Fourteen People You Sit Next to On Airplanes

1. Guy who helpfully shows you Yelp reviews of his top fifteen favorite restaurants in your destination city on his phone, one by one, as the plane taxis for 45 minutes

2. Couple who lovingly feed each other Sbarro

3. Person visibly scared of planes, ends up needing some sort of physical contact with you during takeoff and landing

4. Jehovah’s Witness, fully equipped with intense religious reading material

5. Dude straight up perusing Playboy

6. Person constantly applying ointment of some kind to open, weeping sores

7. Middle aged man who is very enthusiastic about buying you drinks from the alcohol cart even though his wife is also present?

8. Person who is extremely unfamiliar with how planes work, requires your assistance with basic use of seatbelts and understanding of concepts like “time zones” and/or “not joking about bombs”

9. Person who knows someone who went to the same college as you, and whose astonishment at this coincidence lasts the entire flight, even while you fake unconsciousness

10. Person clearly irritated that they are not seated next to their traveling companion who is elsewhere on the plane, openly blames it on you

11. Person who is asleep before the plane even leaves the gate, obviously has really good plane drugs and is not sharing them

12. Person who broke up with someone immediately before leaving on this flight, possibly inside the airport, aka “crier”

13. Returning study abroad student who does not know what day or time it is but has a lot to tell you about their trip to Amsterdam

14. Person who has seen a lot of episodes of 24


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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. ’12. Person who broke up with someone immediately before leaving on this flight, possibly inside the airport, aka “crier”‘

    I have been this person. It is horrible being this person. Have compassion for this person. If you were on a long flight away from someone you were in love with, knowing you might never see them again, you would probably cry too. This person never probably thought they would be that person, and is desperately embarrassed but still can’t stop crying :p

    One I was on a flight and sat next to a guy with shiny white hair and a flashy suit who had started his own evangelical church, told me that I could be a born again virgin if only I accepted Jesus into my heart, then tried to convince me to buy weight loss dietary supplements which he had imported from America. He had an accent like Crocodile Dundee. It was kind of surreal.

    P.S. Also, smug lady at Sydney airport who said snide things about my crying after we touched down and I found out my luggage had been lost somewhere between Europe and Australia, it is much easier to be smug when your husband is next to you and your suitcase is in your hand. Not that I am bitter or anything.

        • Yeah, I got to sit alone on a greyhound bus because of my uncontrollable sobbing once (and also because I was wearing really punk clothes and had blue hair and a spiked dog collar on at the time). It actually was kind of cool, since the reason I was crying was because I was reading ‘The Amber Spyglass’ and got to that one part with Lee Scorsby and then again at the end.

          It’s a little embarrassing crying in public over a book, but hey! Seat to myself on a long, LONG bus ride!

          • I love the Amber Spyglass. LOVE it.

            If I saw someone with blue hair moved to tears by the Amber Spyglass, I would probably overcome my extreme awkardness and hit on them. And then I would be super creepy, because I would be hitting on a crying person.

          • No, that’s cool. I would totally have been into it then!

            Besides, there’s no way you could have been even half as creepy as the guy who hit on me on the bus ride back two weeks later. He kept trying to convince me to go to Las Vegas with him and get married because he supposedly had a dream once where he met his wife on a bus and in the dream her name was Amber (the totally fake name I gave him because I don’t give creepy guys my real name).

      • I’ve definitely been a multiple account crier on buses and planes (you’ve got all these emotions and nothing to do but sit by yourself and think about ’em so i mean whadya gonna do about it?). I find it helps to squish your face into the window (yes it will be dirty, sacrifice your hygiene concerns) and put on your hood (if you don’t have one, i suggest trying to find one). Just try to keep your emotions in check as best as possible (i once cheated on being vegetarian with emotionally purchased arby’s when lucky star decided 1) we needed to stop there and 2) it was somehow safe to let me off the bus in my puffy-eyed state.)

        • Roxy, I believe you have hit on the explanation for the lesbian hoodie phenomenon described by Effing Dykes – . It is so we can look tough while hiding from the world the fact we are generally weeping because of all. the. feelings.

          Sorry about veggie cheating ): be kind to yourself, I think moments of weakness are pretty normal when heartbroken in a confined space for an extended amount of time.

