My Top Three Airplane Aggravations
Leah Walker October 20, 2013

I love flying and truly believe that the journey is just as important as the destination. I flew for the first time in the late 70s when ashtrays were still found in the armrest. At age seven, I flew alone and guzzled Cokes for the entire hour flight from Dallas to Lubbock. I even recollect visiting the cockpit and saying hello to the pilots. Times certainly have changed, but my stomach still does a little flip when stepping foot onto an airplane.

When I was a kid, I suppose that I loved flying for the newness of it all. As it is now a regular part of my life, that novelty has worn off. Now, the anticipation I feel is a result from knowing that I’ll be visiting on old favorite or better yet, some place new. The airport drive, park and ride shuttle, check in, and security lines are all second nature and a means to an end—necessary evils that get me to where I’m going. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst is my attitude when approaching the treacherous gauntlet that is airline travel.

Airplane at the Gate

Although I try jumping through all the airline hoops with a smile on my face, there are still some things that just get under my skin. Here are my top three airline annoyances:

Crowding the Gate

I’ve obviously not flown every airline in the world, but I’d be willing to wager that 98.457% offer first boarding privileges to first/business class ticket holders and passengers that have status with the airline {platinum, diamond, titanium, double sapphire with a cherry on top, etc.}. Throw in the elderly, uniformed military personnel, and families with small children, too. This is an industry standard boarding procedure.

airport terminal hallway

I do fly business on occasion, but most of the time I’m flying an airline in which I hold some sort of status. Therefore, I’m usually seated toward the front of the plane and in boarding group two. I am sent into a complete tizzy when I’m standing in my assigned line and I glance over and see someone holding a boarding pass with group four printed on it.

As if loading 400 passengers on a plane isn’t difficult enough, these people feel the need to hinder the process with their ignorance and/or arrogance. I want to scream at them, “Just have a seat until your group is called. The plane isn’t leaving without boarding your number!” If everyone would simply follow the procedure then things would go a lot more smoothly, and my tongue would not bleed from biting it.

Overhead Compartment Allotment

This past August, I was on a flight from Toronto to Houston. It was a small plane with a 2-1-seat configuration, and I was on the aisle of the two row. As part of group two, I was one of the first to board. I stood in front of my seat as not to block the aisle traffic, and removed items from my backpack that I wanted during the flight. Right as I was zipping up my bag and about to place it in the overhead compartment, a guy simply slipped his roller bag into the space I was about to use. Then he proceeded to walk to the back of the plane and take his seat. I was shocked.

Swiss air plane on the ground in Geneva

There was no announcement about overhead compartments being full. In fact, there were still about 40 seats on the flight not yet filled. There was plenty of space in the back of the plane. I couldn’t believe that someone could be that rude and inconsiderate. After I burned holes in the back of his head, I simply asked a flight attendant to deliver the bag to the gentleman at the back of the plane and placed my backpack in the spot directly above my seat. Then I stewed about the jackass for twenty minutes or until the drink cart came by—I can’t quite recall.

There’s only so much room on the plane, and there are just so many places we’re allowed to store things. Because of luggage fees for checked bags, passengers look like pack mules boarding flights. However, small items still belong below the seat in front of you, and the overhead compartment is there for larger items. By all means, once the flight is boarded and every big bag has a home, feel free to put your coat or whatever in the overhead compartment. The practice is not only common courtesy, but also essential for a swift boarding process and on-time departure. I’d imagine that the entire pre-flight process feels like herding cats to most flight attendants.

The Curtain

On my recent flight from Honolulu to Houston, I got a real big chuckle watching the flight attendant closing the curtain between first/business and peon class. What exactly is the purpose of this dangling piece of holey fabric? It’s not like it really shields those of us in premium economy from seeing stemware brimming with Champagne. It’s not some sort of soundproof curtain. We can still hear the clank of flatware on real plates. And it certainly doesn’t prevent the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from drifting all the way back to seat 22D. After all, there’s more material to Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance outfit than this curtain.

airplane wing from the air

An airplane is essentially a microcosm of the caste system, except heredity doesn’t determine who is at the top. Instead, it’s the number printed on one’s ticket. The lower the row number, the higher one’s status—just like in golf.

Just for fun, I searched for a flight from Houston to London in November. Flying coach cost just over $1,000, while the exact same flight costs $4,700 and $14,900 for business and first respectively. It’s a nine hour and 25 minute flight where everyone leaves and lands at the same time. As much as I love flying business/first, there is so much more I’d rather do with those 4-14 thousand dollars. So what if I have a sore back from flying in cramped coach? I could have a massage twice a week for an entire year with the money saved from not flying first class. That’s just my personal preference.

