15 people we’ve all sat next to on a plane

We love flying. You might just say it’s our favorite thing. But, whether you chose your seat or leave it to the mercy of randomized seat assignments, there’s something about it that makes you feel like you’ve entered an oddly high-stakes lottery.

You did your best, checked in online and held your breath as you peeped your seat. Seat A? OK. Seat B? You quickly hit the button to change your middle seat with a reaction time like you’re buzzing in on Jeopardy. But as you hover over the available seats quickly debating the pros and cons of front of the plane vs. back, one thing remains certain — if you’re flying solo, short of divining the future, there’s no way to tell who you’ll be forced into close proximity with for the next two to 10 hours.

And it’s not all bad. You may make a new friend, do a little in-flight networking, get some solid recommendations for things to do in your destination. But, despite the power of positive thoughts, chances are, at some point in your travels, you’ll be stuck next to one of these 15 people.

1. The olfactory offender

Pigpen character from Peanuts

Don’t be an in-flight stinker.

Whether it be a distinct lack of personal hygiene or a little too much Axe body spray, there are some olfactory nightmares no one wants to be stuck next to in an enclosed space. These scented seatmates may have been running late for the airport and didn’t realize they forgot to put on deodorant until they had to hold their arms above their head at airport security. Or maybe they were told their full-size cologne couldn’t travel in their carry-on and the options were to toss it or use it all. Either way, there’s really no way to troubleshoot this. Your best bet is to force yourself into sleep and dream of fresh laundry or silently wish for the swift onset of an upper respiratory infection.

2. The shellfish eater

Hermione from Harry Potter waving a smell away

Save the sardines for when you’ve landed.

Anyone who has ever flown anywhere can admit airplane food leaves something to be desired, and sure, bringing your own snacks can certainly keep you full and save you some money. But no one wants to sit next to the person who decided leftover scrod was a proper airplane snack. Clearly, this is someone who was not thinking of anyone else (maybe they’re just shellfish?). Was it an undeniable craving for fish, or did they do it just for the halibut? Satiate yourself with fish puns and order another mini pinot grigio. It may not pair well with the smell of day-old haddock, but it certainly can’t hurt.

3. The barefoot flyer

Jim Carey on Letterman with giant fake feet

No shoes. Big problem.

Many less-than-frequent flyers may think this one is an urban legend. Talk about a way to start your vacation off on the wrong foot. You’re minding your own business, sitting back, watching an in-flight movie, perhaps enjoying a light snack. Then you look down and notice something moving. At first, you think it’s a large bug or a small animal, which is concerning enough. Then it hits you. It’s not a woodland creature that has somehow stowed away. It’s worse. It’s the bare toes of the person sitting behind you. Trust us, it happens and it is gross. For the love of personal hygiene and common courtesy, the armrest is not an ottoman.

4. The seat kicker

Rugrats airplane seat kicking


They may be a small child or they may be a 32-year-old man who ate too much Toblerone waiting for his flight to board. While technically not your seatmate, this seat-adjacent position may be one of the worst in-flight offenders. If you wanted a chair massage you would have splurged at the airport pre-flight. Instead, you grit your teeth and give annoyed side-eye through the slats in the row, hoping someone (passenger or parent) will get the hint. No one will.

5. The person who doesn’t understand personal space

one cat bathing another

It’s cute when it’s cats, but not when it’s your human seatmate

Whether they’re a close talker or nod off mid-flight and end up snoozing on your shoulder, these seatmates actually enjoy the close comfort of economy class. Perhaps drop into casual conversation that you are just coming off a bout with a highly contagious illness transferable mostly by skin-to-skin contact or during meal service you may unintentionally end up sharing a spaghetti noodle with them “Lady and the Tramp” style.

6. The deep sleeper

MIchael Scott from The Office jumping on a couch

Maneuvering past sleeping seatmates like…

Ahh the envy of all flyers, the ones who can sleep anywhere. They don’t even need a neck pillow or an eyeshade. In fact they don’t look comfortable at all. Every so often, it may even behoove you to hold a small mirror under the nose of the particular comatose traveler. Unless you’ve landed next to a snorer, in which case ear plugs are your new best friend. Try to learn some skills from the sleep champions — they are adept at changing positions mid-flight and may use the tray table as a place to rest their head. If the deep sleeper has the aisle seat, should you need to use the restroom or stretch your legs, you better practice your parkour tactics.

7. The sunburned person

Family Guy's Stewie all sunburned

Sunscreen blocks out harmful UV rays and prevents alienating your seatmate.

You’ll notice these travelers most on flights home from tropical destinations gingerly making their way to their seats as if they are playing a live action game of Operation. Careful not to brush against anything and reeking of aloe vera, they will settle in. Did you know keeping your leg elevated on the tray table is an easy way to relieve the swell of a sunburn? It’s also a way to ostracize and nauseate your seatmate.

