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Bad airline passenger behavior is on the increase

The first four months of 2021 have proven to be the worst period ever when it comes to encounters with bad airline passenger behavior. The trend is causing undue stress on innocent passengers and airline crews.

Many news stations have been reporting the increase in bad airline passenger behavior lately. YouTube.

Airline journalist and analyst Simon Marton explains:

A premium show of bad airline passenger behavior

A while ago, a judge ruled against the conduct of a lady traveling who had misbehaved herself in Virgin’s Upper Class cabin, while traveling back from Barbados to London in January this year. She had been refused further alcohol. She made an exhibition of herself. The captain had even left the flight deck to have a word with her.

She enjoyed his chat so much that she called him an a******e. Then she tussled with a flight attendant. She threw water at someone. She shouted at the world in general; everyone else on the plane anyway.

The restraint kit was used. That’s the last resort. Interesting though, how she wanted the plane to crash. She narrowly missed jail but achieved a sizeable £10k fine plus court costs, embarrassment, and some shaming pictures in the tabloid press. It wasn’t pleasant to read on any level. It isn’t that this is an unusual event in itself, after all, plenty of low-cost operators have these problems with pax who just can’t quite behave themselves and sit quietly.

We have a perception that the premium customer is genteel and respectful. I can attest from experience that this is mainly true. I have seen a few exceptions and it’s down to stress.

Stress starts way before the flight

I completely understand passenger (pax) stress and doubtless, the defense case rested upon this. However, traveling in one of the premium cabins does demand a sense of decorum. It’s nothing new for pax in First (F) or Business (C) to get drunk, full of themselves and then become demanding or entitled.

They pay enough for their comfy seats and enhanced service, but it can be as much to do with ticket flexibility. If that’s what the combination of Moet and anxiety can do to you, then you have to work harder at self-control.

The stresses on pax as they turn up at the airport and wander through the psychological hurdles and herding can even make frequent flyers turn into a bag of nervous energy once they make it to the jetty to board. It’s like the airport sets up a deliberate set of automated obstacles designed to catch you out and refuse you access to a simple flight.

Varied reasons for bad airline passenger behavior

There are additional factors like fear of flying or the ‘anger volcano’, added to which you now have current mandatory Covid testing pre-flight and all the stress and expense which is incurred.

I have tried to understand and empathize over the years, having been a passenger myself, and now having a family, just what it is that can upset a person into becoming a completely different and irrational character. I think it’s fairly simple:

It doesn’t take much to upset any of us, as we carry worries, the pressures of life and adverse burdens. People are people and we all have our inherent characters, but often it can be a small event like a check-in experience, a downgrade, an exchange at security or a delay which can cause us to lose our rag, especially in the confines of an aircraft tube.

When I first started working in the airline industry all those years ago, we would often brace ourselves on the aircraft for the arrival of passengers who had been delayed on average seven hours.  Yes, seven-hour delays were the norm for me during summer 1996. We would be told by the ground agents of frayed tempers, fights in the terminal and police intervention. Welcome to the world of the summer charter flight experience!

Operating as air crew

On any given operational day, you just don’t know what you’re going to face as a crew member but it’s all pretty routine. I’ve worked on 50-seater aircraft where I’m the only crew member all the way up to 400 seaters. UK flights are governed by the Air Navigation Order, s.139 (1) stating

“A person must not enter any aircraft when drunk or be drunk in any aircraft.”

(2) extends the same to crew members.

But we the airlines supply the onboard alcohol!

However, as flight and cabin crew/ flight attendants these kinds of adverse events are things we are well-trained for. We could do without the hassle as in the cabin we have enough to be aware of like potential fires, decompression, planned and unplanned emergencies, medical situations, hijacking and bomb scares etc…

And, yes,

  • We dish out food and drink too, which is the visible side of our role.
  • We give out announcement after announcement usually for customers’ own good.
  • And of course, we smile a lot.

Meanwhile, on the flight deck, there is a range of different things to watch; engine T’s and P’s, ATC slots, fuel management, hydraulics, flight management systems, weather and time.

The cabin crew manager’s job

As a former cabin crew manager (SCCM), my job was to instil a calm atmosphere among my colleagues in the briefing room first, and then reasoning that this should overflow onto the customers… I worked out that it was my behaviour that set the tone for the flight. It was up to me to create the mood, keep it upbeat, professional and buoyant. I didn’t always get it right but you live to fight another day!

So, the moral of the story?

The airport experience from parking your car, making it to departures, checking in and eventually getting to the gate can send any of us into a mild panic. So please, allow some extra buffer time if you can prepare yourself mentally for whatever journey you may be embarking upon and above all remember, you’re only human.

Simon Marton, Aviation Journalist

Simon Marton author
Simon J. Marton

Aviation Expert and Journalist Simon J Marton lives in the rolling hills above Bath, Somerset, England with his family and various animals. He used to work in the airline industry for 5 UK airlines and now does something completely different, having stumbled on law, housing and drum-teaching on the way. He has a passion for encouraging and forging new paths, believing that life should be an adventure. Writing is just a part of that journey, and he has a special interest in male identity and mental health. Marton is also the author of the popular book Journey of a Reluctant Air Steward. You can contact him here.

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