World Travel

Who are the worst people to sit next to on a plane?

David Wilson
man trapped between two fat people on a plane
Why is it always me?
The distributors of data-mining service Satisfly claim their system has the capacity to seat flyers in an "intelligent" way. That means passengers should wind up sitting next to people they're compatible with. Still, most of us must take pot luck and lump it. David Wilson nails nine types of flyers who are horrible to have on the other side of the armrest. Here, meet the nuisance neighbours direly short on any sense of "seatmate etiquette", who make you ache for an upgrade.

Jetlag zombie

This drooling, red-eyed long-haul flyer looks like a creature from another planet and has crossed countless time zones. Emerging from a valium fog, the zombie takes a leak then sinks back into a trance. Agonisingly slowly, the zombie's body then sags until his head looks set to rest on your shoulder. Again, with a jolt he awakes, arresting the slide. So far, so unnerving. Beware! If you, too, lose consciousness, you may wake with a shriek in the zombie's arms.

Giant bikie

This goateed hulk, bursting out of a leather waistcoat cranks his MP3 player full-blast, sharing the noise generated by some brutal death-metal band like Severe Torture or Extreme Noise Terror. Chords swell and crash like the waves on rocks. Instead of asking the bikie to turn the music down, you may feel inclined to opt for diplomacy — focus on not invading his space. Hell, let him occupy the entire armrest with his mammoth inked forearm. Hey, why not let him take some extra legroom, too?


At first, this fellow traveller appears nice enough. But soon she exerts about as much charm as the icy lettuce you're prodding with your fork. What dark forces drive her to cover every angle of her personal life in mind-numbing detail? You begin to hate the self-obsessed train wreck, and feel even worse precisely because she has so many issues ranging from a chronic sex-with-the-ex habit to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Uhuh, uhuh. Shut ... Up!


Deaf to niceties such as rapport or interest, and about as much fun as a flight phobia sufferer, this oily bigmouth strives to overawe rivals and bulldoze the defences of the nearest available female with a charm offensive. Resistance is useless. Try to, er, join in and the charmer just kicks up a gear, talks over the top. The total absence of "jetiquette" triggers stress — especially if you are female and suspect that he wants to have sex with you. Which he does.

Brat mum

Glued to a movie, this trackie daks-clad cattle-class monster chomps chips while her ADHD darlings cause chaos. One screams at a volume appropriate to a disaster, such as the engine failing or a propeller sailing away, and when the mood takes him, the other brat sets out on expeditions to bash fellow toddlers. The result: more screaming audible above your own noise-cancelling headphones. Adding to the awfulness, you feel bad about your fantasies of strangling all three.

Confrontational drunk

Swamped in a blanket, this frazzled stranger with the skewed tie and fiery eyes has been drinking since 5am. Still grimly necking caffeinated cocktails, he looks ready to erupt from his cramped seat at the drop of an in-flight pillow. Instead, he guzzles a handful of prescription pills before groping one flight attendant and grappling another. The mayhem mounts. Soon, the drunk will be cuffed and cowed. Meanwhile, you try not to panic. Remember there are worse things than air rage; you could be caught in a hijack or witness someone go nuts and defecate in a food cart, which has reportedly happened.


Quite why this high-maintenance neighbour chose the window seat is a mystery on a par with how the bumblebee defies physics to fly. The fidget is afflicted by a constant itch to rise and stretch those restless legs or go to the toilet. If only the fidget would stay there — or camp in the aisle.


Forget over-the-counter motion-sickness medication. This passenger has something more serious. SARS, dengue fever, yellow fever ... What could it be? The nauseous wreck twists the air-con nozzle in his direction and breathes hard, his dimly lit livid face bathed in perspiration. His disarray brings to mind the saying that the bad times are when you feel so sick you fear you will die, but the worst times are when you fear you will not.

Wet blanket

Often an expat embedded at the destination, the wet blanket has been there, done that, got the T-shirt, then turned it into a dish rag. Now, the wet blanket is on a mission to spell out every failing of the resort that looked so luscious in the brochure, which neglected to mention all the touts and tarts. This neighbour's influence sours your enthusiasm and raises the issue of whether it would have been better to stay home. But you're stranded.

Who's the worst person you've ever sat next to on a plane, bus or train? Have your say using the comments form below.

What are the top 25 worst things about flying? View our gallery below!

