Is Air Rage a Symptom of a Deeper Air Travel Malaise?

A couple of recent high-profile air rage incidents, one from United Airlines and the other from American Airlines, have seen passengers treated completely unacceptably by airline staff. Is air rage a symptom of a deeper malaise affecting air travel, and if so what’s going on?

Since most of our travel vaccination customers are travelling abroad by air, we thought it was worth looking into. In a world where there are more passengers, less room and fewer flight attendants than ever, is air rage just another issue that travelers have to put up with as the skies become even more crowded?

The United Airlines air rage incident

In April 2017 a man refused to give up his seat on an overcrowded flight to Kentucky. Police dragged him into the aisle and pulled him by his hands along the floor. The man was bleeding, having cut his head on an armrest, and the resulting social media footage horrified the world. To add insult to injury, Oscar Munoz, the airline’s boss, sent an internal letter to staff saying the crew in question had no choice. He blamed the passenger for not co-operating.

The American Airlines air rage incident

American Airlines recently grounded a flight attendant who had a verbal fight with a passenger on a flight from San Francisco to Dallas-Fort Worth. Apparently, the airline is currently exploring the incident to find out whether the male flight attendant ‘violently’ took away a stroller from a female passenger just before she boarded her flight. The woman ended up in tears, and again social media footage taken on smartphones caused a media stir.

Passenger air rage statistics

In autumn 2016 new air rage statistics were released by the International Air Transport Association. They found a 16% increase in passenger-led problems between 2015 and 2016, with airlines reporting 10,854 incidents, equating to one incident per 1,205 flights. In 1994 there were just 1132 incidents.

Apparently, most of them involved anti-social behaviour like verbal abuse and refusing to follow instructions given by the cabin crew. 11% of cases were down to physical aggression towards airline staff or fellow passengers, and damage to the aircraft was reported in 11% of cases, too.

Should drink be allowed on board planes?

You might assume that most of these issues fall at the foot of alcohol served before the flight and on board. But in fact just 23% of incidents were booze-related. All the same, you can easily imagine how a wholly natural fear of flying and terrorism combined with overcrowding and limited legroom could soon spiral into air rage when combined with booze.

It can feel pretty scary when a plane is full of loud, unpredictable drunk people. There’s a growing number of calls for alcohol to be banned on aeroplanes, so it might be something we won’t see for much longer. How do you feel about it? We imagine airline staff would feel a lot safer without having to deal with drunk people. Would you be safer and happier if your fellow passengers were sober?

Cheap flights and overbooking

The ongoing trend for extremely cheap flights leaves airlines with little choice about overbooking. When your profit margins are minimal, you can’t afford to have any empty seats on board. Most of the time the overbooking system works fairly well. But when too many people turn up for the same flight, chaos soon ensues. How does the airline justify making the choice of which passengers are asked to leave and which can stay? It must be a horrible thing to deal with for everyone concerned, adding fuel to the flames of potential air rage.

Longer waiting times than ever

Flying used to be a whole lot simpler, pre 9/11. You’d turn up a couple of hours before your flight, go through a few simple steps, get on the plane and take off. Now there are countless new security rules and regulations to bear in mind, and there are a lot of items you’re not allowed to take on board. Pre-flight security checks can make you feel like a criminal, asked to take off your shoes, endure a body search and pass through an x-ray machine. It’s meant to be in our interests, to keep us safe from terrorism, but you can see how the extra time and hassle breeds more tension and leads to chronic levels of impatience.

Bored and insulted

Last month Donald Trump announced a ban on devices larger than a smartphone in carry-on baggage for people flying into the USA from eight countries in the Middle East. It’s more than merely insulting. It means long flights are more or a bore than ever for travellers to and from those countries. And bored, insulted people are rarely satisfied by an experience, yet another reason why tempers can flare.

Delays and cancellations

With more people flying on more flights than ever before, to more places, from more airports, it’s no wonder resources are stretched. As a result delays and cancellations are always possible, and most of the time you don’t know whether or not your flight will take off until you get to the airport. It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence or make the experience enjoyable. In combination with everything else, delays and cancellations can make air travel barely tolerable.

Flying just isn’t fun anymore

All these factors mean flying just isn’t fun anymore. It’s incredibly time-consuming at the airport end of things, leaving you trapped for hours in an unpleasant, uncomfortable, often madly crowded airport environment where there’s nothing to do but shop, eat and drink. The dos and don’ts are constantly changing, getting more onerous as time goes by. And the ongoing threat of terrorism on board planes makes the whole experience more scary than ever.

These days, flying is more likely to be a torment to endure rather than pleasure or an adventure. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at the sharp increase in air rage incidents. Here’s wishing you a calm, fast, efficient journey to your destination. Fingers crossed you get a good flight without any problems!