By Sarah Waffle Gavin, on November 10, 2015

Expedia 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study

Our behinds are telling us something about flying in today’s age: We’re tired of being kicked in the rears.

This was the key finding from Expedia’s 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study, from which data overwhelmingly indicated that “Rear Seat Kickers” are the most aggravating co-passengers at 35,000 feet. When asked to choose from a list of annoying behaviors, 61 percent of 1,019 study respondents cited butt-kickers as the worst of the worst.

“Inattentive Parents,” parents who exhibit little or no control over their children, ranked a close second with 59 percent; while the “Aromatic Passenger,” that passenger who exhibits poor hygiene or is in some other way giving off a strong scent, was the third least-liked fellow traveler, garnering 50 percent of the vote.

Interestingly—and sadly, if you ask me—these same three passengers led the charge for worst in the 2014 Airplane Etiquette Study. That means passengers haven’t changed their bad behaviors much in 12 months, or that our tolerance for certain egregious behaviors hasn’t changed.

Other lousy airplane etiquette made the cut, too. About 45 percent of respondents cited “The Boozer” as the most irritating seatmate; while 43 percent said “Chatty Cathy,” the overly talkative seatmate, was the worst. Other high-ranking caricatures: “The Amorous,” “The Undresser,” and the “Mad Bladder.”

The study was conducted online for Expedia by GfK, a market research company. For a list of all on-board etiquette violators for 2015, check out the official news release, or click on the fun infographic below.


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Seeking quiet

After tabulating data on our study findings, we’ve managed to see a number of pretty obvious trends worth noting.

First, it’s clear that respondents showed a market preference for peace and quiet in midair. Three-quarters of the people who participated in the study said “small talk is fine,” but noted they prefer to keep to themselves for most of the flight. About 16 percent of respondents admitted they use flights as an “opportunity to meet and talk to new people,” while 66 percent said they “dread” sitting next to folks who want to talk.

Family travelers bore the brunt of some of these sentiments. More than half of our study respondents—53 percent overall—said they find themselves annoyed by parents traveling with loud children, and more than one-third (37 percent) said they actually would pay extra to be seated in a designated quiet zone if the airline offered one.

As the mother of four kids who travels with them frequently, these particular data points bummed me out. Sure, some kids have trouble behaving at 35,000 feet, but others—mine, for instance—hold it together better than many grown-ups!

Rows over reclining

Reclining seats are a hot-button issue, too.

Nearly one-third (33 percent) of respondents said they would either prefer to have reclining seats banned entirely, or at least have reclining restricted to set times during short-haul flights. That said, only 31 percent of respondents said they refuse to recline their own seats.

Of those who do recline, 30 percent do so when they play to sleep, while 13 percent recline when the passenger in front of them does it (we like to call this domino-style).

As last year’s brouhaha over the Knee-Defender taught us, reclining can bring out the absolute worst in people. One in four study respondents (26 percent) said they would recline their seat punitively if the passenger behind them was aggressive or rude (hello, passive-aggressive). Perhaps more disturbingly, 10 percent said they would recline even if the passenger behind them was noticeably pregnant.

Viewfinder Tip: Slightly more than 1 percent of respondents to the 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study report membership in the Mile High Club, meaning they’ve been intimate on a plane.

Shameful shaming

Finally, results from the Expedia 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study indicate that—thankfully, IMHO—passenger shaming is not nearly as prevalent as some would have us think.

In the event a fellow passenger misbehaved noticeably, 49 percent of respondents would sit quietly and attempt to ignore them, while 21 percent would confront the offender directly and 10 percent would surreptitiously record them using a phone’s camera or video camera. Only 3 percent of respondents would publish the misbehavior across social media.

This data tells me that current campaigns such as one intended to shame passengers for violating carry-on baggage policies are nothing but hot air. It also indicates that despite how irritated some passengers may get, you still can find civility at 35,000 feet.

Other findings

Which brings me to the last important point: By and large, most passengers are positive and pretty nice. A whopping 75 percent of our study respondents said they feel that “for the most part, fellow passengers are considerate.” Just over 50 percent said they felt that air travel was “fun and exciting.” More than 40 percent have helped strangers with their luggage. And more than 70 percent wait patiently until they reach their assigned seat before stowing luggage in the overhead bin.

For me, the takeaways from the Expedia 2015 Airplane Etiquette Study are clear: Some travelers may exhibit bad behaviors on planes, but the majority of passengers knows what good etiquette is all about.

This means there’s hope for all of us. And our behinds.