World Travel

How to survive a horror flight

Shaney Hudson
How to survive a horror flight (Getty Images)
"The only thing worse than being stuck in the bulkhead with a bunch of screaming kids is being stuck with a parent who isn't prepared."
Shaney Hudson

Nothing can ruin a good holiday as much as a horror flight. From delays to lost baggage, or from the omnipresent screaming kids and bad food, there are endless ways a flight can go wrong. But don't fret — here are the situations and their solutions to help you survive a horror trip.

The talker

Situation: Sometimes you sit next to someone and enjoy a good conversation. And sometimes you sit next to someone who just won't shut up. As if you really care about their sister's husband's barber's lotion working to cure a blistering sore on her left pinky finger?

Variation: Being in the crossfire of a conversation between people sitting in different parts of the plane.

Solution: Pretending to sleep is not an option. Actually it is, but being super direct often works to deflect the verbal onslaught. Try, "It's been lovely talking to you. I'm going to settle down with my book/magazine/laptop/iPad now. Would you like to borrow some reading material?" You're polite, assertive and still, oh-so-generous.

The stinker

Situation: Just because you take care of your personal hygiene doesn't mean the person next to you also does. It might be the whiff of BO as they clip their seatbelt in, the stench from their breath, or the smell of their feet as they take their shoes off — but on flights longer than 90 minutes, the stinker is too much to stomach.

Variation: Sitting next to someone throwing up from motion sickness.

Solution: Politely offer a breath mint to the person next to you — and then ask them if they would mind putting their shoes back on. Scented aromatherapy travel sprays can mask most smells. If it really is that bad, get the flight attendant to move you to another seat.

The power tripper

Situation: An all too-common occurrence is the rude flight attendant. They'll roll their eyes, act like they're superior beings and tell you off if you happen to step on their invisible toes.

Variation: The equally rude passenger, for exactly the same reasons.

Solution: Sometimes it's better to take the high road, and kill someone nasty with kindness (I personally have fun with by pressing the 'zing' button for drink refills on long hauls over and over and over again). But in cases of genuine disrespect, ask to speak to a supervisor. Insist on an incident report, take names, and if it's a bad incident, collect names and email addresses from witnesses. Follow up as soon as possible.

Chances are you're just as likely to see an equally rude and aggressive passenger give a poor hostie a hard go. In this case, give a little moral support — a big smile and a thank you can really help a hostie (and in turn you can expect great service by being on their side).

The food

Situation: While it may not be as bad as in years past, lukewarm airline food can still be fairly rotten, and avoiding a bad meal isn't as simple as choosing either the chicken or fish.

Variation: Almost worse is the airline running out of food, or your specially ordered (vegetarian, low-carb, or diabetic) meal finding it into the wrong hands (i.e. not yours).

Solution: If you're flying on a budget airline, pack your own snacks and sandwiches. Most Australian airports have decent food halls. If you're going long haul, your best bet is to order a special meal, which is individually prepared, and often better. Protein bars are good as they will fill you up, while instant powder soups are also handy — particularly during delays.

The reclininator

Situation: Seat recliners. There's a cold place somewhere underground for greedy people who recline their seats all the way as soon as the landing gear comes up, thus physically trapping you.

Variation: People who stuff their bags underneath their seats and try to take your legroom.

Solution: Be polite. If it's absolutely unnecessary for them to recline, just ask if they could adjust their chair up a little to give you some space. If they're rude about it, feel free to squish as much lumpy crap into the seat pocket and proceed to press your knees into the back of their chair. Or be mature and scope out another seat.

The screamer

Situation: The only thing worse than being stuck in the bulkhead with a bunch of screaming kids is being stuck with a parent who isn't prepared to fly with children.

Variation: The arguing couple, or the "I've-had-it-up-to-here parent".

Solution: Don't blame the kid — their little ears are incredibly pressure-sensitive. Have a spare lolly or two to give to the parents. It will not only quiet the kid, but the swallowing action will help them equalise the pressure so changing pressure will hurt less (breastfeeding and dummies work the same wonder on newborns).

If you're flying with kids, bring snacks and noise-free new toys with you, and ration them out over the flight so the kids have something to keep them occupied. Please?

The missing baggage

Situation: Just when you think you've gotten away with a decent flight, your luggage doesn't show up on the carousel.

Variation: Bags are broken, damaged or something has been stolen.

Solution: Prevention. If you can, take just carry-on luggage. Make sure your bag is clearly labelled with your contact name and address, phone and email. Include this on the inside of the bag as well. In-flight, wear layered clothing you can stretch out to last for a few days. And take a spare pair of undies in your carry-on, especially if you're doing a long haul.

Be sure to register lost, stolen or damaged luggage with the airport and airline, write down the name and employee number of the baggage claim department personnel, and the date and time you spoke to them so you can follow up. Include all receipts to claim with the airline or your travel insurance for compensation.

Putting it all in context: the really really bad stuff

Situation: The real flight horror stories are a little more serious — the ones in which planes suddenly lose pressure or hit turbulence, or the engines give out, leading to emergency landings.

