Take my recent flight to Boston. I had survived all the usual annoyances of flying -- the chaotic boarding, the epic struggle for carry-on space, the inconsolable baby a few rows down -- but the tapping on my head was a new one.
I thought it would stop after a couple of minutes -- enough time to choose a movie -- but this turned out to be a marathon tapping session. The flier was apparently engrossed in a game.
Ah, air travel.
Lots of us will be enduring it in the next few weeks to see family and friends for Thanksgiving and Christmas, already dreading the crowds, the hassles and the traumatic experiences to come.
"Flying is like being on an episode of 'Survivor' these days. You have to be tough," said Heather Poole, who has worked as a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline for 16 years and is the author of the upcoming book "Cruising Attitude."
Add potential weather delays, the start of the flu season and passengers bringing even more stuff on board during the holidays, and you've got the formula for extra aggravation.
"Flying has gotten really difficult for the majority of us, unless you're in one of those lie-flat beds and drinking that fancy champagne," said Rene Foss, another veteran flight attendant and author of "Around the World in a Bad Mood!"
With that in mind, we asked Poole and Foss to weigh in on some common etiquette dilemmas of crowded air travel.
Should you recline your seat?
With legroom already limited, many fliers are furious when the person in front of them reclines. But others believe that reclining is a function of the seat they paid for, so it's their right to push that little button on the arm rest.
Both Poole and Foss said passengers should be able to lean back if they want to but urged fliers to be considerate.
"Reclining seats cause more problems on the airplane than anything else, but you are allowed to recline. I would say if you're going to recline, do so slowly," Poole said.
She advised passengers who are extremely uncomfortable to speak up and politely ask the person in front of them to return the seat to the upright position.
"These little situations just escalate when they don't need to. … But people just start with the evil glare and then the knees in the seatback, and that's not the way to get what you want."
Foss said reclining usually causes a domino effect on the plane: When one person does it, the passenger behind him will also lean back, and so on.
The carry-on madness
Brace yourself for winter coats and bulky presents competing with bags for precious overhead bin space.