genuinely excited by the touchdown, just don’t. However, the real tyrants of the landing process are the stander-uppers. Everyone wants to get off. Everyone has been on the flight for the exact same length of time (well, except perhaps that late arrival who took the empty middle seat in your row). Still, my point is, why are you standing, or more likely hunching over, while we all wait for clearance to disembark?
There are definitely other unaware irritators out there, from the luggage rack abusers who shove their carry-on into the overhead storage horizontally or the people who use that space for things that could so easily go on the floor, to the yo-yo travellers who can't seem to sit in their seat for more than 20 minutes at a time. Man-spreaders are another one, but I'm not sure that's something that is restricted to flying. The foot and hair chair-invaders however, are definitely a flight-only annoyance. And while babies get a free pass, the parents who let their kids play on tablets for hours on end without giving them headphones to wear don't.
All that being said, the honour of the world's most annoying passenger has to go to the woman who sat opposite me on a flight from Dubai to Geneva. As soon as the seat belt sign was switched off, she peeled off her socks, plonked her foot on the tray table next to her and whipped out a pair of nail clippers to get stuck into her toenails, blissfully unaware of the glares being fired her way by everyone in the vicinity.
Please, people, whatever you do, don’t be that passenger.