In 2021, there was a 492% increase in the number of unruly travelers reported by flight crews, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Nearly 6,000 reports were filed. In 2022, that number sank to 2,455 — a nearly 60% drop. But the total number of complaints was still double what flight crews saw in 2020 and 2019.
There are many theories about why there was a surge in bad behavior on flights in recent years: The stress of the pandemic taking a toll on people’s mental health, people feeling aggrieved at having to wear masks during the worst days of COVID-19, while some passengers got upset if their seat mate chose not to wear a mask. Being cooped up in cramped quarters during a pandemic may have led to many people feeling on edge and acting out.
Notwithstanding sudden outbursts from passengers, how can travelers have the smoothest, least eventful journey possible from the moment they check in their bags at the airport to when they’re getting off the plane? Don’t drink too much before getting on a flight, don’t take off your shoes and socks, and don’t freak out if someone else decides to wear or not wear a face mask. (These are 101 tips to get the ball rolling.)
“You don’t need to wave your passport around every time you meet an airport or airline worker. ”
Among the tips from airport and airline workers: Put that passport away after it’s being checked — you don’t need to wave it around every time you meet an airport or airline worker. You only need it at check-in, at the gate for your plane, and at immigration if you are a foreign national entering another country.
“Very often, passengers will hurriedly place their passports somewhere and cannot locate them quickly,” a Transportation Security Administration employee said. In the vast majority of cases, the ID is usually in a pocket or bag where passengers don’t actually recall putting it. This can be stressful, hold up the line, and frustrate everyone around you.
MarketWatch spoke with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Association of Flight Attendants, a trade union group. Here are their biggest gripes:
Dress for success
As roughly two million passengers make their way through TSA checkpoints on a daily basis, the lines may seem endless. Plus, having to disrobe and re-robe, particularly if you’re having mobility issues or traveling with small children, can be downright frustrating. Don’t fret — TSA workers know this. Their top tip for passengers? Dress for success.
The key is to make sure you’re wearing simple clothes when you go through security screening, Eric Guthier, a uniformed advisor to executive leadership at the TSA, told MarketWatch. “Screening technologies may generate false alarms on clothing with excessive sequins, laces, and metal, such as the metal buckles on overalls and suspenders,” he said.
At the same time, keep small jewelry like earrings and rings on as they do not need to be removed before you go through a checkpoint screening, Jeanine Lacayo, a Roanoke, Va.-based supervisory transportation security officer, told MarketWatch.
“Small jewelry does not usually create an alarm on our screening technologies, and we absolutely do not want passengers to lose their valuables,” Lacayo said. In fact, the most common lost jewelry at checkpoints are rings, earrings, watches. And it takes time to help each passenger search for them, she added.
Plan, plan, plan
Did you know that “rush hour” at some airports is between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.?
“Just as highways have somewhat predictable rush hours, airports have somewhat predictable busy periods,” Wayne Arrington, a Nome, Alaska-based supervisory transportation security officer, told MarketWatch.
Those arriving during those early hours should try to give themselves more time to get through busy lines, Arrington said. “Those departing at 2 p.m. may not require as much time, so it’s good to follow the airline’s advice regarding your airport arrival plans,” he added.
If you want to go the extra mile and have the luxury of time, you can even book tickets so you can fly during not-so-busy hours.
That way, you’re not the harried customer who’s pleading with everyone in line to let them pass so they don’t miss their flight. Why should you be allowed to skip the line by other people who have shown up in good time for their flight, knowing that the airport will be busy?
The TSA also suggested people sign up for TSA PreCheck so they can keep their shoes, belts, light jackets, small-sized liquids and laptops in their carry-on bags. “As an added benefit, TSA PreCheck members get through security-screening faster, with 92% waiting less than five minutes at airport checkpoints,” the TSA said.
TSA PreCheck costs $78 for five years for new enrollees, although some people can get it for free, depending on their credit card. If you’re a frequent international traveler, you can also consider applying for Global Entry, which costs $100 for a five-year membership and saves you time when you re-enter the U.S. Plus, it automatically includes PreCheck.
Don’t bring smelly food on the plane
Putting aside the unruly, what about the unpleasant? The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA said that from a flight attendant’s point of view, there were three top “bad habits” that passengers engaged in when they’re aboard the plane.
Bringing food on the aircraft that has a “strong odor” was a big no-no, the group said. In a small, enclosed space, those smells can travel. “So please respect everyone and the environment we are all sharing,” the group stated. Think long and hard about this, but it will be a safe and much more pleasant journey if you leave that tuna fish sandwich or curry at home.
Passengers not wearing their seatbelts or following the seatbelt sign was another pain point for flight attendants. People often ignore seatbelt signs when they need to use the restroom, or for other reasons. That’s another big no-no, especially if conditions are sub-optimal: “Turbulence can happen at any time and wearing your seatbelt not only keeps you safe, but also ensures you don’t hurt someone else when you fall or get thrown in turbulence,” the organization said.
passengers were hospitalized after a flight from Texas to Germany experienced “severe turbulence,” the German airline and the FAA said last month. The FAA reported that Lufthansa Flight 469 was diverted to Dulles International Airport in Virginia and landed “without incident.” And last December, a Hawaiian Airlines plane flying from Phoenix to Honolulu experienced severe turbulence, sending 20 people to the hospital.
And it goes without saying, don’t be an unruly passenger. Few people like to be in such close quarters, but resist starting arguments with other passengers, the group said. Just stay calm, cool and collected, and the journey will be over before you know it. And don’t be a loner, either — that includes not being glued to your phone throughout the boarding, seating, eating, flying, and disembarking process. “Say hello to your crew,” the flight attendants’ group added. “Come to the plane with the spirit of solidarity.”
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