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Air Rage – Why Is It On The Increase?

Posted on 31st March 2016 at 3:42am

Air Rage

Air Rage – A Growing Problem!

Hardly a week seems to pass when there is not a headline that reports yet another air rage incident.

March 2016 saw a group of five women brawling over the use of a ‘boom box’ on a domestic flight in America. They were escorted off on landing. As yet, no details have emerged of arrests or any charges being brought.

A few weeks before, we read stories of family fallouts at 33,000 feet, and a family being left stranded because their toddler had a full on tantrum on the plane prior to take off.

They were removed for the ‘comfort of other passengers’. There were no other flights that day, leaving them stranded overnight. Mid March 2016, American News Channel 7 News Denver showed a shocking report with real air rage footage that proved that flight attendants have a lot more to deal with than passing out meals and keeping passenger comfortable.

And then there are stories of celebrities letting fly high above the ground. Alec Baldwin famously damaged a plane bathroom because he was asked to stop playing a game on his phone, the noise of which was annoying fellow passengers.

Cabin crew themselves are also not immune to rage incidents whilst in the air. A story of a female member of cabin staff taking issue with how a male passenger spoke to her went viral, including the pushing that occurred.

Air rage is on the increase… what is causing it?

On Board FlightWe are familiar with road rage where drivers end up in heated debate over the rights and wrongs of the road. Air rage is similar. It is where two or more people disagree with behaviour and so on. But, it can also lead to solo instances of air rage. Imagine the surprise of passengers en route to Edinburgh from Krakow when a passenger made a dash for the exit at 35,000 feet.

Air rage is a serious offence. In addition to the unpleasant verbal and physical threats, it also puts lives at risks. Passengers tampering with equipment mid-flight, attempting to access the cockpit and injuring those attempting to calm and diffuse the situations are serious incidents.

With increased nervousness about terrorism and travel, it may be that we are more aware of altercations. The media have latched on to these incidents too, with many being reported where once they would not have been.

Add to this passenger intolerance of poor behaviour and you have a volatile mix.

Why does air rage happen?

The salacious headlines we read about air rage – such as the five ‘brawling women’ on the American domestic flight – tend to have one thing in common: alcohol.

But, there are other reasons for disruptions mid-flight too. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that disruptions in flight have increased from under 500 incidents in 2007, to nearly 6,000 incidents. And this figure seems set to rise.

As yet, there has been no coherent study into why there has been such a year-on-year increase relating to air rage. It is a phenomenon difficult to study as some of the reasons behind such incidents can often be personal, emotive issues. Predicting them can be tougher still but, there are some studies that suggest reasons behind air rage incident.

1. Nicotine withdrawal

All panes have been flying smoke-free since the early 1990s but this doesn’t mean that for a smoker, a flight is any easier. With smoking now banned in terminals too, a short haul flight of two or three hours can be four or five hours without smoking.

Nicotine withdrawal can make a person incredibly unpleasant to deal, add to this the discomfort of being stuck in a tin can with a hundred or so other people and it is a recipe for disaster.

That said, the recent air rage incidents have not been linked to nicotine withdrawal.

2. Overcrowding and discomfort

Perceived as a kind of claustrophobia, many people find flying an uncomfortable experience. Sitting next to family and friends eases the pressure but for lone travellers, they may find themselves squeezed in next to people who are strangers to them. Having little personal space is known to be a reason why people start to become uneasy and, in many cases, aggressive.

References to economy class as the ‘cattle class’ describes perfectly how some people feel in the cabin during a flight. In order for airline companies to make profit, they need to carry as many people as they can, all at one. This means that room and personal space is forfeited.

3. Perceived poor service

As a travelling passenger, we have expectations. For many people, the flight can be the most expensive part of their holiday. Costing hundreds of pounds, many people have an incredibly high expectation of the service that they should be receiving.

When the service provided does not meet these expectations, the traveller is left feeling disappointed. If this disappointment is allowed to escalate, it can soon become an anger that it hard to control, especially mid-flight where there is no way for the passenger to leave.

4. Long flights

On Board PlaneFlying long haul is something that more and more people are doing. With bigger, more efficient planes, we can fly non-stop for several hours.

Air New Zealand, for example, announced a non-stop route from Auckland to Dubai and vice versa. With around 17 hours in the air, the marketing made it sound like an idyllic flight. It was enough time, they said, to send a few emails, have a meal and sleep. The accompanying picture was of business class with reclined beds, small TV monitors, space and a delicious looking meal.

Economy class may not quite have the same allure. For many people, being cooped up in a plane for eight hours or more is something that they dread but, is do-able. However, add the knee-crunching lack of space, boredom, fellow passengers snoring and so on, and you could have the recipe for in-flight disaster.

5. Loss of control

When you board and aircraft, the doors shut and the push back starts, you are out of control.

Everything you do is effectively controlled, from when to put your seatbelt on and when to take it off, when you can get up and walk around and when you can’t, and even what you eat and drink and when.

For many people, this is not a pleasant feeling. Others may see it as being ‘waited on hand and foot’ but for others, it is a psychological loss of control that they cannot deal with. It plays on their mind and with the additional pressure of flying at 33,000 feet, they feel the need to break out – hence trying to open the door.

For some people, the underlying fear is the fear of flying. When fear becomes all-consuming, it changes and magnifies our perceptions of things. So much so that the need to ‘get off’ takes over and a person will keep trying to ‘get off’ until they are forcibly restrained in some cases.

See our page about Fear of Flying here.

6. Inconsiderate passengers

By far one of the biggest reasons for air rage is when the perceived behaviour of another passenger encroaches on another and the one thing guaranteed to raise voices and flare tempers is the reclining seat in front. With leg room already at a premium, when the passenger in front reclines their seat, it can result in a very painful crunching of the knees.

With the injured passenger incensed, insults are usually traded. With the inability to be able to move away not possible, the situation can soon escalate.

The reclining seat is not the only issue that can be the cause of air rage. Loud music, computer games and any infinite number of triggers exist that can lead to air rage incidents.

7. Alcohol

Drinking in the airport lounge and continuing on the plane can, for some, lead to disaster.

The effects of alcohol can, for some people, be exacerbated at height. The cabin of the plane is pressurised but there is stir less oxygen than there would be at ground level. This means you can feel more intoxicated, and quicker too.

For some people who drink too much, they fall to sleep and snore loudly. others can become aggressive, the behaviour resulting in some kind of air rage incident. In a bar, they would throw you out; on a plane, it will mean being arrested when you land, for endangering lives. Drinking on a flight can ruin your whole trip.

Dealing with air rage

Airline PassengersIncidents that are violent or abusive on a plane are not pleasant. They create an atmosphere that leaves people vulnerable. Someone exhibiting unpredictable behaviour can be hard to deal with.

Essentially, there is a need for cabin crew to be trained in dealing with air rage situations, such as the use of constraints. However, some psychologists suggest that cabin crew also need to be trained in recognising and deflecting behaviours. This way, some air rage incidents that relate to fear of flying, claustrophobia and so on could be eliminated.

Reducing the amount of alcohol that people can drink is another answer with some airlines refusing to allow passengers to board the plane who seem to be intoxicated.

We recently did a blog post about alcohol at UK airports and low cost airlines. Click here to read about it.

However, changing behaviours is more difficult. In essence, creating a ‘flying etiquette’ for passengers could be the way forward. Whether people take notice is another matter.


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