        • You should be careful with the veggie cheating, if it’s been some time since you’ve eaten meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for about 13 years now and every now and then I’ll accidentally eat a bit of meat (usually when someone sneaks is into my food, the assholes) and I end up with violent stomach cramps. Wouldn’t want to make your awful mood worse with horrible stomach pain!

      • I cried on BART once because I had to get away from my girlfriend of the time who was being an asshole and wanted to go out to dinner even though my uncle just died. But no one cares if you cry on BART. I once saw a homeless man make it rain over and over with 5 singles then snort lines of crack from the cloth seats. So, there’s other focuses for attention on the train.

  2. Have experienced 10, and eventually exchanged seats with their companion just to make it stop. Sadly, I am number six; trust me, I don’t like the ongoing skin condition any more than you do. Pretty handy for those Jehovah’s Witnesses though.

  3. I’m number 11, but not because of deugs. My brain just knows that if I’m awake during takeoff or landing I’ll freak out so I shut down the moment I sit. Also I always forget to pack ahead of time and end up staying up all night.

  4. Number two was a cute lesbian couple but goddamn, I WAS HUNGRY AND WANTED SOME OF THAT PIZZA AND THEM (they were also a VERY attractive cute lesbian couple).

    It was a nice visual flight until my sister was like “EWW YOU ARE ACTING LIKE THE STRAIGHT GUYS YOU HATE.”

    But I was like “Heyheyheyheyheyhey…hey, I am not in their face asking them all kinds of rude questions. I am just admiring from seat 23E enjoying the view”

    She was cranky because she was jealous of number 11 because she had not slept well for some time due to final exam stress and as a person who cannot sleep on planes/cars/etc.

    • This totally happened to me in one of those teeny tiny planes during the first leg of an international flight.

      Thankfully, there was a really nice pharmacist at the first stop who got me some dramamine & so I promptly became number 11.

    • i simply cant let a home for the holidays reference go unnoticed and unacknowledged. a tip of the hat to you, laneia. i think of that lady anytime anyone puts salt on anything. also, “hey little brother, its your big bad sister. where are you?” is a standard greeting.

  5. 18. Person who is fresh out of jail/some sort of rehab program for sex offenders who takes this opportunity to detail every aspect of his experience in the criminal justice system of California, from courts to social workers to correctional institutions. And who also happens to be a 6.

  6. Can I hereby publicly apologize and redeem myself for that one time where I and three fellow campers returned from a summer camp abroad and we spent the entire 1,5 hour long flight singing camp songs ? Because I have the sneaking suspicion that that behavior will land me a snug space in a particular plane-related layer of hell if I don’t apologize now.

  7. Sweet German woman who is flying to the states to visit her boyfriend in the American army, with a giant backpack full of German chocolates, which she shares with you! and commiserates with you about long-distance relationships. awwww. best flight ever

  8. men who hit on children. I flew a lot as an unaccompanied minor and the stewards were always moving me around after some strange old man wouldn’t leave me alone and ignored his own wife and children. fuck that.
    also the people that get pissed off when you put your seat back.

  9. I am the “(11) Person who is asleep before the plane even leaves the gate, obviously has really good plane drugs and is not sharing them”
    except that it’s the cabin pressure that knocks me out and not drugs. It’s amusing to wake up to looks of horror because of turbulence and then to just fall back asleep only to wake up at the end of the flight to more looks of horror but this time directed toward you because you slept through it all.

    • I was once sleeping through awful, terrifying turbulence (the flight attendants kept mumbling, “This is so /odd/, this shouldn’t be happening…”), and my girlfriend literally shook me awake and said, “I just thought it wasn’t fair that you got to sleep through it.”

      Needless to say I have since broken up with her

  10. Paranoid person, usually an older white guy, asking you where you’re from when what they really want to know is what is your ethnicity and somehow figure out the probability you’re a terrorist. Cue unexpected answer and awkward 15 minutes until he or she gets the courage to ask another question, often reworded with the same goal in mind.

    • that’s way freaky. glad you survived. on the greyhound i rode last week the guy next to me read me stories from the police log he stole while blacked out on the beach the night before. he also told me how to make coconut rum + kaluah pancakes. i miss that guy. on the ride back the guy i sat next to fell asleep on me. oh greyhound.

  11. Here’s another – person that wants to make small talk and complain about tiny stuff, also they have the solution to all the problems. “I mean, if they just packed the bags in like THIS they could fit more in!” “You know, they could really get all the people off the plane faster if they did THIS.”