8. The overhead compartment hoarder

SNL airline oversize baggage sketch

Keep calm and carry-on (the appropriate-sized luggage).

Thingamabobs, they’ve got 20 — and they’re all packed into an oversized “carry-on” (term used incredibly loosely) they snuck past the gate attendants whilst whistling nonchalantly and trying to block the over-stuffed girth of it with their body weight. As they dead lift their luggage above their head and into the overhead like they’ve just taken up Crossfit, be grateful you boarded already and have secured space for your own bag. Those who come after will not be so lucky.

9. The first-time flyer

Supernatural - humming Metalica

Be kind to the flying noobs.

These travel newbies don’t know what to expect, but they’ve packed all the accoutrements: gum, water, a snack, a calming meditation podcast, a list of statistics on the safety of planes. They veer wildly from first-time jitters to whimsical enthusiasm (Wow, look at those clouds. It’s like where the Care Bears live!). As someone who’s been there, help ease their anxiety with a little light conversation (and perhaps a stiff drink).

10. The chatterbox

Disney's Aladdin

Never had a seatmate like me…

You’re wearing an eyeshade, headphones and, upon sitting, made sure to open with how much sleep you plan to get on this flight — so clearly this means you’re ready to learn your seatmate’s life story. They mean well, which makes it difficult, and they seem so excited to share with you the events that led up to them taking this trip, which started with their birth on a surprising warm January morning in 1968. Your best bet is to drop into casual conversation that you just took a Benadryl and may fall asleep at any moment, you apologi—-Zzzzzzz

11. The social media historian

Oversharing is not caring.

Ever wonder where those Instagram selfies of people wearing eyeshades while also precariously holding a couple mini bottles of Jack Daniels with the caption “Ready for takeoff” originate? Nothing like watching someone try to discreetly take 15 selfies with covered eyes. Come for the meal service #foodporn and stay for the time-lapse video of the plane landing, which is even more fun when they’re not the one with the window seat.

12. The self-proclaimed travel pro

Happy Endings Agressively Helpful

Unsolicited advice for days.

These seasoned sharers have flown this route before and know all the flight attendants by name. In fact, they are quick to disclose, they booked this flight completely using points. Oh, it’s your first time in New York? Here are 15 off-the-beaten path places to try. Next time, stay in Bushwick. Similar to the chatterbox, but with useful information to share if you’re willing to listen. And, even if you happen to doze off, you may still learn a thing or two through osmosis.

13. The baby

Animated baby screaming

The screaming baby seatmate.

We get it, it’s not their fault. After a long flight delay and a few hours crammed into the middle seat of a long haul flight, you’d cry too if it was socially acceptable behavior for a grown adult. But, when you board a flight and hear that tell-tale cry, even the most affable traveler holds their breath as they find their seat.

14. The drunk

Bridesmaids plane strut

Drink responsibly.

No one likes a sloppy drunk, but you like them even less when you’re forced to sit next to one for the duration of a long-haul flight at the mercy of the fasten seat belt sign. (What you wouldn’t give to get up and move about the cabin.) When the line-up of empty mini bottles starts to look like the lair of a really sloppy giant, you know it’s going to be a bumpy flight, even when there’s no turbulence. Nothing like the smell of booze and one-sided heart-to-hearts, and all before 11 a.m. no less.

15. The hungover person

Parks and Recreation quote:: "Everything hurts and I'm dying."

Seatmate with a hangover or patient zero?

Just like the drunk person, only less chatty and with a chance of vomit.

How many of these memorable personalities have you encountered mid-flight? Share your own stories with us in the comments.

QUIZ: How savvy are you at finding a cheap flight?

QUIZ: How savvy are you at finding a cheap flight?

Are you a flight-finding pro or could your searching skills use an upgrade? Take our quiz to find out whether...
Amanda Festa
5 ways Punxsutawney Phil can help you plan your next trip

5 ways Punxsutawney Phil can help you plan your next trip

From flipping coins to plucking petals to the fail-safe eenie-meenie, we’ve always been a logical bunch when it comes to...
Chelsey Burnside
Can you guess the airport from the emoji?

Can you guess the airport from the emoji?

Test your emoji IQ with this mix of American and Canadian airports. Skill level: travel expert. Next time you have to pick up...
Amanda Festa
Travel tips See all
Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which should you pick?

Global Entry vs. TSA PreCheck: Which should you pick?

Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or both? You’ve got options. To understand what’s better for you, your travel habits and your...
Paul Steele
How to fly with a pet

How to fly with a pet

How to fly with a pet and tips for a smooth flight Flying with a pet is a bit more...
Paul Steele