Airline travel can be stressful at the best of times, but when a fellow passenger decides to throw insults your way, it can make the experience downright unbearable. We asked airline passengers to share their experiences of being on the receiving end of some of the rudest insults they’ve heard on a flight and the fallout that followed. From hurt feelings to full-blown altercations, here are the most shocking stories they had to share.
All content has been edited for clarity.
I Wish Her Nothing But The Worst
“I was young—maybe 19 or 20. When I had a few extra bucks once or twice a year, I’d fly from my home state of South Texas and visit some family in Minnesota. It was a way for me to escape and have some time to clear my head.
On one particular flight, I was seated next to a woman, perhaps early 40s, and a young boy—maybe 10–11 years old. The young boy was obviously protective of his mother and kept close to her. I smelt alcohol the moment I sat in the aisle with them—she had been drinking before the flight.
Whatever, people do what they need to do to cope—I got it.
What I DIDN’T understand was, as I understand now, the horrid emotional abuse she inflicted on her son the entire flight.
It started shortly after her first order of a vodka and soda something or other.
‘You don’t love me like you love your father,’ I heard her jab, out of the blue, to her young son.
‘No, Mommy. I swear I love you.’
“No. No, you don’t. I saw how you preferred spending time with him.’
‘No, Mommy. I love Dad and I love you.’
Another drink or two was ordered….A few minutes later:
‘You know what? When we get home, I’m just going to ship you off to go live with your dad, since you love him more than me.’
The young boy started sobbing. I leaned over and gently whispered to the lady to take it easy—I can’t remember what exactly I said, but I was still a shy young kid myself. I said something along the lines of, ‘You are really hurting him. Please take it easy.’
She told me to ‘mind my own f*cking business.’
Then she proceeded to mouth off to me about how her son loved his father so much more, and she was so tired of it all, that she just wanted to walk away and never see her son again.
The kid was sobbing by this time. He had held his tongue so well—as if he had dealt with the emotional abuse before.
I finally got the guts up to convince the kid to switch seats with me—giving him the aisle seat, away from his mother. I whispered to him, ‘I’m sorry she is saying this. It sounds like things have been rough. I’m so sorry, but I promise she won’t be like this when she feels better tomorrow morning.’
The kid got angry at me and then calmed down. He said, ‘No, you don’t understand. It’s like this all of the time. This is how she is.’
And then my young carefree soul was struck with a life-changing realization: Emotional abuse of children is really, really REAL. I had never witnessed it before, but in so many ways, it was SO WRONG.
This poor kid was so messed up and so confused by his mother’s behavior and words. Her painful, stinging words. Searing nothing but lies and manipulation into this poor kid’s brain.
I purchased a cheap set of headphones for the kid and convinced him to concentrate on the movie they were showing. I tried to make small talk with the mom, but she was relentless in her determination to make sure that her son and everyone else knew that she was not loved.
It took everything in me not to say, ‘Gee. I wonder why?’
But I didn’t.
I continued small talk with the woman until she passed out. Thank God—some peace!
or so I thought.
We landed just an hour or so later. At that point, the mother should’ve been far more sober. However, at baggage, she was clearly more sober and STILL chewing out her young son for having the audacity to love his father.
I was mad.
I ignored my baggage and approached the woman and, in front of her son, told her something along the lines of ‘Your son loves you, and he has come home with you. And you’ve done nothing but berate him the entire time. You should thank God that this boy is still standing by your side after the awful, awful things you have said to him. Perhaps he needs to go spend some time with his father alone, instead of with you, if this is what you do to him.’
The woman suddenly sobered up a bit and apologized to me for what I had witnessed. I told her that it was insulting that she apologized to ME, a bystander, but still hadn’t apologized to her son.
She snarled at me and called me a b*tch and dragged her son out of the airport doors.
That happened when I was 19–20ish. I’m now 36 and have children of my own. I pray so often that that young boy was able to grow and escape his obviously toxic relationship with his mother.”
Honestly, They Handled It Perfectly
“I was thirteen years old, heading down to Florida with my grandma to stay in her amazing rental house. I was super excited, but there were some downsides. Aren’t there always?
I couldn’t wait to ride the plane. My plan was to sit by the window, not talk, sleep, draw, watch movies, and eat. That way, the two to three-hour plane ride would be less stressful and I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Although, I’d have to talk every now and then.
I guess I tend to be sat near or by bitchy people who don’t know how to act. Even though I don’t express my emotions in public, I do have a resting bitch face. It seems to really set people off, even though it’s literally just my face.
Anyways, back to the story. My grandma was passed out and had her head inside of her neck pillow. I was doodling, and looking out the window now and then. Suddenly, I hear a girl complain to her mother about her meal.
‘But Mommy, can’t I get dessert too?’
My initial thought was, ‘Oh wow, here we go again. Kid starts screaming, throws a tantrum, Mom finally gives into what the kid wants.’
