Flying brings out the worst in people. But if you’ve ever stopped to think about the most awkward things you could do on a flight, you probably haven’t even considered the worst of it. Frequent travelers and flight attendants alike have seen it all. And as they could tell you, passengers can get themselves into some pretty awkward situations as they fly to their vacation destinations or make their way home from a business trip.
Read on to check out some of the most embarrassing faux pas that you could make (or witness) mid-flight. Just don’t blame us if you can’t stop yourself from cringing!
1. Dropping your luggage onto a seated passenger
In a study provided to The Cheat Sheet, flight comparison site Jetcost surveyed 4,693 Americans about the embarrassing situations they’d experienced or witnessed when flying. A full 53% had witnessed somebody dropping their overhead luggage onto a seated passenger below. (Or they admitted to being guilty of dropping that luggage themselves!) Airline fees make checking a bag an increasingly expensive option. But we’re willing to bet that at least some of those embarrassed travelers vowed to never use the overhead bin again!
2. Falling asleep on a stranger
Your significant other may only grudgingly tolerate it when you fall asleep on their shoulder during the flight. So falling asleep on anybody else, especially a stranger, is a major faux pas! A full 50% of the respondents to Jetcost’s survey had witnessed or experienced this faux pas on a flight. If it does happen to you, there’s no telling how everyone will react. However, 32% of Jetcost’s survey respondents said that when they saw an awkward situation unfolding, they were likely to take a photo or a video. 29% would just share “awkward glances with fellow passengers.” But a full 25% would try to “pretend not to notice what was going on.”
3. Falling on top of a stranger
Perhaps even worse than falling asleep on a stranger is falling on top of another passenger — a faux pas that 47% of survey respondents had witnessed or experienced. There are many reasons to pay close attention when the captain turns on the sign warning you to keep your seatbelt on. One of those is that you can injure yourself — or others — if you’re up and walking around when the plane hits a patch of turbulence. Worst-case scenario? You could fall on top of somebody — pretty much never the ideal way to make somebody’s acquaintance.
4. Drooling while sleeping
Especially when we have to take a long flight, most of us try to sleep on the plane. However, because it’s a little difficult to predict exactly what you’ll do when you’re asleep, 44% of Jetcost survey respondents have witnessed somebody drooling while sleeping. You may not be able to sleep in the most comfortable position (especially if you’re crammed into an economy class seat). And if you’re sleeping in the wrong position, you might not be able to help the drooling. But at least you probably won’t be the only one drooling, which offers some consolation.
5. Sitting in the wrong seat
Unsurprisingly, 36% of Jetcost’s survey respondents said that they’d either witnessed somebody sitting in the wrong seat, or had been involved in such a situation themselves. This exchange, though common, gets pretty awkward for everybody involved. Sometimes, travelers with connecting flights look at the wrong boarding pass and the wrong seat assignment. Other times, somebody just reads the aisle tags incorrectly. Sometimes somebody deliberately sits in a seat that’s not theirs. Whatever the situation, awkwardness abounds. We’re cringing just thinking about it!
6. Failing to keep your children from screaming or misbehaving
Let’s make this clear first: Flying with kids is difficult. Anybody who manages to do it — and emerge from the ordeal unscathed — deserves a gold medal, if you ask us. Still, many parents consider it a flying faux pas to have screaming or misbehaving children on the plane. 31% of Jetcost survey respondents said that they’d witnessed unruly kids on a plane (or been responsible for some unruly kids of their own). Luckily, most passengers are pretty understanding. And many flight attendants will actually judge passengers if they’re passive-aggressive about somebody else’s kids.
7. Arguing with your significant other
Nobody wants to sit in the same aisle — or even in the same region of the plane — with a couple who can’t stop arguing. Nonetheless, 25% of the respondents to Jetcost’s survey reported that they’d witnessed couples arguing on a plane. (Or perhaps they’d even been half of an arguing couple themselves.) Tensions run high when you’re flying, especially after you’ve suffered the indignity of airport security and dealt with all the shortcomings of the boarding process. But arguing with your significant other on a plane probably isn’t a productive way to resolve whatever issue is bothering you. It certainly makes things awkward for everybody else, though.
8. Passing gas
24% of survey respondents said that they’d witnessed awkward situations caused by embarrassing bodily functions, like passing gas. This is one of those things that you probably can’t really help. (But you can always hope that it’s quiet — and relatively odorless — so that nobody else notices.) If it happens to you, at least it will be over quickly. And if you’re lucky, your seat mates won’t even know that it was you.
9. Burping (loudly)
Another embarrassing bodily function that 24% of survey respondents had heard on a plane? Burping. Sometimes, it just can’t be helped, but you can probably reduce your chances of committing this faux pas if you lay off the carbonated beverages. Instead, focus on drinking water, which will help you stay hydrated throughout your flight without any embarrassing side effects.
10. Getting airsick before you can make it to the restroom
Some people can’t get on a plane without feeling nauseated. (It really doesn’t help that some plane passengers do things like changing their baby’s diaper right on the tray table at their seat.) But most people — including the 19% of Jetcost survey respondents who had some experience with this faux pas — would admit that it’s pretty embarrassing to get airsick at your seat. Making it to the plane restroom is probably the least humiliating option, especially because nobody likes to reach for one of those airsickness bags that airlines stash in the seat-back pockets.
11. Walking in on someone in the restroom
Around 15% of Jetcost survey respondents said that they’d either walked in on someone in the restroom, had someone walk in on them, or watched somebody else commit this awful faux pas. We’ll admit that if people don’t lock the door, or if the lock just isn’t working, this embarrassing situation might be nobody’s fault. But plane bathrooms are awful enough without adding an embarrassing encounter to the mix.
12. Having body odor or bad breath
We’ve all witnessed at least a few flying faux pas that didn’t appear in Jetcost’s study. For instance, most of us have encountered a fellow passenger with terrible body odor or bad breath. Nobody feels 100% clean and fresh after spending hours at the airport or on a plane. But these passengers often seem oblivious to the fact that they smell awful. (At least it’s not embarrassing for them — just for the rest of us!)
13. Getting too drunk
Anybody can do something regrettable after one drink too many. But thanks to the dehydration caused by the cabin, far too many travelers seem to hit that threshold while in the air. Whether you get overly friendly and chatty when you’re inebriated or start pondering all the mistakes you’ve made in your life, you probably know better than to overindulge. But that guy across the aisle? He doesn’t seem to have gotten the message — and it’s way too late for anybody to get through to him. Maybe the flight attendants will start passing him glasses of water?
14. Hitting or kicking a fellow passenger
Space is a premium on most flights, so in an attempt to stretch their limbs, people often end up putting their hands and feet places they really shouldn’t. Sometimes, a passenger stretches his arms out, only to inadvertently punch somebody in the face. Other times, a traveler trying to stretch his legs ends up kicking or tripping somebody else in the cabin. Or, people end up pulling somebody’s hair when they pull on a seat back either to stand up or to move up the aisle. All of those situations are mortifying for everybody involved!
15. Sleeping while everybody else gets off the plane
Some people can sleep through anything. Yes, we really mean anything! Every once in a while, you’ll witness the rare passenger who’s in no hurry to move once the plane has landed. While everybody else is busy crowding into the aisle and pulling their bags down from the overhead bin, this passenger is sitting still. You steal a glance and realize that this person is still asleep! Whether they’re just a deep sleeper or took too many sleeping pills, you’ll never know. But you probably feel bad for the flight attendants who will have to wake this guy up once everyone else has disembarked.