With the advancement of technology, nearly any human behaviour performed in public can be quickly and easily captured and then shared for the world to see – including incidents occurring at 30,000 feet. The combination of political tension, terrorism, mental illness, and alcohol combined with the stress of air travel means unacceptable inflight behaviour is a common problem. Flight Attendant Ground Instructor Beth Blair takes a look at the roots of such passenger deeds.

In autumn 2016 a passenger on board a Ryanair flight from Brussels to Malta used his phone to capture a video of an aggressive fistfight between several passengers. During the brawl a flight attendant and elderly passenger were included in those who were physically assaulted. Adding to the commotion, innocent bystanders feared the men would open an exit. Those of us familiar with commercial airplanes are well aware that such an event couldn’t possibly occur in a pressurised cabin, but we also recognise that laymen are not familiar with the mechanics of an aircraft’s pressurisation system and sealed doors, and are likely to panic. There is no doubt that, when such an event occurs, fears and anxiety are triggered in the flying public. The captain had no choice but to divert to Pisa. Fellow passengers (able-bodied people) jumped in to help restrain the out of control passengers.

In December 2016, an unruly passenger had to be restrained on a Korean Air flight, causing the airline to look at its procedures regarding cabin crew restraint, eventually opting to issue flight attendants with Tasers. The flight received extra attention considering 1980s singer Richard Marx was on board and intervened during the disturbance. He shared on his Facebook page: “Korean Air #480. A completely ill-prepared and untrained crew for a situation like this. Four hours of a psycho passenger attacking crew members and other passengers.”

In the United States, airlines have seen a rise in disturbances due to political-based arguments. For example, in January 2017 a woman was removed from an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Baltimore-Washington during boarding. She insulted her fellow passenger for being a President Donald Trump supporter. The ending of the rant was caught on a cell phone and shared online. Conversely, there has also been a spike in verbal and physical incidents on US flights by Trump supporters who feel the current political environment validates such behaviour.

Is There a Root Cause for Passenger Disturbances?
Michael Brein, aka ‘The Travel Psychologist’ says the single most poignant factor for passengers exhibiting bad behaviour on airplanes is the loss of personal control. “When deprived of appropriate paths for dealing with increasing frustrations, by way of increasing restrictions on passengers, by airlines and flight personnel, i.e., the reduction of degrees of freedom or pathways by which passengers can express and resolve the variety of frustrations discussed above, it is reasonable that some passengers have little recourse but to ‘lash out’ or ‘lash in.’”

“When you consider that an aircraft is a constrained metallic tube in the sky with ‘no way out,’ it is no surprise that some passengers react analogously to a caged animal that is cornered,” says Brein. “With regard to interpersonal harassment on airplanes, as well as even sometimes sexual harassment lashing in' behaviours may be because of the above factors as well as the increasing likelihood and availability of litigation these days, so the only viable outlets may be more public than private reactions and displays of bad behaviours.”

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