It’s come down to this: The two most annoying airline passenger types in the world are travelers who can’t fit in their seat and screaming babies, at least according to you.
Don’t you think it’s time for a runoff election?
In case you’re wondering how we got here — other than the fact that this Wednesday feature is called “That’s ridiculous!” — here’s the backstory: Last month, my editor and I got into a discussion on Twitter about annoying passengers. We asked for nominations and whittled it down to a few finalists. The top two were kids and XL fliers, and so here we are.
This isn’t an easy decision.
Let’s start with reader Will Smith’s argument that oversized travelers represent the biggest problem on a plane. It isn’t just that they are in your personal space, but that they pose a safety risk, he says.
“If they cannot fit through the escape hatches over the wings, then they could block an exit for others while trying to fit through,” he says. “Some of them would have trouble getting down the aisle and fitting between the seats to get to the wing exits. It would seem that the FAA should have an interest in preventing this type of situation.”
In other words, don’t just cast your vote because jumbo passengers push you out of your seat, but because they could block your way when you need to get out.
I think the safety argument is the most compelling one for giving large passengers your vote. Oh, I know that there are some well-meaning folks on the other side of this debate who believe their size should be considered a disability, but when it comes to evacuating a plane during an emergency, most passengers are less concerned with hurting someone else’s feelings than, well, being hurt.
By the way, I’m told government regulators have an interest in fitting everyone safely into their seats, but enforcement is left almost entirely to the airlines.
Screaming infants, on the other hand, are a never-ending source of controversy. Over the years, passengers have written to me with all kinds of suggestions for dealing with children that won’t shut up, including sedating them with Benadryl, threatening them or their parents, moving them to a special “kids-only” section in the back of the plane and yes, banning them entirely — if not from the flight, then at least from first class.
Toddlers and young children can also present a safety hazard, which is why they aren’t allowed in emergency exit rows. Plus, there’s the whole hygiene issue — diapers, sticky fingers, drool. Little ones quickly turn the interior of an aircraft into a bacteria farm.
Jayne Hanlin, who pushed the “babies” button in the previous poll, tells the story of her recent 12-hour flight from Auckland to Los Angeles.
“There was a screaming infant most of the night,” she recalls. “The mother was standing up rocking the baby, not gently, most of the night, but that didn’t work.”
Finally the flight attendant passed out ear plugs, but those didn’t eliminate the noise.
“I do not want to sound mean-spirited, but this constant screaming made it very difficult to rest,” she says. “On the other hand, my seatmate wasn’t oversized.”
I heard from a lot of parents after the previous poll, and many of them suggested the passengers around them (and especially me) just don’t understand what it’s like to fly with a baby.
Kids often can’t help themselves, they said. When they’re hungry, they cry. When their ears hurt, they cry. When they’re scared, they cry.
And then there’s always this argument: You were once a baby. What if your parents had left you at home?
Actually, that one is the least persuasive to me. When I was a few months old, I probably would have been fine skipping that transatlantic trip, although I’ll admit I now have some neat pictures of me with my parents on a Pan Am flight from New York to Munich.
Of course, we’ll never be able to remove babies or big passengers from the plane. But what if we could?
Which one would you choose?
(Photo: Domi riel/Flickr)