Sometimes you can just look at someone and tell there’s something a bit off about them. It’s not something specific that sets the alarms ringing. Just an air they have about them. Normally, you keep an eye on peeled and get out of their way. It’s not so much that they may be dangerous, but no one wants to deal with crazy either. On an airplane you don’t have that ability. Air travel today forces you to deal with crazies. In a confined space. Possibly even in your personal space.

Airlines have become buses. And attract the people who used to only ride Greyhound. Airlines continue to add draconian rules about conduct of passengers because of the low class of clientele they’ve marketed to. I think that’s wrong. It’s their fault and they should suffer the consequences. Instead you don’t dare even look at a flight attendant these days. If you incur their wrath, federal marshals will be waiting for you when you arrive at your destination. But fellow passengers are fair game.

Not flying in steerage is a good step toward avoiding the mentally unkempt. It’s not that you necessarily are flying with a better group in the font of the plane, just that the truly disgusting tend to be cheap or poor and can only afford to ride in the back with the masses. So on a recent flight, when the odd looking blonde with the slightly crazed eyes came trundling down the aisle I breathed a sigh of relief and momentarily felt bad for whatever poor sucker would end up being that particular lunatic’s seatmate for the next thirteen hours. And then got a bit concerned when instead of passing by she started struggling with her 500 pound suitcase, an oversized piece of baggage she was trying to cram into an overhead bin. That her bag was large enough to hide a body in did not help to lower my concerns.

cute flight attendant

A cute flight attendant doesn’t really make up for the presence of the gross person you won in the seatmate lottery.

Crazy lady not only held up boarding while she attempted to make her suitcase obey, but once she almost got it squeezed into a space designed for half a dozen pieces of carry on luggage, she unzipped it and began pulling out what ended up being a human-sized pillow and enough food to feed a small country. I quickly said a prayer to every god I could think of. They laughed. She plopped herself down into the seat next to mine.

I enjoy flying. Especially on long flights. Or used to. I don’t so much anymore, but my conscious mind hasn’t yet filed that little fact away and so every flight I get on I’m happy and ready for what once used to be a pleasurable experience. Thanks to code-share flights, it’s been years since there was any chance of nabbing an entire row of empty seats. Planes these days are always packed. No problemo, if they have not yet upgraded me to the front of the plane, before take off I’ll get moved there. Flying solo helps qualify you as the passenger who gets the free first-class seat. Evidently, not being sane and barely qualifying as a human being does too.

Belonging to the top tier of the airline’s loyalty program means I get to board the plane first. On long flights, with some twenty hours of travel still to go, being allowed to stake out your claim to a seat ten to twenty minutes early isn’t much of a prize. But I’ve learned that too many flyers are greedy little pigs and pack their entire household in their carry-on luggage. Wait too long to board and the hoarders will have already filled up all available overhead storage.

Women bring on even more luggage than men. They make sure they have enough baggage to fill a few overhead storage compartments plus the required amount to fill all available below-seating space and any other open area within ten feet of them. It’s that womb thing. They all have a need to cocoon themselves in a fuzzy little space of protection. Even when that means taking up the space of their fellow passengers.

The best seatmate on an airplane is the absent one.

Believe it or not, I’m actually a polite person. Usually. I’ve learned to not be when it comes to air travel. When some piggish fish has stored her crap under the seat in front of me, I pick it up and stick it out in the middle of the aisle. And then ignore the sputtering coming from the seat next to me. Then when the flight attendant comes by and asks who the bag belongs to, I roll my eyes toward Miss Piggy and let the flight attendant abuse her first passenger of the flight.

And don’t even think you are going to claim more than 50% of the arm rest if you are seated next to me.

I should know better, but I start every flight with high hopes of landing some hot hunk – preferably gay – as a seatmate. I never do. That is not my brand of luck. I don’t bother wasting money playing the lottery either. My numbers are never gonna come up. And my seat number is never going to win in the seatmate lottery either. At best, my seatmate will be someone easy to ignore. Who isn’t too intrusive or who doesn’t smell too badly.

I used to book the aisle seat but after too many flights of having to get up every twenty minutes to let the old lady with the bladder infection out to hit the head yet again, I now book my ticket early enough to claim a window seat. And then hope that old lady hasn’t advanced to the point in her medical needs to be fitted with a colostomy bag. Nothing is worse than a fifteen hour flight with someone’s piss bag squeezed up against your leg. Well, okay the 6-month-old who has been fed a steady diet of Doritos and will spend the flight filling a succession of diapers is worse. But if that looks like it will be my flight experience I grab a flight attendant and demand a new seat before leaving the ground.

Optiontown allows you to reserve empty seats next to yours on your AirAsia X flights.

Airlines nickel and dime you to death these days and do little to live up to their claim of flying the friendly skies. Several, however, have recently introduced new programs that help you to win in the seatmate lottery. No longer do you have to use your barf bag to express your opinion of your seatmate.