It didn’t end up that way, and it even kind of shocked me. Instead, the mom takes one glance at me and she’s set on what she wants. Instead of telling her kid an actual reason why she couldn’t get dessert, she used me as her terrible example.
‘Look at that boy over there. Don’t be like him. He doesn’t look like he eats much. That’s why you should be thankful that I got the healthier meal.’
At first, I didn’t know she was talking about me. I kept my mouth shut, expecting it was a mistake and she wasn’t referring to me. Well, that was until that crusty finger waved in my direction.
‘See, he’s way too skinny. He looks sick.’
Let me get one thing straight: My weight is out of my control. My doctor said I was a normal weight for my age, but I was really tall and it made me look more slender and thin. From what I knew (and know) it was (and is) perfectly fine to be my body shape.
At that time, I was also severely depressed. I was having to take care of my bipolar grandmother the whole week we were down there, I was getting severely bullied, I was eating way too much (in order to gain weight since this situation would happen all the time at school), and I was really homesick.
I decided to wait in my seat until the plane had landed and my grandmother was awake. When my grandmother gathered the bags, I stood up before the lady had the availability to get out. I didn’t want to be completely rude and block her path, so I only stood around for around a minute.
‘Hey,’ I began, ‘Talking to your kiddo about body image that way could destroy their confidence, and maybe others. I didn’t like how you were talking to me.’
I walked away, and I didn’t feel ‘good.’ I didn’t feel empowered, strong, beautiful, or bold. I felt like I said what I said and I can’t take it back. Comments like that towards anyone make me ashamed to be human.
In conclusion, one of the most offensive things I’ve heard someone say on a plane was that she must be grateful for her ‘healthy meal’ because I (who happened to be sitting across the way) looked unhealthy and too skinny.”
There’s Still Good People Out There
“Being disabled and looking like I do there are two things I always get to overhear. Going through TSA my name comes up red-flagged. Meaning check him completely.
A customs once agent told me, ‘It’s due to your military career and past knowledge.’
What the hell does that mean? I’m in a wheelchair and have metal in my leg, shoulder, and back. I am a wand beep show. All hands pat downs in a wheelchair. You need two hips to stand, so I can’t stand. Any chance I am taking over the plane? Gunpowder tests on hands AND ARMS. Okay so the Navy/CIA service made me an enemy of the state or something?
I think it is BS and it’s profiling but my wife said, ‘No it’s not.’
Then you have people whispering when we get on first. ‘Bet they fake it to board first.’
I tore into a woman I heard say that. I yelled so loud the airport got quiet. ‘Does it look like I’m faking it?!’ I tried to get out of my wheelchair and fell. It hurt but I felt better with that. Maybe she’ll get it someday.
My wife wasn’t happy about my antics but I’m so tired of it. And she knows. On the plane, though I overheard a mom telling their kid there is no difference between disabled people and us. Except for a part of their body that just doesn’t work like ours. She had me in tears. The best explanation of a disabled person I have ever heard explained. And plainly so a child could understand it. The kid kept asking me if I needed any help.
HURRAY FOR THAT MOM. YOU MADE MY DAY!”
Just Get Her A Drink Geez
“If I can count the person beside me as the flight attendant: I worked offshore and worked a night shift from 6 pm to 6 am for 28 days straight. The flight I got home after my 4 weeks offshore was a 7 am flight. There is NO alcohol on my worksite where you live for 28 days. So I would reserve my plane seat that included alcohol. 7 am was basically my 7 pm from working straight overnight shifts so when the flight attendant came by, I asked for 1 water and 1 cup of wine. She looked at me like I was crazy and finally answered it was 7 am and she didn’t have wine in her cart. I asked if she had Dr. Pepper and Desarono. She didn’t even answer me and looked across to the other flight attendant in front of the cart and said, ‘I didn’t realize there were so many alcoholics in the morning.’
I paid extra for those seats – so that was pretty rude. And no – I never got my spirited beverages.”
She Should Have Gone With The Other Response
“The most offensive thing someone said near me was by the man sitting next to me. I had a nice window seat, which is valuable on an international flight because it gives you something to lean on to sleep. The man on the aisle seat next to me was a religious-looking man and he called the steward over to whisper something in his ear. The steward then told me the other passenger had requested I take another seat since he was not allowed to sit next to a woman. He was not even allowed to talk to a woman, which is why he’d asked the steward to speak for him, although he sat right next to me.
It took me one zillionth of a second to say no. Politely, but firmly. I thought to myself, but did not say, ‘f*ck off, you old woman-hating fart.’ Fortunately, the steward did not press the matter, so it was settled and I kept my seat.
At that moment, the passenger began rocking back and forth with his eyes closed, apparently praying, and then put his hat over his face. He kept it there the entire seven hours of the flight. I don’t know how he didn’t suffocate.
Now THAT’s petty.”
Some People Just Can’t Be Fixed
“Normally, I am among the first to get on the plane. But on this day, I didn’t fly on the company plane. Arriving late, I missed the First Class passengers entering the aircraft first. I just made the last group of passengers.