    I’ve been number 11 a few times, but it’s more like “person who is asleep before the plane even leaves the gate because her and her sister got really drunk before getting on the plane and passed out.”

  12. I’ve been 13 sitting next to 4, except I’ve never felt the need to tell a stranger anything on a plane and the guy was Mormon coming back from a mission. I decided to watch The Kids Are All Right on the seat back TV.

  13. i am surprised that ive not had more horrible seat mates, considering i have been on multiple flights upwards of 24 hours (NOT counting the stopover time).

    although. once i had my girlfriend drop me off at the airport in the morning barely before my flight left. we had held a 2 night house party at my parents house and i hadnt slept since friday (it was sunday at 11 am). i had glitter falling all down my face, club stamps i didnt remember, deep teeth marks on my collarbones, horrific hickeys, ‘scarf marks’ on my wrists, pretty sure my curls were turning into dreads at this point, i was wearing short shorts and an oversized salmon mens dress shirt, i probably reeked of alcohol and various other substances, and i was still drunk which turned into hungover during the 7 hour flight.

    JUST MY LUCK, i was sitting inbetween 2 fraternity boys both around my age. who stared at me (in some sort of awe? confusion? repulsion?) and tried to hit on me/understand what kind of weekend i had had for the entire flight. as i tried to remove leftover make up from my face and/or not vomit.

    it was even more fun when my family picked me up on the other end.

  14. I ended up next to a disabled evangelical woman on my last trans atlantic flight. Apparently the flight attendants forgot about her and I ended up doing everything for her- buckling her seatbelt, moving the folding tray, cutting her food, moving her footrests, etc. I felt like a hired aide, but what am I going to do, put my earphones on and ignore someone who needs help? Even if that person was spouting Bible verses and talking about the divinity of jesus the whole time. I looked up her mission and apparently its a cult according to rick ross. lovely.

    TLDR I need better flying drugs.

  15. I, too, have been the crier. But it makes me so embarrassed, I try to wear hats… Also, what about the person sitting next to you who hasn’t showered in way too long and who is so big they not only take up the whole arm rest, but they spill over into your seat and you have to touch them your whole flight.

  16. Halfway through a flight to Vegas the middle age couple seated next to me, started heavily making out, in a very hands on kind of way. I did my best to awkwardly ignore what had quickly become my very own personal hell, when the guy accidentally mistook my leg for his wife’s. I shrieked and as my body violently recoiled, I slammed my head into the window.

  17. Guy in the seat behind you on a transatlantic flight who says yes when the flight attendant asks if he ordered a vegetarian meal, eats half of your vegetarian meal by the time the flight attendant moves up to your row (leaving you to pick gross airline chicken out of the weird eggplant pasta because that was the last veg meal), and then yells at the flight attendant for giving him a meal with no meat in it.

    On the plus side, my actual seatmate was this badass grandma who taught me how to sneakily get them to give you extra food, so I still ate pretty well that flight. :D

  18. there was this one time my friend and i were on a flight to japan and the flight attendant was super excited for us for some reason and kept giving us free sake (which really helped us navigate the foreign streets once we landed…).

    there was also our flight that was delayed in puerto rico for >5 hrs so everyone got drunk and once we finally got on the plane, we were delayed further as people started puking.

    flying+alcohol=always interesting

  19. I was #12 and #13 simultaneously. The 12 hour flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles is a very long time to cry and tell the high school kids sitting next to me that they should never fall in love, while clutching my ratty childhood stuffed lamb and drinking all the alcohol I could get my hands on.

    Worst flight ever.

  20. KLM does this roundtrip Amsterdam – Saint Martin – Curacao – Amsterdam. The plane was cleaned in Saint Martin before we were allowed on board and then in Curacao we were chased off the plane because it had to be cleaned again. We hung around on the tarmac which freaked out security, ditto behind a fence. So onward through security check into a small hot transit lounge with no escape and little to do for an hour. Than back through security and on the plane.
    I hate these stopovers.

    Otherwise, I seem to end up close to a door and, thus, crying babies.
    Fun landing / takeoff: Saba, very short strip with sea before and after…..

  21. I fly pretty often.

    19. Moms with babies on their laps that cry, cry, cry. I feel no anger towards a helpless baby, but I do rage in my mind against the mom IF she doesn’t try to console the baby at all, engage with it a little at least.