The best seatmate is no seatmate and Air Asia – the airline I love to hate – will now allow you in-flight solitude for a price. Operating in conjunction with Optiontown (https://www.optiontown.com) its Empty Seat option (ESo) allows you to reserve seats next to yours on flights that are not fully booked. After booking your seat with Air Asia X – the long-haul, low-fare affiliate of Malaysia’ AirAsia – you can ‘reserve’ empty seats in your row by paying a fee which varies by flight time and destination but can be as low as $6.

If you are travelling alone, you may claim the two additional seats in your row, if flying with a buddy you can reserve the remaining empty seat. If your reservation is successful (meaning the flight is not full) you then have the exclusive right to use the assigned empty seat(s) for the entire duration of the flight. It’s not guaranteed, however.

If empty seats are available, you’ll get a confirmation message four to 72 hours before your flight. If no seats are available, the empty seat reservation price you paid is refunded a few days after the flight departs. A few other airlines offer a similar product. At check-in, Air New Zealand’s Twin Seat option gives passengers the chance to buy the seat next to them for a significantly reduced price. Spain’s Vueling offers a second-seat option, called Duo, as well. And Optiontown also offers an Upgrade Travel Option – a program to get you a paid upgrade that is usually cheaper than those offered directly by the airlines – on 10 airlines, including AirAsia X, Aeromexico, SAS, Air India, and others.

Malaysia Airlines and KLM now allow you to choose seatmates from Facebook profiles.

Malaysia Airlines won’t let you get away with not having to deal with a seatmate, but does allow you to call dibbs on the hottest guy on your flight through its MHbuudy program, which integrates Facebook into its ticket booking program. Consider it the Grindr app for flying.

The way MH buddy works is that after booking your ticket via Malaysia Airlines Facebook page, and up until boarding, you can revisit their page to check out the Facebook profiles of your fellow passengers. Skim though and find the hottest hunk and you can then reserve the seat next to him. Better yet, locate the obnoxious parents flying with their brood of devil spawn and you can pick a seat the furthest away as possible from that little bit of hell. MHbuddy also tells passengers if any of their Facebook friends are planning on traveling to their destination in case they want to meet during the trip.

KLM recently introduced a similar program, Meet & Seat, which allows ticketed passengers to review other traveller’s Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. For now, the program is only available on the airline’s flights between Amsterdam and New York, San Francisco, and Sao Paulo. The program is available 90 days until 48 hours before departure. And if you have already used it to choose the fellow passenger you plan on molesting during your flight, as new passengers add their profiles KLM will email them to you. You never know when a hotter stud will show up. Alaska Airlines’ Flying Social program also integrates Facebook in its seat selection process.

KLM‘s Meet & Seat is an easy way to choose the guy you’d most like to join the Mile High Club with on your flight.

This new service connects passengers and aims to give them a more inspirational journey,” said KLM managing director Erik Varwijk in a statement announcing the new “Meet & Seat” program which will eventually be available on all KLM intercontinental flights. Anyone using the word ‘inspirational’ when discussing air travel today has got to be employed by an airline. Or on some serious drugs. While the idea of picking your seatmate sounds good at first, obvious concerns should immediately spring to mind. Sometimes it’s the stalker who is stalked. Your inspirational journey could just as easily become a quick trip to hell.

You know fat, desperate straight women on the prowl for a husband will be big fans of the service. If your LinkedIn profile suggests a high salary, you can bet financial advisors, insurance agents, and timeshare salespeople will all be fighting for a seat next to you. The problem with these programs is that while it is great that you can select which hottie you want as a seatmate, you too can become someone’s obsession. And you can not ‘unlike’ someone once in the air.

On the other hand, there is a lot of potential for helping to make sure your flight is an enjoyable one beyond the stud you line up to sit next to. A fake newspaper story about the airline’s recent record of large numbers of unexplainable infant deaths emailed to anyone whose profile lists a ton of kids may help convince them to take a different flight. Picking out the profiles of those you really don’t want on your flight and then slipping a suspicious bag of white powder into their carry-on just before they go through security could easily improve your pool of potential seatmates. Buh Bye!

Keep in mind that choosing a seatmate via Facebook is a lot like on-line dating. That profile photo might be two decades old. Or worse.

You may also be able to pull off scoring an empty seat next to yours without using Optiontown. Post a Facebook profile showing you are a 500 pound 80-year-old with bad bladder control whose favorite pastime is watching bestiality porn on his personal DVD player while flying, and that seat – if not the entire row – should remain empty. And for the sheer fun of it you could post a fake profile showing yourself as a scrawny bar boy working in Pattaya who loves old fat guys – the sex tourists will be putting up a fierce fight to nab you as a seatmate (uh, but remember that after the initial enjoyment of punking someone, you will have to endure sitting next to those guys for your entire flight).

Since you can only use the Facebook program by including your profile in the airline’s database, you might be better off sticking to Grindr. Log on just before take-off and you may be pleasantly surprised by the number of hot guys, and potential partners, looking to book in some frequent flyer miles in the Mile High Club during your flight. Now that’s a use of social media for airline travel I can get behind!