What is the real reason for this curtain? I suppose it’s to show the other 85% of the plane’s passengers that this area is strictly off limits, yet still allows them to see what they’re missing. It’s the dangling carrot. Fly often and/or spend enough and you, too, could have an eye mask, moisturizer, and toothbrush to go with your extra legroom and premium entertainment system. It’s the golden ticket that everyone one on the plane yearns for and envies. After all, there are no sore backs, crappy food, or poor service in first/business, right? Perhaps.

Now, I’ll step off of my soapbox and allow you to sound off. What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to flying?

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for three years, and was recently awarded another four with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.


  1. Ahhh the curtain. Flying really is the only modern day caste system. I too would rather have the 14 grand to spend on a year of travel than one flight in first class… even if I do have a big soft spot for seats that fully recline.

    1. Hey, it’s all about priorities, and I don’t like to judge where others place theirs. Spend what you want on what you want, but it just cracks me up that the only thing separating those that spent $1k and $14k is a flimsy curtain. It really is comical.

  2. OMG, I love this post! Especially the reference to Miley’s VMA costume!

    The line drives me nuts too. Why must people congregate when their group has yet to be called?!

    1. My worst experience with massive congregation was in China. It’s like someone yelled “FIRE!” in a theater once they began boarding. Absolutely crazy!

  3. I hate people standing by the gate, it makes no sense. But have to disagree in relation to premium classes – I love them and they are part of my travel experience. Curtains have come a long way and in recent cases they have really disappeared as there are separate cabins. I love longhaul journeys in business class because of the quiet time they give me – and calories don’t count in the air.

    But if we all liked yellow, the world would be such a boring place. The good thing is that we all have options according to what we want and can spend.

    1. Oh, I love premium classes, too. In fact, I’ve never turned down an upgrade. Despite flying Lufthsana’s A380, I’ve never been on a plane where the cabins are separated by anything but a curtain. On the A380, business and first were upstairs and coach was downstairs. I flew the plane twice–once in coach and once in business. Obviously, it was more comfortable in business. Frankly, had I not gotten a supreme deal with miles, I would have never purchased the business class ticket. Like you said, to each his/her own.

  4. Conspiracy theories aside, the curtain has at least two functions: 1. It gives flight attendants a view of the entire cabin, useful for security and safety. 2: It inhibits traffic to the forward lavatories, offering the higher priced seat riders access they so richly pay for. Notice that the curtains are retracted for takeoff or landing so that an emergency evacuation is not impeded .

    1. I understand and know both of the functions that you’ve outlined. Perhaps my tongue in cheek was not quite clear. However, why not something more sophisticated like a velvet rope? It accomplishes the exact same goals.

  5. Agree with so many of your points Leah, especially people queuing at gates. An annoyance I’d also add in are those passengers who jump up out of their seats as soon soon as the plane lands and block the whole aisle – as if that’s going to get them to baggage reclaim any quicker…

    1. I think the exit procedure from the plane is logical and doesn’t require explanation. However, there are some that just can’t wait and don’t think it pertains to them. So annoying.

  6. Very insightful and humorous article. Ahhh, The Curtain. With all the changes and additional charges over the years you would think the class curtain would have come down by now. Nothing puts you in your place quite like sitting in bulkhead when the curtain comes to its ceremonial close. The crowding at the gate has become a nightmare of pushing, shoving and elbowing, bruising luggage, limbs and egos. The overhead bin space is a hot commodity and I expect before too long there will be a premium charge to carry your bag onboard and already several airlines allow passengers without carry-ons early boarding. This would be great if I had confidence in checking my bag, but with fear it will end up somewhere I’m not, I’ll just pray there’s room in my bin. Safe Travels Leah!

    1. Thank you, Sandi. I’ve been VERY lucky when it comes to checked bags making it to the right place. I’m currently knocking on wood, by the way.

  7. Another thing that bugs me is when I see people who ignore the two carry on limit. Those people with the suitcase, the purse, AND some large shopping bag with souveniers. Your purse is considered an item. That is why I pack an empty purse for my destination and put those items into my carry on bag.

    1. Oh yeah, they come on the plane banging people in the head with their shopping bags, cram them in the overhead compartment, then complain when their poster from the Louvre is smashed. Oh my…

  8. Those are some good ones. I can’t say that the curtain bothers me. The gate crowders are especially annoying. This was never a problem before they started charging for bags. FYI – Family’s with small children are not allowed to board early on some airlines now. My brother found this out recently on United.

