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The Expert in Baby Boomer Travel

Travel Copywriter
As airlines get more crowded, annoyances get more pronounced.

As airlines get more crowded, annoyances get more pronounced.

Recently we railed against the possibility that cell phones might be allowed to be used during airplane flights, but thankfully that hasn’t happened yet.

However, we all know of plenty of other annoyances that arise during just about any flight, ranging from people hogging the overhead bins (especially the one that’s directly above your seat) with too many carry-on bags, to passengers who recline their seats into your lap while you’re trying to eat, to crying children ignored by their parents.

Now a survey is out that ranks the annoyances in order from most annoying on down. The 2013 Airplane Etiquette Study, conducted by Northstar, surveyed 1,001 U.S. adults to find out which in-flight behaviors bugged them the most.

The dubious winner: Inattentive Parents. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they “often feel annoyed” at parents of screaming or otherwise loud children, and half of them would pay extra to sit in a “quiet zone” if such existed. (My suggestion in the earlier post that cell phone users be forced to sit next to crying children still stands.)

Interestingly, baby boomer travelers seem somewhat more tolerant than younger passengers of loud children, since nearly 60 percent of those under age 35 would pay to sit in a quiet zone — or perhaps just not as many baby boomers are willing to pay extra for this luxury. Baby boomers, after all, grew up not having to pay any of these extra fees the airlines now charge for food, baggage, extra legroom, etc. But I have a feeling that most baby boomers themselves have had to deal with squalling infants at some point in their lives, and therefore are somewhat more sympathetic.

Next most annoying is the “Rear Seat Kicker,” the one that actually tops my own list. This one usually goes hand in hand with the inattentive parent, since the rear seat kicker usually turns out to be a young boy whose parental “watchdog” has fallen asleep on the job, or just doesn’t care that the child’s foot is practically penetrating a fellow passenger’s kidney.

Third most annoying is the “Aromatic Passenger.” A lot of people are sensitive — indeed, allergic — to perfumes and the like. This may also encompass passengers who haven’t bathed in a while, and close proximity of seating can turn these “aromatics,” if that’s the right word, into a nightmare.

The fourth most annoying type may also prove aromatic in another way: the Boozer. Someone who drinks too much on a plane often gets loud and either too happy or too angry, depending, and usually means the flight attendants have to step in and referee, making everyone (but the boozer) uncomfortable.

Next up is the “Chatty Cathy,” who talks your ear off during the flight. Noise-cancelling earphones, applied at a strategic time of the flight (such as before takeoff) can help. Pulling out a book to read can offer a broad hint, but doesn’t always deter the chatterer, who will probably ask, “What’s that you’re reading?” That said, I’ve had some interesting conversations with fellow passengers over the years, though I seldom initiate them myself. If the person has something worthwhile to say, it can help pass the time, and you can usually figure this out within the first few minutes.

The “Audio Insensitive,” which I guess means talking too loudly, edges out the “Seat-back Guy” and “Carry-on Baggage Offenders” for the sixth spot, though the latter two can be mighty annoying. I fully believe that it’s fine to recline your seat a bit if you’re trying to rest, or just get more comfortable, as long as you don’t do it too abruptly or while the person behind you is trying to eat. But if the guy in front of you ends up with his head in your lap, then something’s wrong. Carry-on baggage offenders also annoy me no end, though the airlines have brought this upon us all by charging for checked luggage.

There are 11 remaining categories, most of which fall into minor category annoyances, at least for me, with the exception of “The Armrest Hog” (in 11th place) who plants his arm on the armrest between you and him and won’t ever move it, effectively meaning you can’t rest your own arm for the entire flight. Worse, his arm will sometimes spill over into your seat. Worse yet is the fellow passenger (and total stranger) who falls asleep and rests his head on your shoulder, placing you in the extremely awkward position of either permitting this serious invasion of your personal space or trying to wake him and risk mutual embarrassment or perhaps a half-asleep punch in the nose. In the end, though, you have to wake him up (it’s always a “him,” in my experience, though one elderly lady with sharp fingernails once scarred me for days for trying to claim my share of our mutual armrest).

One other category, the “Mad Bladder” (the person sitting in the window seat who constantly has to get up to go to the bathroom), is worth a mention, especially on a night flight when you’re trying to sleep in the aisle seat and she (usually a she, in my experience) has to shake you awake to get past. The “Mad Bladder” finished right behind the “Armrest Hog” in 12th position.

What’s really amazing about this list is that there are indeed so many annoyances that can happen during just about any flight these days, it’s a wonder anyone flies anywhere anymore.

But thankfully, for those of us in the travel business, they do. If airlines could figure out ways to counter some of these annoyances, they could produce a pretty effective advertising campaign around it. Then again, if they won over more customers, they’d probably just add more seats to their planes and make some of these annoyances worse than ever.

So I’ll direct this advice to hotels, resorts and other upscale lodgings where passengers might be headed after flying: promote something like a “flight recovery package” at check-in that might consist of a free ten-minute massage in your spa, or a free stint in your hot tub or sauna, maybe a bottle of wine and some chocolates or other comfort foods. Stress the fact that they’ve safely negotiated the toughest part of their trip and they’re now in a place where they will find comfort, away from Armrest Hogs, Seat-back Guys, Inattentive Parents and unwanted Aromatics.

Baby boomers, for one, should love it.

What do you think, readers? Who are the most annoying fliers, and can or should the airlines do anything about them?


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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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