I overheard a white old woman tell a crew member not to have a young Hispanic woman sit next to her. I pulled out my credit card and gave it to the crew member and told them to move the young Hispanic lady to First Class.
The look on the old woman’s face was worth the extra cost on my credit card.”
Imagine A 10-Year-Old Having Better Manners Than You
“I was seated in business along with a woman about 40 years old and her 10-year-old daughter. When her daughter received a glass of juice that she requested from the stewardess, the girl politely said, ‘Thank you.’
That’s when the mother turned to her daughter and said, ‘You don’t have to say thank you to her, that’s her job.’ I was speechless.”
The Flight Attendant Probably Made More Than Him
“This happened eleven years ago while I was on a flight to Kuala Lumpur. I was among the last to board the aircraft and passengers were starting to settle down.
I requested the aisle seat and so had the misfortune of overhearing the conversation between a man and his young daughter, who were apparently heading back home from a holiday. The man, his wife, and daughter occupied the opposite row from mine and the daughter was telling him that she didn’t want to go back because ‘it’s school again.’
At that point, one of the flight attendants was by our row and she was closing the overhead bins.
The man told his daughter, ‘You should study well if you don’t want to end up like auntie here,’ and nodded his head towards the flight attendant. ‘Just waitressing in an airplane. Only school can make you a professional like Mommy and Daddy someday.’
I’m pretty sure the flight attendant heard him because I sure did. What a jerk!
It certainly escaped his notice that flight attendants are trained professionals whose priority is the passengers’ safety.”
You Have To Shut Down People Like That
“Woman who boarded last minute on a Southwest flight was seated next to me in the middle seat and her boyfriend behind her. She complained about not being seated together. Groused non-stop about the woman next to her boyfriend, who was asleep so ‘she shouldn’t care about where she sat,’ and said the same thing about me when I closed my eyes.
Never picked on 2 white men in window seats, just the Asian women in aisle seats. I paid for an earlier boarding number so I could choose an aisle seat. Then she kept twisting around in her seat talking to her boyfriend, then proceeded to pass a crossword puzzle back and forth overhead.
I finally had enough and told her that if she had checked in on time or paid a fee to draw an earlier number as we did, she could have sat with her boyfriend. Since it appears she didn’t, she needed to suck it up, shut up, and sit still. She apologized and was quiet for the rest of the flight.”
Throw Them Off Of The Plane
“It was Remembrance Day in the UK. It’s well accepted that at 11 am you take a 2-minute silence to remember all those who had lost their lives in a war.
I was taking a flight from Manchester to Miami and once everyone had boarded which was only about 14 people, the captain announced that we would be doing the silence and why, etc.
There were two women sitting two seats behind me, they were quite obviously British as they were having a conversation quite loudly about something. So would have known what to do during the silence.
It came to 11 am and the Captain turned the engine off, everything and everyone was silent. Except, throughout the whole two minutes, these two women continued their conversation. They were essentially b*tching about another woman. They were being quite vain and degrading. It was vile and everyone could hear it throughout the whole two minutes.
Several times I made eye contact with the stewards who looked very angry and disgusted by the situation. Needless to say, not much attention was given to those two women throughout the flight.”
She Could Have Just Not Been Obnoxious About It
“My son, who was 15 months at the time, and I traveled from Australia to the USA, where I was to spend some time with my mother. After our stay, we headed back from the Midwest to Australia. We boarded a flight to Dallas, and at the ticket desk, the worker told me my seat numbers. I then heard someone exclaim, ‘Oh no!’
I looked back, and the lady behind me said she didn’t want to sit next to us because of my baby. I was pissed. I told the airline worker that those seats were perfect. When we boarded, the nasty woman sat right across the aisle from us. She moaned and groaned while trying to sleep. I ensured that my son sang The Wiggles for most of the flight. The nasty lady was not impressed.”
Yeah She Completely Started That Conflict Herself
“I suffer from vertigo and when I check on at the ticket counter, I always tell them that I need a wheelchair to get to the gate, and at the ending destination, no questions are asked.
The reason is that because of vertigo, I have to take half of a Xanax a half hour before the flight, which makes me extremely groggy.
My husband and I were going to visit a friend of his in California for Christmas and New Year’s and I was in a wheelchair. We went through the TSA line very quickly as I passed a bunch of people, I heard them say that I didn’t look disabled and just used the wheelchair to get through the line faster (I do get claustrophobic in crowds). I told the guy who was pushing me to stop for a second and straight-faced I said that I am disabled and just because you can’t see that I am, doesn’t mean that I am not. I also said to her that you are the one with a bigger disability than I have, you pre-judged me, a complete stranger, and you don’t my story, so get off your high horse and think before you speak. We were on the same flight, the flight was overbooked and they asked for volunteers. Her companion volunteered and as she did, I heard the lady say why doesn’t the person who was in the wheelchair get off?
The flight attendant told the woman and her friend to exit the plane or air marshals would be called as they walked by the lady said to me I hope you’re happy. In my mind, it was sweet justice.”