Solution: Wear a seatbelt at all times. Read the safety card. Pay attention to the safety briefing (have you ever noticed that 95 percent passengers don't? Odds are 100 percent of those people will wish they had when the plane starts losing altitude). And make a firm mental note of where the exits are. If you have to evacuate, listen to the cabin crew, stay calm, move fast, leave your bits and pieces and cabin baggage and bail out as soon as possible.

And remember: when you're up in the air, it's all about the destination, not the journey.

Have you got a bad flight experience to share? Let us know below.

User comments
I had a bad flight to Cairns once, threw up taking off, was fine during the flight, threw up again landing. (I was told it had something to do with the friction caused by the tyres on the tarmac). I felt really bad for the guy sitting behind me though, he managed to get through the take off, but went out in sympathy for me during the landing. If looks could kill, I would never have made it off the plane. Lol
Oh, it's silly to complain about people vomiting on flights. It's not their fault if they feel nauseous, and really in that situation they have a bigger problem. Man up.
The horrible child wouldn't stop screaming, yelling, kicking seats and we hadn't even finished boarding on a flight. The father tried to calm the child down and told the child he was heading for a smack. I don't condone violence, but I was getting in line with the other passengers to smack the horrible child. Then we heard the smack followed very quickly by lots of clapping from the passengers. Needless to say the child soon stopped the rotten child act. The best part was I realised I wasn't going home with this child and only had to tolerate his poor behaviour for the flight..........not forever.
Flying from Australia to NZ a woman with 4 noisey children took her shoes off. We were 4 rows away and the smell was over powering. The airline hostest was kind, polite and discrete to ask her to put her shoes on again as several passengers had made complaints. The woman with smelly feet, glared around trying to see who had complained and argued she had the right to be comfortable. With which she was informed she was not at home in front of the TV and she should put her shoes back on. (Really!! Don't other paying customers have the right to be comfortable too. It's not like we could open a window for fresh air. We are trapped in this room with you.)
I have flown around the world to many places and one thing I have learned, There will always be those who don't care about the travellers around them, so get over it!!! Security, well how would you feel if the aircraft you were on was used to fly into a skyscraper ???? Again, get over it... Luke warm food... Ok, now this is irritating However, How about you try serving 300 people in a cramped cabin from a trolley which weighs god knows how much and only carries 20 meals.!!!!Navigating around luggage left in the aisles, elbows and feet poking out and if course, those among us who have to argue about something if not everything.. If a passenger is irritating you, TELL THEM Politely, if they smell, TELL THEM!! Dont be aggressive but there's nothing wrong with being assertive!!!! I have flown with several airlines and in the end, I have reached my destination, in one piece !!! Isn't that enough !!!!!
The flight was okay, the food was tasty, but we couldn't understand why, when we arrived in Melbourne after 3 hours in the air we all had to wait in line to have our hand luggage scanned along with our person?. Sure,,collectively we may have been able to build a bomb on the way over from Kalgoorlie except that before we boarded all of our bomb making equipment was confiscated when we went through the scanners before departure! LOL
I fly the small regional planes frequently. No space, no snack, daggy and crowded departure lounge, a ten mile hike (by bus) on the tarmac to the plane and endless delays as we are bumped off the schedule for larger planes. All this for double (or tripple) the price of your city-slicker ticket!
My sister, mother and I flew Jetstar to Cairns on 7th October, we booked and paid online for front row seats (we paid extra for the convenience) it said on their website that in the case of emergency we would have to look after ourselves which was fine by us otherwise we would not have booked them. When it came time to board the glorified waitress told us we could not have the seats we had paid for as in the case of emergency we would be required to assist cabin crew, rubbish!! she wanted our seats for her friends. People were held up from boarding as she continued to say we would have to be moved, why pay for something you can't have just because she has friends on the same fllight!
On the way back from Malaysia with Air Asia ( NEVER AGAIN) i had the whole 3 seats to my self, so i thought great i can sleep for once. Half way home to Melbourne, they put a young couple to sit near me... I wasn't impressed about half an hour the young guy sitting next to me started to vomit in the bag... I have a very sensitive i had to turn away other wise i would of joined him as well.. This is not fair he vomited all the way to Melbourne of and on.... By this stage i wasn't happy why didn't they leave him where he was why near me.... Then to top it of a baby had a pooy nappy and the mother was changing it in the toilet u can smell it.... I thought never again will i fly with them again... I was happy on my own they should give me a free trip back to Malaysia first class Mmmmm...............
A 'No Smoking' sign does NOT mean 'a scary old plane'. NS signs are required by law, even the newest A380 aircraft have No Smoking signs. A lot of people are too scared to ask the passengers around to stop doing whatever it is that's annoying them, and get the flight crew to intervene. Honestly I feel like a school teacher sometimes. We're really busy doing the service & looking after everyone, endless calls to mediate fights over seat reclining is the last thing we need on a full flight. By all means call us if you have no luck but try to sort it out like adults first! If you want more ideas than are covered here, visit my travel blog