What to do when you’re stuck on a plane next to someone sick, smelly, or obese – Kari Paul Published: June 20, 2017 2:28 a.m. ET


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Look familiar? Here’s how to deal with the worst kinds of passengers.

Passengers traveling from Manchester to Ibiza were treated to some unwelcome in-flight entertainment last week when two passengers decided have sex (or at least simulate it) in their seat.

Though that escapade is an extreme example, the incident is one of many potential horrors we can be exposed to when traveling. Complaints about airline service jumped 70% between March and April according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Delays, lost baggage, and canceled flights are all major gripes for consumers, but another top anxiety is who we are forced to share these experiences with.

Many travelers say their biggest anxiety about flying is the person they’re sitting next to, a study from Airfarewatchdog.com found this week, including sitting next to someone who is coughing (39.3%), has an unpleasant body odor (28%) or is overweight (13.6%). These problems are so invasive that 40% of respondents say they would pay extra to have an entire row on the plane to themselves.

Travelers have a number of options to address these issues, depending on who they are seated next to and what the offense is. The first solution is simple: just ask, said Christopher Elliott, consumer advocate and author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.”

“If the problem is behavioral, the best thing to do is address it directly with a passenger,” he said. “Ask them nicely not to talk, tell them you’re busy, or kindly ask them to keep their child from hitting the back of your seat — those things can be easily addressed.”

Jacqueline Whitmore, a former flight attendant and etiquette expert, said if a problem can’t be resolved verbally, passengers are within their rights to ask a flight attendant to move them once the plane’s doors are closed as long as they aren’t requesting to switch to a more expensive seat. “I would do this discreetly as to not offend your seat mate,” she said.

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