Could Badly-Behaved Airline Passengers Lead To A Better Flying Experience For Everyone?

Image courtesy of Paul Thompson)

Though it might be disheartening to hear that air rage incidents reported by airlines are on the rise, take heart, my fellow fliers: all those unruly passengers could, arguably, lead to positive change in the industry.

Most of the 10,854 air rage incidents reported by airlines worldwide last year involved passengers refusing to follow crew member instructions, verbal abuse, and other anti-social behavior, the International Air Transport Association’s September report said.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, notes Christopher Elliott, and it could lead to positive change for everyone.

“That sounds like terrible news, but it isn’t,” he writes. “The worse things get at 36,000 feet — and the IATA report was only a hint of what’s truly happening — the closer we all come to saying: ‘Enough!’ And we have to get to that point soon if we’re ever going to make air travel better for everyone, not just the chosen few who are luxuriating in the lie-flat seats.”

A lot of the unacceptable behavior on planes — disagreements about personal space, anger over a slow boarding process, etc. — can be attributed to passengers trying to cope with fear of flying and other anxieties, often with alcohol, one psychologist explains to Elliott.

And who is responsible for smaller airplanes filled with more seats, less room in overhead bins, and cramped legroom? Airlines trying to make as much money off each traveler as they can. But instead of improving on the little things that make travelers happy, airlines are telling travelers it’s up to them to be more zen while they’re forced to pay a slew of fees for the privilege of being squished against strangers in crowded metal cans.

The government hasn’t been much help either: For example, just last spring, Congress shot down a bill that would’ve set a minimum legroom standard in the industry.

But Elliott sees the recent IATA report as a positive: instead of ignoring the problem, it calls attention to the fact that these incidences keep happening as airlines continue to squeeze customers into smaller seats and tack on fees for everything from overhead bin space to sitting with your family.

“Maybe this has to get worse before it can get better,” Elliott concludes.