    My biggest aggravations are the bag rollers and seat pullers. The people that think they can roll their bag down the aisle but end up bumping it into everyone sitting on the aisle drive me crazy. Pick it up and carry it in front of you!

    I also don’t like the people that use the back of my seat to pull themselves up. The armrests work just as well and will not annoy the person in front of you.

  9. Pet peeve geez where does one start?!

    Airlines that board from the front?? Why why why? Board first and business ok sure but then boarding rows 8-25? Really? Boarding 45-60 & working your way forward doesn’t make more sense?

    The disappearing leg room! @ 6ft & longest from hip to knee its very important commodity and grossly under appreciated.

    Why there arent child free cabins? Put the families together. Theyre all willingly flying with kids. Why make others suffer.

    God I could rant all night here so I am going to shelve it there!

  10. We’re going to go with the reclining seat as our biggest aggro-inducing element of air travel, although lack of leg room runs it close. But it’s the seat’s reclining feature that we’d like to rant about a while. Now, we work hard, so the plane’s the start of our holiday. We’d love nothing more than lying back and, perhaps, thinking of England. However, common courtesy prevents us from doing so, although it never prevents the passenger sitting in front of us. Which, of course, impacts on our leg room. Grrr. In an ideal world, the reclining seat would trigger a domino effect with everybody repositioning at the same time. But there are people who don’t want to relax, along with those who can’t. Parents with babies on their laps, for example. So, we don’t recline because we think of other passengers.

    1. I hate to say, but I am a recliner. Now, I don’t fully recline unless it’s an overnight flight and I’m about to sleep, but I do give it a slight recline. I am a firm believer in the domino effect, and wish that it would happen more regularly. Alas, you’ve made some good points about why it doesn’t.

  11. So true! For me, I especially identify with the boarding gate crowding. I just got airline status so I was always in that second group, but I always stayed seated until my group was called or even later. It’s much less stressful and claustrophobic than trying to squeeze in between hoards of impatient passengers!

    1. If I don’t have a lot of stuff to put in the overhead compartment, sometimes I’ll just wait till the majority of passengers get on board. You’re right. It is a lot less stressful.

  12. Whereas I won’t pay for business or first class, I love and appreciate the upgrades. I was bugged yesterday when I was first on the plane and not allowed to bring on a small 14″ roller board that would fit under my seat and yet the woman three spaces behind me was. We had a tight connection. Since I’ve been a flight attendant, I am aware of being polite, so quietly, I asked her if I said or did something to offend her. Her response was too convoluted to make sense to someone who knows the rules, so I just kept quite and steamed internally. The crowding of higher zones at gate gets me too, as I am always in zone 1 or 2. I used to love flying. Now, in many cases with all the complications, it is a means to get me where I want to go and do what I want to do. So I stay polite and deal with it. Usually, I can emphasize, but on occasion, I just get ticked off. However, I still get ticked off, but keep my mouth shut, as they can take you off the plane. But I have been know to write some effective followup letters. They do work.

    1. I’ve never actually taken the time to write a letter. It’s good to know that yours have been successful. Fortunately, I’ve not had many issues with the airlines themselves, but rather my fellow passengers.

  13. I’ve been on some Air Asia flights where there has been “rush seating” — no assigned seats. It’s actually less maddening than assigned seating, though admittedly not by much. 🙂

    1. Ohhhh…in China, I about went NUTS at the crowding at the gates and then the mad exit from the plane. I guess with a billion people, personal space just doesn’t exist.

    1. It’s usually so damn cold on the plane I just use my coat for a blanket. However, if you’re not so cold natured as I am, then just put it up there once everyone is on board. It’s not that difficult of a concept.

  14. Leah, I loved this post because it is stuff I think about since I traveled the last 3 years quite a bit with work. Add to that the personal travels and I have a lot of opinions! I wrote a piece like yours a few months ago (would love your thoughts on my pet peeves!) and some I am sure you will relate to – especially the one that relates to kids 🙂 One of my peeves is the sling shot seat phenomenon. The curtain thing is quite true – as if that will make me feel super special when I fly first/business class. It doesn’t.

    1. The sling shot seat phenomenon…great coining of a phrase. You absolutely should feel special, and quite frankly, bullet proof when the curtain is drawn.

