And the most annoying passenger on the plane is …

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By Christopher Elliott

Here we go again. Expedia is out with yet another survey on the most annoying passengers on a plane.

It’s a predictable effort to capitalize on the upcoming holiday travel season (here’s last year’s survey and the 2013 poll).

I don’t have a problem with identifying the most annoying travelers. In fact, I just did it on Monday in my USA Today column, a bold piece of reporting that turned me into persona non grata in the frequent flier community almost overnight.

Oh, oops. I’m sure I didn’t mean to do that.

But the Expedia study and its timing underscores a false assumption about holiday travel: that everyone flies.

And so my mainstream media colleagues have taken to this survey, predictably. (And, um, I guess that would include me since I’m writing about it.)

Let’s do a few numbers first:

Most annoying airline passengers (2015)

1. Rear Seat Kicker (61%)

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2. Inattentive Parents (59%)

3. The Aromatic Passenger (50%)

4. The Audio Insensitive (talking or music) (50%)

5. The Boozer (45%)

6. Chatty Cathy (43%)

7. Carry-On Baggage Offenders (38%)

8. The Queue Jumper (rushes to deplane) (35%)

9. Seat-Back Guy (the seat recliner) (32%)

10. Overhead Bin Inconsiderate (32%)

Some news outlets, like Foxnews.com, played it straight, basically cut-and-pasted the Expedia data like I just did. My friends at the LA Times also did it by the book, obediently embedding Expedia’s infographic. They also interviewed an Expedia spokeswoman.

It’s unclear if Yahoo’s travel editors did any original reporting, but they win the award for most comments on a story — they were pushing 1,000 the last time I checked. Impressive.

But other than parroting Expedia’s research, is there anything new to see here? Oh, sure. I suspect the really interesting trends are the proprietary research companies like Expedia do on their own customers, who are probably delivering a more disturbing message that wouldn’t be quite so click-baity.

Our annoyance with each other is eclipsed by our annoyance with a predatory airline industry, which always has its hand out, asking for another fee or a higher fare. People are so fed up with air travel and they’re either driving to their destination or not going at all. (Related: Someone just did something about the ‘stranglehold’ on airline competition.)

But that’s not the kind of message that resonates with readers of your average travel section, where upbeat features about travel and funny human interest stories about “rear seat kickers” and clueless parents entertain us on Sunday morning. (Here’s how to survive a long flight in economy class and avoid jet lag.)

So yeah, let’s keep pretending all Americans fly and that they’re mad at each other in kind of an aw-shucks cute kind of way, like the whole thing is a sitcom episode. But we’d never be mad at the airlines that squeeze us into tighter spaces and turn us into animals. Oh no.

Let’s turn this into a cute feature — yet another ditty for Nero to fiddle while Rome is engulfed by flames.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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