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The 6 Worst Things You Can Do to Your Seatmate on a Flight

It's going to be a long flight.

Aside from last-minute flight cancellations, dealing with an annoying seatmate is the worst part about flying.

You know the kind. They're always fidgeting with their seat recliner, listening to a podcast out loud, and elbowing you off the arm rest. There are a lot of fun things that come with flying, such as having uninterrupted silence, so that you can finally binge that TV show you've been wanting to watch, moseying around the airport bookstores, or splurging on a fancy coffee to enjoy on your flight. However, sitting next to the worst passengers is a surefire way to dampen both your mood and inflight experience

According to Jodi RR Smith, an etiquette consultant and the president of Mannersmith, the things our seatmates do that irk us the most typically fall into three categories: sound, smell, and touch. When traveling in an enclosed and cramped space such as an aircraft, our senses are heightened and our eyes, ears, and nose may be more aware (or ticked off) by our surroundings.

We asked travel experts what the worst things you can do to your seatmate on a plane and how to deal with them when you're on the receiving end. 

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You carelessly recline your seat.

Woman reclining her seat on an airplane.

We've all been there. You're seated in your chair and minding your own business when out of nowhere—BAM!—the person seated in front of you abruptly reclines their seat all the way back. Now, they're practically in your lap. In this position, it's nearly impossible to use your tray table or access your seatback pocket.

"This is quite a challenge in the shrinking seats found nowadays on airplanes," says Smith. While you want to sit comfortably, it's also important to practice politeness and self-awareness. Smith suggests that "for red-eye or overseas flights, where it is presumed you will at least attempt to sleep, then reclining will be the norm." However, if your flight is less than two hours, then it is the unspoken rule to "remain in the upright position," she says.

You're a loud chatterbox or don't use headphones.

A couple talking loud on an airplane.

Whether you're trying to sleep, read, work, or enjoy your own inflight entertainment, no one likes an "obnoxiously loud traveler," says travel blogger Sophia Warren of TryBackPacking. "Be it lively chit-chat or loud snoring, these sounds can be a tad too much, especially on a red-eye flight." Warren recommends investing in a pair of noise-canceling headphones to help drown out your neighbors.

Smith agrees, adding passengers "should not be subjected to [others'] media tastes." This includes humming or singing along to music, she adds. For your next flight, don't forget to pack a pair of headphones and if you're traveling with someone you know, keep your conversations to a minimum or, at least, to a whisper.

You eat foods with a strong odor.

Airplane passenger eating food during a flight.

A mid-air snack can elevate your experience, but one with a pungent odor can derail your passengers' senses. Smith advises flyers to consume strong smelling foods like juicy hamburgers and fast food types while in the terminal. Meals that won't stink up a plane may include sandwiches, salads, and pasta or fruit salads.

"If you find yourself swimming in a sea of smells, direct the overhead vent away from you," says Warren. "Additionally, packing your own subtle snacks (like pretzels, crackers, or granola bars) can help divert your senses, too."

Food aside, your nose can get irked by other aromas and fragrances such as body odor and strong perfume or cologne. Out of courtesy to your fellow passengers, Smith says to omit or limit the amount of fragrance you put on prior to boarding.

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You use your seatmate's shoulder as a pillow.

A woman sleeping on an airplane.

"Personal space can quickly become a luxury in a tight airplane cabin," Warren tells Best Life. "My advice? Maintain composure and gentry remind your neighbor about personal boundaries."

On that note, try to position your legs and feet so they aren't resting on or brushing your neighbor. Similarly, if you or someone in your row is entering or exiting, get up and out of your seat. Don't attempt to climb over each other. That's awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved—and likely won't work.

You hog the bathroom.

The door to an aircraft's bathroom.

Inconsiderate restroom users who leave a mess or keep others waiting are some of the worst, per Warren. Aircraft bathrooms are not the place to do your hair or makeup, lollygag, play on your phone, or… other stuff.

In fact, Warren recommends travelers try to avoid airplane bathrooms altogether. Rather, use the airport restroom before you board. It's also best to keep a travel-size hand sanitizer at the ready in case you do end up having to use the airplane bathroom or because, you know, just germs in general.

You take the armrests all for yourself.

Airplane passenger using both armrests.

Battling out for the armrest with your seatmate can get aggressive real fast. According to Smith, armrest etiquette is as follows: "For a row with two seats, the middle armrest is shared. For a row with three seats, both middle armrests are for the person in the middle. The window traveler has the wall and the aisle traveler has the space of the aisle." However, there are exceptions.

"When traveling, you must also pack kindness and consideration. If you are a tiny human and the person next to you is folding themselves into an origami-yoga pose to fit in the seat, even if the armrest is 'yours' you should share," says Smith. "Our goal is to arrive at our destination as safely and quickly as possible. If you do not need space, offer to share."

Emily Weaver
Emily is a NYC-based freelance entertainment and lifestyle writer — though, she’ll never pass up the opportunity to talk about women’s health and sports (she thrives during the Olympics). Read more