"I had about 12 inches of space," he says. "Luckily, I'm a peaceful guy, because by the time I got back, I was ready to pick a fight with anyone in sight."
As a result of airline cost-cutting, many airline workers also have taken on more duties while enduring pay cuts. Their stress and frustration could be fostering more aggression among customers.
Corey Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the national Association of Flight Attendants, says it's "a very troublesome time" for flight attendants. Airline bankruptcy reorganizations became "the industry norm" after 9/11, so flight attendants have had to cope with pay, benefits and workrule concessions, she says. They're working more hours, a recipe for fatigue.
That's true of all categories of airline workers.
Because of new security requirements that passengers arrive earlier at airports, travelers with a lot of time to kill may be consuming more alcohol at airport bars or drinking too much in-flight. Smokers may also be agitated because they're not allowed to smoke in-flight or inside many airports.
Passengers may also be stressed before getting to the airport, says Robert Bor, editor of Passenger Behaviour and Aviation Mental Health, two academic books published in England. It can be stressful buying tickets and getting to the airport.
Frequent-flier Yeddy Kaiser, a software consultant in North Branch, Mich., says she's seeing many more rude passengers than rude employees.
When bags are lost or overweight, "I've heard people scream, cry, swear and threaten," she says. "Do they think the (airline worker) deliberately made the suitcase miss the connection? Is it the ticket agent's fault the suitcase is overweight?"
Caldwell, of the flight attendants union, says passengers and employees must remember that courtesy and manners are important in both directions. "We're in this together," she says, "flying in the same aircraft cabin at 30,000 feet."