Air rage incidents soared by 17% in 2015

Consumer groups say airline policies to pack more passengers onto planes may be a factor

MONTREAL/NEW YORK • Reports of unruly passengers disrupting airline flights soared almost 17 per cent worldwide last year, with incidents such as passengers being abusive or refusing to obey cabin crew occurring on one out of every 1,205 flights, the international trade association for airlines has said.

Last year, 10,854 plane rage incidents were reported to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) by airlines, up from 9,316 incidents in 2014. This equates to one incident for every 1,205 flights, compared with one incident for every 1,282 flights in 2014.

Planes have made emergency landings because escalating conflicts put passengers at risk. A man on a Southwest Airlines flight started a fight with a woman sitting in front of him in October 2015 after she reclined her seat.

"The kind of behaviours that... might be acceptable on the ground take on a completely different complexion when you're in the air," said Mr Tom Colehan, the IATA's assistant director of government and industry affairs, on the sidelines of a United Nations aviation assembly in Montreal.

Industry officials estimate the cost of diverting a long-haul flight to remove an unruly passenger at US$200,000 (S$272,000).

Mr Colehan said "frustrations with journey", including long security lines, could be triggers.

  • Misbehaving on board


    Last month, a male passenger of Virgin America was criminally charged with sexually touching a sleeping female passenger on a flight to Newark from Los Angeles.

    Six men got into a drunken brawl on board a Jetstar flight from Sydney to Thailand in July. They were ordered off the plane after it diverted to Indonesia.

    In July, a passenger had to be tackled by an American Airlines pilot after he tried to force his way off a plane as it taxied to the gate in Charlotte, North Carolina. The passenger was arrested and charged with being intoxicated and disruptive.

    In July, a male passenger on an easyJet flight from Copenhagen to Edinburgh allegedly urinated on fellow passengers as they were waiting to disembark.

    In May, a woman assaulted an easyJet pilot. She pleaded guilty to punching the pilot in the face after he deemed her too intoxicated to fly.

"I don't think anybody knows exactly the reason driving the rise," he said. "Perhaps it's just reflective of societal changes where anti- social behaviour is more prevalent and perhaps more accepted."

Alcohol or drug intoxication was identified by the IATA as a factor in 23 per cent of the cases.

Mr Colehan said airlines wanted airport bar operators and ground handlers to flag unruly passengers before they reach the gate.

"For bar operators and restaurateurs, we're also saying to them, 'look, you also have a responsibility to make sure... you're not promoting binge drinking'," he said.

Consumer advocates say airlines' efforts to increase profits by packing more customers onto planes may be part of the problem.

Seat pitch, the distance from one seat to the same spot on the one in front or behind, has shrunk to as little as 71.12cm on some flights, compared with the more common 78.74cm or 81.28cm in economy class.

"The fact that they sell alcohol at airports or on planes hasn't changed," said Mr Charlie Leocha, chairman of consumer advocacy group Travellers United. "The only variable that has changed is that they are squeezing more people onto planes than ever before."

US airlines believe market forces, not the government, should determine seat sizes, said a spokesman for the Washington-based trade group Airlines for America.

The IATA is backing new legislation to give authorities more teeth to crack down on unruly passengers. Currently, a passenger who disrupts an international flight can only be prosecuted in the country where the airline is registered and not where it lands.

Yesterday, the IATA urged countries at the International Civil Aviation Organisation assembly to join a 2014 international treaty that will allow passengers to be arrested at a plane's destination.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2016, with the headline 'Air rage incidents soared by 17% in 2015'. Print Edition | Subscribe