  15. i think more than these things outlined the charges for checked baggage, food & booze kill me even more. while flying really about the only way to go for me, i don’t like many airlines AT ALL. it’s just a necessary evil.

    1. Charging for checked bags bothers me more than the food or booze. I can do without that, but I really need a bag when I travel. It’s just plain stupid to charge for that.

  16. Add this to the list. The person on one side who takes the arm rest to your left and the person on your other side uses the arm rest on your right. Ergo, you sit scrunched with no arm rests at all. That really annoys me the most, next to the kid behind kicking the back of your seat constantly on a long flight. Timely post to read as we have a 23 hour flight tomorrow, which will in effect take 30 hours.

    1. Ohhh…the kid {or adult} kicking the seat drives me mad. I’ve been known to turn around and address the situation.

  17. I agree completely about the overhead compartment hogs. I once went to get my bag after landing and it was gone — someone had moved it and stuck their bag in there. But you didn’t mention the security guy who decides to grill a 62-year-old as if he’s a terrorist suspect, for no apparent reason, while much more likely candidates stroll through unhindered.

  18. I’d have to say my pet peeves are when everyone stands up when the plane is at the gate, haha, like it’s a massive rush to get off. I’ve been run over quite a few times! After that, it’s definitely the clappers when the plane lands, haha.

  19. Haha, good read and funny video. I never thought much about the silly curtain until this post. My pet peeve is going through security multiple times. Coming back from Guyana I went through security 20 minutes later in Trinidad as if I somehow got dangerous over a spit of Caribbean, then again in New York.

  20. Haha, yes the flimsy curtain. It is completely ridiculous that it exists and it is so thin and don’t cover the whole entranceway. I always giggle when they put it up. Once I flew first class and I loved it. The curtain is still a bit over the top. And yes, why must everyone crowd around before their section/group are announced to board? Sit down, relax – you will get on the plane eventually. Travellers make me laugh.

  21. Totally guilty… I’m a gate crowder. I can’t help it- it manifests the worst side of my impatient personality…

    Also, I don’t think there is a flight long enough to make me fork over the double and triple price for business or first class. I always save the money- it’s a heck of a lot more useful on the ground while traveling…

    1. I’m totally impatient, too. It’s all I can take not to just push to the front of the line, but somehow I refrain. You can do it, EriK!

  22. we’d pay for first class upgrades left and right, but we’re saving for our private jet. it will be called the lazy travelers dreamweaver deluxe and will be invite only and also wine & cookies only. maybe pizza thursdays. gonna be saaaa-weet.

  23. 4. When your randomly-assigned seatmate cozies in and opens her freshly purchased Sbarro pizza she apparently didn’t have time to consume at the gate, and the sleazy/delicious fumes of greasy fast food pizza invade your personal space for 20 minutes.

  24. Amen to all of this, Leah! People herding the gate bug me. It’s only necessary really if the plane doesn’t have allocated seats (Ryanair, Wizzair), but even then, the amount of shoving that people do drives me up the wall. The overhead compartment thing annoys me, too. I usually travel with a backpack and a camera bag. The camera bag goes under the seat in front of me, the backpack in the compartment. Yet everyone just crams everything in the overhead compartment, and I don’t quite get it.

    As for the curtain, it always makes me chuckle. I remember flying with Alitalia from Amsterdam to Rome. The plane was horrible, and I was right at the front of economy, with a barely-there curtain shielding business class from view. Let me tell you, if I’d have shelled out for business on that flight, I’d have been pissed off – the perks seemed to be a newspaper and orange juice, and ever-so-slightly wider seats. Just not worth forking out the money for it!

  25. My biggest pet peeve with airlines? Being told to turn my phone off. Countless reports and airlines employees have cited that both aviation and cellular technology are advanced enough that having a cellphone on during takeoff does not put anyone else in even the slightest bit of danger. Luckily a couple airlines have begun to do away with this needless rule but I will not be satisfied until all do.

    Personally I never turn my phone off. In fact I’m notorious for sending that last tweet after the wheels have left the ground. Only after that as cell service fades do I switch the phone into airplane mode — however that is only to conserve battery, not out of fear it will interfere with pilot to ground communications.

  26. I hear you. I would never want to buy that much extra money for a business/first class seat. Unless I ever get a free upgrade I will never be on the other side of that cheap curtain. Oh well, at least I get to go!

    1. I’ve bought exactly two business class flights. Yes, it was more comfortable, but I just kept thinking about how I could have better spent that money. Never again, unless it’s a free upgrade.

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