Airplane Etiquette: Seven Deadly Sins of Air Travel Passengers

Pigs on a plane? That's how some people act while flying. Some.

Not most of us or even many of us, but those who do (and you know who you are) are no picnic for the rest of us. Especially if we have to sit next to you.

This is not about terrorism -- or even the truly nutty things passengers try to pull, like the fellow who recently packed a couple of snakes in his luggage before his flight out of Dulles (TSA officers relieved him of his precious cargo ... very gingerly).

I'm talking about everyday bad behavior, everyday etiquette lapses, everyday sins. Although I suppose the item about "human heads on a plane " is a tiny bit out of the ordinary.

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No. 1: Heads Will Roll

The Sin: Improper Packing

That story about the

human heads found on a Southwest plane was just gruesome (but admit it, you read it). The problem? Improper packing (the heads were mislabeled and wrapped with lots of duct tape).

But improper packing isn't just the bane of body part shippers; it can turn normally mild mannered passengers into Bin Hogs (see No. 4); worse, it can cost you big money in bag fees.

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Proper packing -- in a carry-on -- can save a family of four $200 on a single flight. The trick is to pack light: wear your sneakers or good shoes and put the flip flops in the carry-on and don't overestimate the amount of clothes you need. And remember, hotels can probably do your laundry or dry-cleaning a lot more cheaply than what you'd pay for a bag fee or the very steep overweight luggage fee.

No. 2: Flight Attendants Can Help and Hurt You

The Sin: Rudeness to the Cabin Crew

For this one, I turned to Martha Stewardess. Don't let her funny blog fool you: She's a real flight attendant and a complete pro in the air.

It doesn't take much to make Martha happy: "A 'thank you' from a passenger is like hitting the lottery! Not the Mega, but maybe a $5 scratch-off."

Recently, Martha noticed one of the passengers asking a gate agent to let her back on the plane to search for a missing cell phone, but the agent said no (a crew escort is required). Martha was off the clock at this point, and could have kept walking but turned around to help the woman because she was a "nice" passenger.

And what about the fellow in first class who threw a fit because Martha didn't have his choice of entree? "I knew everyone was listening, so I calmly stated, 'Sir, I said we were out of chicken, not we've lost power in both engines.'" He didn't laugh, but everyone else did. Zing.

No. 3: Suck It Up

The Sin: Yelling on the Plane

It's bad enough when kids scream on planes, but they're kids. What can you do? However, I draw the line at grown-ups screaming on planes.

Examples: the distraught man repeatedly yelling at the top of his lungs, "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!" as two kindly business travelers try in vain to calm him down. Please, if you're that fearful of flying, why get on the plane?

Then there was the angry screamer who created such a disturbance on a Southwest flight that the cops came and took him off. Everyone applauded, especially after one of the weary cops turned to the passengers and said, "I'm coming with you!"

How do I know about these screamers? Video of them is all over the Internet. If you don't want to be a YouTube star, behave yourself.

No. 4: Oinkers at the Bin Trough

The Sin: Abuse of Bin Space

So many transgressions: bin hogs who put their bags in the first empty bins they see, whether near their seats or not; jerks who pull your carefully folded blazer out of the bin to make room for their stuff, then crumple it in a ball and smash it back in; or those who jam too-big bags in too-small bins, confident a flight attendant will check it -- at no charge.

What do I hate most about this? The time it takes for these idiots to get their bags squared away -- time that could be better spent getting to our destination as scheduled.

No. 5: Overflow Outrage

The Sin: Abuse of Seat Space

As I've said before, I'm a big guy, but there are big guys and there are huge guys (and gals). By "huge," I mean people whose excess avoirdupois "overflows" into other passengers' space. Rule of thumb: If you're sitting in an aisle seat and the beverage cart can't get past you, there's a problem (and there's a picture of it, too).

Personally, I don't care if you're fat or thin. My friends come in all shapes and sizes, but space is tight enough on a plane as it is, and if you need two seats, buy them.

No. 6: We Don't Need No Stinkin' Feet

The Sin: Bare Feet on Seats and in the Aisles

I have no problem if you like to sit in your seat and wiggle your toes in all their bare splendor; my wife indulges in this habit, and I'm all for comfort.

What I hate seeing is bare feet against seatbacks, or worse, on an armrest. The biggest "sinners" are those whose toes haven't seen soap in awhile (yes, people get tossed off planes for "odor" issues; it happened on an Air Canada Jazz flight earlier this year).

Over at the Jetiquette site, they have a report complete with "undercover video" of people sans shoes and socks, waiting their turn to use the lavatory. Yuck.

No. 7: No Drool Zone

The Sin: Sleeping on Seatmates

This happens to the best of us, I'm afraid. You nod off and get poked awake by an angry seatmate who's tired of being used as a pillow. All I can say is: Try not to drool.

And if you don't have a seatmate, don't get too complacent; a woman aboard a United Express plane last month didn't wake up when the aircraft landed, and was left all alone on the plane, snoozing away for four hours.

For her sake, I hope she wasn't charged a nap fee.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.