Meteor Crater With Snow
Meteor Crater With Snow

Things That Annoy Me About: Airplanes, Airports and Hotels


No clocks on airplanes

An airplane is a place where people care a lot about time. How much longer to go on this flight? How late are we going to be at the destination? Yes, most people have watches but if that is sufficient, why do flight attendants always give us the time when flights land? Why not put a clock in the cabin so that people can see it?

Slippery tray tables on airplanes

Choppy air is common so one has to expect that airplanes get bumpy. Bumps mean that the cup on the tray table full of soda is going to slide around. If it slides too far, it is going to fall off the tray table and spill. So why don’t tray tables have non-skid surfaces?

Airline “snacks”

What is this pretzel thing? Most airlines insist on handing out pretzels or a close relative. Now I have nothing against pretzels but do they have to have actual chunks of salt on them? And what about cookies sometime?

Carry-on bags under the seat in front of you

Except, of course, on Boeing 777s because every economy seat has a large metal box under it which takes up a whole lot of the space “under the seat in front of you.”

People who focus on their possessions

People who insist on blocking the aisle while they find places to store their personal possessions hold up everybody. Somebody who slowly and carefully places their bag while standing in the aisle, for example, is guaranteed to upset the long line of people still waiting in the aisle and in the jetway. People should move into the seating area and wait until everybody is located or until there are no people coming down the aisle.

Carry-on bags that aren’t

Carry-on bags are very convenient, but bags that are carried on are, in some cases, not carry-on bags. They are suitcases containing what seems like a month’s worth of clothing crushed into a space that is actually beyond the size limit. How many airports check the sizes of bags? When combined with “personal items” that are really carry-on bags, we end up with aircraft storage bins filled long before all the passengers are onboard.

Very few clocks in airport public areas

Try looking for a clock in an airport public area. Very few airport public areas have large display clocks. Flight information screens have time displays but they are not visible from most gate and other public areas. OK, so you have a watch, but suppose it is set to a different time zone–will you always make the mental correction properly?

Lack of power outlets in airport gate areas

When are airport managers going to realize that people like to charge cell phones and laptop computers while waiting for flights? The lack of electrical outlets in gate areas is ridiculous. And the power poles that have started to appear - a handful of outlets crammed into a small area? Need I say more?

Inaccurate delay estimates by airlines

OK, so there often reasons that flights get delayed, like weather. But why do subsequent schedule estimates have to be so inaccurate and change so often?

Checking boarding passes after passing through the metal detector

OK, so we need to go through the airport security ritual, and I appreciate both the efforts of the TSA and the challenges that they face. But, to get to the metal detector/X-ray area I have to show my boarding pass. Why do I have to show it again when I exit the metal detector? How many times have you left your boarding pass in your bag which, conveniently, is just out of reach on the X-ray belt?

Fixed arm rests on gate-area seating

With fixed arm rests, one cannot stretch out across multiple seats. That is OK unless there is a disruption requiring one to sleep in a gate area.

Rental car gas

Why do rental car companies feel it necessary to charge about three times the going rate for gas if I don’t return the car with a full tank? Rental car facilities have gas available so they can fill the car. I don’t mind paying a premium for gas if I get it from the rental car company, but the present situation is ridiculous.

Small restroom cubicles

Restroom cubicles in airports are usually the standard size. Normally, that would be OK but suppose you have carry-on bags? The usual carry-on bag (with nice wheels) doesn’t fit very easily. In particular, with bags it is difficult to close the door because the door swings inward and needs clearance. That clearance is where my bag wants to go.

Commercial wireless access in airports

OK, so I have a few minutes before my flight and I want to download mail. I open my laptop and it finds at least one wireless network and I try to connect. But the network wants me either to have an account with that provider or pay a sizeable fee for access. I don’t mind paying for service but different airports have different wireless providers. What am I supposed to do, have accounts on all of them? Things are getting better in some places. Some wireless providers have “single day” plans and there are even “minute-by-minute” plans appearing. How expensive would it be for airports to have open access wireless?

Picture identification ignored

We have to produce “picture ids” in all sorts of places when traveling. The most obvious place is when entering security at an airport. Interestingly, the people checking my “picture id” at airports do not look carefully at me when doing this check. They take my boarding pass and “picture id” and scrutinize them rather excessively, but, in doing so, they do not look at me to see if the picture is really me. So what good does the check do? Hotels now ask for a “picture id” also, I have no idea why but it is not a huge inconvenience.

Random placement of airline counters

At all the airports I use, the airline counters that one has to visit for check in are in a long line but they are in no particular order. So how does one find the counter for a specific airline? There is rarely a sign and so one has to walk up and down searching. Why can’t there be a set of clear signs? And how about using a standard format for the signs and putting them in a standard place so that I can find them easily?

United Flight X Operated by USAirways

For some reason, my ticket says I am on United but in the small print it says “operated by USAirways”. OK, so where do I go to checkin? After making the mistake of going to United (more than once, silly me), it turns out that checkin is with USAirways. So why even say it is a United flight? What is this meant to prove?

“This will serve as the…”

I frequently hear announcements of the form: “This will serve as the final boarding call for (airline) flight (number).” Why do we need the “will serve as”? What is wrong with: “This is the final boarding call for…”?

Lack of power outlets in hotel rooms

Most hotel rooms have just a few outlets that are hidden behind furniture and usually already in use. There has been some improvement thanks to outlets in desk lamps, but this is still a serious issue.

Hotel room “keys”

Hotel room keys that use magnetic strips seem like quite an improvement, but they seem to fail at quite a high rate when first issued. Also, why are there so many styles? It often takes several tries to figure out which way is up and which side is the front.

Hotel televisions

Why do hotel TVs have to return to the default hotel advertising channel when they are turned off? I discover that there is perhaps one channel that I might want to see (like PBS), but I have to select it explicitly whenever I turn on the TV.

Hotel rooms with two queen-sized beds

Why do most hotels have two queen-sized beds in rooms that are very often used by just one person? The occupant of a “single” room doesn’t need two beds, it wastes space, and it takes extra housekeeping resources.

Long lines of hotel elevators

Large hotels have large banks of elevators. This is convenient but often the elevators are in a long line. Sometimes there is a small partition separating the space associated with each elevator. So when you push the call button and an elevator arrives, it is common for the elevator to be so far away that you can’t see it from many parts of the waiting area.

Hotel bills that arrive under the door

A bill often appears under my door on the last night that I am staying at a hotel. The idea is to allow fast checkout. This is a nice idea but for the fact that the bill is actually a bill. To get reimbursed, our accountants require that such statements show a zero balance. So I always have to check out in person anyway.

Hotels without accessible staircases

Elevators are fine but I would rather walk if I only need to go up or down one or two floors. Many hotels have stairs that function solely as fire escapes with exits to the street. With a room on the second floor of the Hyatt in Mclean VA, I had to take an elevator to and from the lobby on the first floor.


If you have any things like this that irritate you when you are traveling, send me an e-mail knight@cs.virginia.edu and I will add it to the list. Current content includes contributions from Richard Sumner, CS students at Rice University, and Mike Ross.