8 hours on an Airplane

You can’t get away. You’re trapped for the next 8 hours on an airplane next to a random unknown person. And upgrading to business class, although reducing the number of people, does not necessarily exclude you from the baffling behaviour and weird personal habits of what I like to call the “Mystery Flyer”.

Given that you are unable to move seats, we look below at how will you cope with a space invader, or the expensive perfume a fellow traveller insists on spraying about, or the chatterbox who insists on telling you their whole life story. All these and more plus some in-flight strategies and coping tips to help you keep your cool.



Economy Class is not known for their roomy seats, and although your seat is yours for the duration, you are likely to end up sharing your armrest with your neighbour. Stray elbows that cross the half-way border illegally must be dealt with. Same goes for wandering feet, sprawling hair extensions, and heavy, sleeping heads angling toward you. You have the choice to surrender of course and give way to your new best friend, especially if they are a six foot eight muscle-bound rugby forward.

SOLUTION: Make sure you get your arm in there first in an attempt to assert “this is mine!”. Take no prisoners – any stray elbow needs to be subtly shuffled towards their seat. Be strong and they will usually move to the opposite armrest. If not, get yourself cosy because you paid good money for half of that armrest!

NOTE TO SELF: Same goes for anyone encroaching on your personal seated space. Flicking hair, drowsing drooping heads, computers that exceed the fold-down tray tables, stray feet, knees, jumpers, bags etc are all part of the invasion. Be assertive. Be direct. Stand (or sit) your ground. If needed you can politely, yet firmly ask “Could you please move your bag/foot/hair from my space”



Economy Class is in no way family friendly. Small seats within kicking distance, then you have squealers, sobbers, incessant chatterers, complainers and it’s not only the kids! Even well-behaved children, when combined with an overtired, stressed out parent will never result in a relaxing flight

SOLUTION: If you are sat next to someone who wants to tell you their entire life story, or an overly energetic child or even if its the run of the mill, relatively amiable seat neighbour – a pair of noise cancelling headphones work wonders. Plugging in to the in-flight tunes or tv channel indicates you want to be left alone. They will also help you to sleep as it closes down any nearby hullaballo.

NOTE TO SELF: Be friendly, even sympathetic with frazzled parents, yet keep your distance as you may end up literally holding the baby while they disappear down the back of the plane for a few hours of shut-eye.



Or in this case, airplane perfume. It can be expensive, it can be cheap, either way your seat mate has seemingly bathed in the stuff. Or they choose to spray everyone in the near vicinity with the most atrocious smell. Or worse still – it’s a hygiene issue. Bad breath, cigarettes, B.O., strange emanations from the nether regions all go to make a very unpleasant flight. It’s different strokes for different folks – and you really have little control over another’s personal inclination.

SOLUTION: Air con works wonders when directed towards the offensive odour. Alternatively, bring some strong mints with you – they double as a “gift” for your seat mate, as well as masking flavour for your own nose. Amazing how all you can smell is that minty fresh aroma.

NOTE TO SELF: Brush teeth, take a shower, clean clothes, no strong perfumes and don’t EVER eat fish before getting on a flight.



Sitting next to someone who has obviously had a few drinkies before boarding, and now insists on quite a few more before a meal is served is going to be a nightmare in anyone’s books. Plus, alcohol has a nasty habit of doubling its effect when flying, so you are in for an interesting time of it.

SOLUTION: Not too much you can do except keep as much to yourself as you can (see the Family or Friendly segment above). Hopefully the drinker will just fall asleep, although you then have to contend with the sleeping slide or liquor breath (see the Space Invader segment above). If not, then it’s time to notify the flight attendant. Especially if they are getting rowdy, loud, abusive, aggressive and exhibit any number of obnoxious behaviours.

NOTE TO SELF: Know your limit.



You know when they walk down the narrow, seat laden aisle that they are coming your way. Pallid yellowy skin, red rimmed eyes and dripping nose, a scruffy balled up tissue held tightly in their hand. Cringing as they arrive is not going to help the situation.

SOLUTION: Face it, you know you are going to end up with whatever they have, so it’s time to minimise your exposure as best as you can. Hand sanitiser and lots of it. Swap seats with the sickie so they are on the window “so your won’t disturb them and they may be able to rest better” (this is semi-containing). Obviously if the illness involves bodily functions like vomiting, then an aisle seat for them is imperative. (Projectile vomiting is no containing in any way shape or form).
The hope of course is that the flight attendant will take pity on you and move them, or you, to another seat. (You can also discreetly ask to be moved if your own distress goes unnoticed). Should a miracle occur, remember to be compassionate, acknowledge the situation and possibly even apologise to the plague carrier for moving – after all you may be in the same situation on the way home!

NOTE TO SELF: Find out what they have, how they got it, what they are taking for it and if they are getting better. The more details you have, the more knowledge you can give to your health professional as soon as you arrive at your destination.

There are as many types of “Mystery Flyers” on a plane as there are seats. Everyone is different, everyone has their own opinions, needs and wants. Some people are interesting and fun, some are annoying and just plain weird, and others, well they may be the love of your life. Either way it takes a little patience, a bit of lee-way and tolerance, and ultimately, a commitment to making the flight as pleasant as possible for both yourself and for those around you. Happy travels!

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