    20. Lady who brought her cat on the plane under the seat (cross-country flight, and her second flight of the day with the first being international)…the lady was nice, but I just wanted to give that poor animal some cat benzos or something.

    21. Sitting in the middle seat and the people on both sides of you are a bit overweight or just totally selfish with the armchairs and those seats are already pretty small. Also the person with the window seat will probably wake you up as soon as you fall asleep so he can go use the bathroom a couple times. I try to always get aisle seats myself.

    22. Nobody! Half-empty flight and you can recline your chair all the way without feeling like an asshole! And put your bag in the seat next to you! And sometimes the flight attendants give you 2 packages of cookies (Biscoff from Delta is what’s up).

  22. What about the person with terrible indigestion who farts really bad-smelling farts the whole time? Especially if you’re in the window seat and they’re on the aisle seat, so you can’t even lean into the aisle to breathe.

  23. Flying is one of those times it’s awesome to be black because generally people will leave you alone. Especially when you get to pick your own seats and the flight isn’t full. I’m number 11 without the use of drugs. Pure skill. I’ve also mastered waking up just as attendants approach with snacks and drinks. Then right back to sleep once I’m done. I do offer lessons in the art of plane flying in case anyone is interested.

  24. I definitely got #3 a few years back. The other passenger in the row and I had to spend the entire flight reassuring her that everything was fine.
    It was her first flight though, and I generally enjoy helping people, so I didn’t mind talking her through it.

  25. You’re forgetting:

    -Guy in baseball hat and sweats (who sometimes trades the sweats for blazers and nice-ish pants) who was clearly in a fraternity in another life.

    -Single mothers (or couples) with babies who feel the need to change their babies’ diapers in public, with no regard for the 2 other people in the row.

    -Technology-obsessed passengers

  26. Also I seem to have a habit of getting hit in the head with the food cart right when I’m about to fall asleep. (This happened on a flight from Chicago to London some years ago.)

    But that’s balanced out by my ability (which led to jealousy in my brother and my friends) to get additional cookies before Midwest sold their souls to Frontier.

  27. On the way there I made the huge mistake of telling the guy next to me I was gay when he asked if I had a boyfriend. We were on a flight to Chicago. (MY ADVICE: NEVER REVEAL YOU’RE GAY TO A STRANGER ON AN AEROPLANE/COACH etc I learned the hard way). The 30 something yr old dude then spent the next 20 mins telling me that being gay is 100% socially influenced and I didn’t realize that our voices had raised until some woman asked us to tone it down. (PASSENGERS I AM SO SORRY cause I hate loud people on planes,too)

    On the way back the guy next to me started having severe chest pains and they had to call for medically trained people over the system. This wonderful lady came and then the whole plane was staring and even though I knew before that it’s rude to stare when people are receiving medical care, are injured etc it wasn’t until that incident that I realized how it must feel. All I could think was, ‘People, please, the only people who need to be staring at this guy right are the people trying to help him.’ I had 30 mins to change flights but luckily we were back in the States so it didn’t take too long. We had to wait for paramedics to escort the poor guy off the plane before we could disembark.

    I’m always afraid of having to travel after being dumped and then being embarrassed. Heck, I was almost crying the other day when I was having lunch (by myself) cause I missed my girlfriend even though I’d seen her the day before and was going to see her the next day. She’s my first love so it’s all still really new to me.

  28. I foresee number 13 in my future. I apologize in advance to any Autostraddlers that I wind up sitting next to and irritating with constant exclamations. Although sitting next to some cute queer ladyperson would be a nice change, usually I’m next to people that fall asleep on my shoulder.

    Once someone I know sat next to a mail order bride from Ukraine on a plane.

  29. >3. Person visibly scared of planes, ends up needing some sort of physical contact with you during takeoff and landing

    I thought you’d get I was hitting on you ;_;

    >12. Person who broke up with someone immediately before leaving on this flight, possibly inside the airport, aka “crier”

    But seriously this sucks :(

  30. My worst experience on a flight involved this father who kept like, roaring and smacking/pinching his crying child who was afraid of flying and it pretty much held the entire flight hostage for all of take off until a women behind him unfroze and got angry with him. He was in the front and we were in the back of the plane, and this guy was so loud it silenced the entiiire flight, it was totally terrifying. (Aer Lingus)

    My favourite airline is SAS, one time my sister (she was flying alone) had a panic attack and a flight attendant held her and sang her Danish folk songs to calm her down. Domestic Lufthansa flights are awesome because they give you chocolate bars instead of nuts or those little cracker things with the drinks. I forgot to tell them I had a gluten intolerance and an attendant gave me her own home made meal which happened to be gluten free, they’re so amiable and have a nice personal touch.

