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UPDATE: The worst thing about flying? You

UPDATE: The worst thing about flying? You

08/29/2014

By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Airlines get a bad rap from customers over delayed flights, high prices and baggage fees. But a passenger's biggest enemy may be other passengers.

The latest high-profile contretemps concerning warring passengers happened earlier this week when a United Airlines (UAL) Boeing 737 flying from Newark, N.J., to Denver made an unscheduled stop at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. According to press reports, one male passenger had a "Knee Defender," a device that prevents the person in front of you from reclining their seat to take 40 winks. In retaliation, the woman who had been blocked from reclining threw a glass of water on him. A tussle ensued and the plane changed course and landed. No one was arrested. (Added irony? The passengers were sitting in the "Economy Plus" section, which gives them more legroom than many other passengers on the plane.)

Gone are the days when people sip a martini and make polite conversation about the weather and people's health. All niceties are forgotten at 40,000 feet. On Wednesday, two women were arrested after a Sunwing flight from Toronto to Cuba turned back after two women drank their duty-free alcohol and lit a cigarette, setting off a smoke alarm. The airline said the passengers then got into an altercation with each other and made a threat against the aircraft, which was not considered credible, given their inebriated condition. They were arrested at Pearson International Airport when the plane landed.

Low-budget airlines experience their fair share of bad behavior. Last month, an intoxicated passenger on a Ryanair (RYAAY) flight from Poland to Ireland attempted to open the emergency door, mistaking it for the door to the restroom. He pleaded guilty in a Dublin court to being intoxicated on an aircraft and acting in a threatening manner, and was fined $200. In June, a man was fined GBP178 ($295) in a London court for urinating on the floor of a Ryanair aircraft in March; he changed clothes when the flight landing, hoping to avoid detection. He was part of a family of 11, which had brought their own cans of Guinness onboard. Another member of the family ran through the aisle and tumbled on top of another traveler. (At least no one was reclining. Seats on Ryanair planes are bolted upright.)

What's wrong with everyone?

Air travel has lost any glamour and for those of us in economy the airplane has become a city bus in the sky. Many passengers are frazzled by the time they take their seats, says Pamela Eyring, president of The Protocol School of Washington in D.C. Jet lag, exhaustion after a long and stressful vacation, lack of adequate leg room and bad food make people grouchy. "Airplane travel is not pleasurable unless you're in business class," Eyring says. "We get panicky and do bad things. Also, drinking doesn't help matters much. If you've been sitting in the airport bar for two hours before getting on the plane, you could easily be turned off by another passenger."

The biggest violators of airplane etiquette are inattentive parents (rated as offensive by 41% of people), according to the "2013 Airplane Etiquette Study" by travel firm Expedia. This was followed by rear-seat kickers (38%), passengers with poor hygiene (28%), "boozers" (26%) and "Chatty Cathys" (23%). The seat switcher was last with just 5% of the vote. What's more, 10% of respondents report having had some kind of sexual relations on a plane. And nearly half of passengers say they'd pay extra for a quiet zone.

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