User comments
I agree with bopz but somepeople can be very annoying on planes
DANCER. yeaahhh.. i call him a seat dancer.. i experienced it when i was in a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Abu Dhabi. He was dancing and moving his hand up and down ( maybe arabic or punjab dance i dont know) but yeah, i tried to be widely open just to ignore the guy and try to sleep,. but i cant,... for almost 2 hours.. i was end up sitting with the steward and stewardess and had my conversation with them.. well. at least i got the chances to hear what's their experiences in flying all days.
I had a long haul flight from UK to OZ. My luggage was overweight as I had been with a group booking on the way over. The woman checking me in was something else. She made such a big deal about it. I was forced to empty my luggage and reduce it to a certain weight. I threw the extras in the bin. I then had to reduce my hand luggage to one bag. All the time she was complaining about me to her co workers. When I eventually boarded the plane, she had seated me in the middle seat of a bulkhead with a man on either side of me. I had no leg room and my seat didn't recline at all. I was stuck there for the entire flight. It was awful and it turned a wonderful holiday into a misery. Be very, very nice to the person who checks you in and request a seat if you can.
I know parents find it difficult to stop children screaming and I feel sorry for them, but it is a horror flight for passengers. Last trip one child exercised his lungs so loudly that I was unable to hear what the passenger sitting next to me was talking about. I had to get up quite close, but only for a second as his bad breath was absolutely sickening. I was glad I had my poor hearing as an excuse to stop the conversation.
The long haul flight when your stuck between the male manic in the window seat who resembles a Mexican Jumping Bean, and the male drunk whose head keeps tipping your way while he sleeps and drooles,and that's before he vomits in your lap. And that's just in the first 2 hours of the flight. By the 5th hour the flight crew were calling for medical assistance. The 6th hour was spent keeping the Business Class passenger who had the Heart Attack alive and using the AED multiple times. Hour 7 was spent diverting to Hawaii for emergency medical treatment. This added 3 hours to the flight.....and I thought that they would have at least allowed me to stay in the now unoccupied Business Class seat, no such luck. Back to cattle class for me with the worst two men on the planet (who had taken over my seat while I was otherwise occupied), still had their very obvious issues and remained obnoxious. And no thanks from anyone...although I did get a set of theatre scrubs from the ambo's. Ta.
Worst are always the long flights... i always seem to get a bunch of chinese couples, where they lay their chairs down as far as they can go ..even when your eating... I have finally worked out what to do.. asK they flight attendant for another seat and they soon fix the problem up. EVERY TIME!!.
My most recent flight to Wellington experienced a man in the seat in front that kept breaking wind on the sly EXCEPT for the rotten smell. It happened regularly for the first hour until I couldnt take it anymore and said "For God Sake. Cant you go to the bathroom and do that??. I mean, its been going on the whole flight" . Fortunately the plane was almost empty - we all had a row to ourselves so the air hostess came and moved me to the front of the plane away from him and the problem for me was solved. I can understand if something needs to pass wind but they really need to do it in the toilet.
Was years ago flying home from Heathrow to Sydney. First trip abroad and very young and alone and got lost driving rental car back to Airport and made me late for check in. Had run out of money and had kilos of excess baggage that I got through without paying a pound - had run completely out of money and needed to board that flight. British Airways drove me on a baggage cart down to the flight with my bags and got me on to the plane that was waiting just for me. Had a few p'd off glances on boarding and my seat had been given to a stand by passenger who refused to move. I was happy just to be going home and didnt put up a fuss and sat on a hostie seat until airborne. Then because the plane was full in economy they had to transfer me up to First Class and I travelled the 30 plus hour flight home in style - the standby passenger was kicking himself because if he hadnt been such an a hole it would have been him and he knew it, lol,
My worst trip ever was flying back from Melbourne to Sydney on a Friday night the week before Christmas. The plane was jam packed due to the earlier flight being cancelled and everyone crammed their luggage into the overheads leaving no room for genuine carry on gear. I was in the back row so no reclining for me and stuck in middle seat between two huge men who forced my shoulders in and forwards awkwardly only to have the stupid woman infront recline her seat back all the way til I felt compelled to spend the hour long trip standing outside the toilet. My second worst experience is the kid sitting behind kicking or knocking the back of my seat the whole way. Why arent they on a train??? Now I go on exit doors.
Well I had the flight from hell. 10 hours flying from Honolulu sat next to the most stupidist mother ever. Talk about worse parenting skills. Her 22 month old slept for one hour and then screamed for 8 hours. The mother got totally drunk and the father sat in Busines class. The child would go the father, the father would bring the child back to the mother and scream more. My ears were hurting, i turned the volume up loud as i could, which still didnt help. Landed in sydney child still screaming, went to collect bagge eeech his still screaming. Just a bad bad bad trip.