    I’m the really irritating traveler who, even if I’m not in a hurry, acts like I’m in a hurry. I just want to get where I’m going and be left alone. I have a system and a routine to my traveling and I don’t want the people around me to get in the way of them. That has to be on the list, I feel like there are a lot of people like that.

  31. I used to be a #4, and there is a list similar to this for them too, but it’s much shorter. For Jehovah’s Witness (or as I call them “JoHos”)there are 3 kinds of people they sit next to on planes:

    1) People who take their literature
    2) People who do not take their literature
    3) People who burn their literature

    So, just so you know, there is forrealz an unofficial airport etiquette for JoHos.

    Because all JoHos have to do ministry (they turn in time sheets to the JoHo world headquarters every month), when they fly, a LOT of JoHos will take some literature along so that they can have several random conversations with kiosk operators, stewards, and any passenger without earbuds in to rack up a solid few hours of time to turn in.

    You can tell a lot about the particular JoHo that you’re with by the literature they offer, which is important to know, if you do happen to reciprocate any conversation.

    1) The current issue Watchtower/Awake or book bearing JoHo: Most dangerous of them all. This is one of the devout ones who probably has a well-marked Bible in their carry-on. DO NOT ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION unless you want to have a premeditated, well arranged monologue with lots of references to specific scriptures that they will show you for the whole flight.

    2) The old issue Watchtower/Awake or generic brochure bearing JoHo: Significantly less dangerous. They will probably try to pass the literature off on to you within the first 15 minutes of the flight just so they don’t have to carry it any more. They might talk about the Bible a little, but will quickly move on to talking about other things, like golf or family.

    3) The tiny tract bearing JoHo: USUALLY the best kind of witness to sit near. This JoHo is so lazy that they are doing this, just because they are trying to make their time count and are more likely to just strategically lay the tract in a boarding-lounge table than they are to talk to you about it. This JoHo will likely have a well-hidden tattoo and will have a cousin who is gay and they still speak to them occasionally.

    At the end of the day, though, the scariest thing for a Jehovah’s Witness is an EX-Jehovah’s Witness, so if one strikes up a convo, just tell them that you’re “disfellowshipped” and they are required to not speak to you at all (you’re welcome).

  32. You don’t have to be very overweight to feel gargantuan in those seats, but when you really are obese, you are painfully aware of how you’re about to put people out.

    So I have a script. If I approach my seating area and all around me are seated already, I say: “Hi, yes, I, too have noticed how fat I am and they did let me on the plane as a paying passenger anyway. I will do my best to not touch you indiscriminately, but accidents will happen, and I’m not touching you on purpose. I am not taking extra breaths just so you have less air of your own. I had a shower today, but if it makes you feel better, I will ask if I can just sit on the wing so you are less inconvenienced. Oh, I’m still fat; I will probably eat something on this flight anyway. I’m kind of a nice guy, but mostly I will ignore you.”

    Not really, but I was thinkin’ it.

  33. I fear the person who wants to talk to me. I sat next to this wonderful old southern belle who was chatting my ear off. First she wanted to know if I was an actor and complemented my hair. And i wOndered why I’d been avoiding socializing on the plane. Then I remembered why as she made some comment about me being a gentleman. Then she chatted on the Phone with her husband about the wonderful young man sitting with her. I couldn’t determine if I should tell her I wasn’t a dude or just go with it. I did my best to play my part until getting off the plane. Being misidentified doesn’t bother me in the least (though at gay bars I only get approached by gay men which is a bummer) but I can’t handle the apologies and such when people realize their mistake. I don’t feel bad neither should they.

  34. I am the ‘window girl’. The one kissing the window the whole flight, taking pictures and always asking for the window sit at check-in.
    I have been in 100++ flights but I still keep watching all I can get from the window, it just never gets old to me, all the landscape you can see, I love the mountain in middle east, especially in Afghanistan, amazing. Mountains from the sky is the best.

  35. Also sitting next to a girl with really long hair can be painfull on the plain. One time, I had to sit next to this teenage girl who had hair down to her knees and it kept getting onto my seat and she kept flipping it onto me.

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