Incidents with passengers behaving badly on board usually used to smoke in the toilet, talk back to a flight attendant or quarrel among passengers over mixed seats. But this year the airlines have experienced a dramatic increase in passenger incidents during the flight and these have become more and more violent and dangerous. Through May, approx. 2,500 such incidents, and those categorized as “unruly” reached 394, compared to just over 200 for each full year in 2019 and 2020. A Southwest Airlines
It would be appealing to some to criticize this up to the pandemic or a reaction after Donald Trump, but there are several reasons for this increase and airlines will have to adapt to this kind of behavior, train for it and help their approach crews. and constructive passengers remain safe. Here are four reasons why this happens, and as a result, this problem does not go away quickly:
Fewer frequent travelers on board
Companies have largely avoided traveling since the pandemic began and opted for video conferencing instead. This has created a population on board aircraft that are less accustomed to the “road rules” and in some cases have not flown for a long time. The TSA has seen an increase in cannons carried through checkpoints, and they attribute to this people who do not understand the rules of carrying weapons on board. On the airlines’ confidential podcast that I host is an increasing number of listener questions related to why they are charged for water on board or baggage fees or things that have been common in the industry for at least 10 years. With more inexperienced travelers choosing to fly today, it means greater likelihood of misunderstanding what is required or normal. Airlines that have traditionally had many frequent traveling business customers may be least prepared for this, as they are not used to so many price-sensitive customers on board.
Inconsistent and changed stitch rules
Airlines starting with JetBlue proactively made masks required aboard early in the pandemic. Later, this became a federal mandate and this mandate was recently extended through mid-September. Still in May The CDC stated that vaccinated people do not need masks except in crowded places. Many travelers, especially if they have not flown for a while, are not aware or understand that even though they do not need a mask at the grocery store, they do so at the airport and on the plane. Of the 2,500 incidents so far this year, a large majority have been related to masks. Of the over 3,000 people banned from flying of airlines, many are because they refused to wear their mask on board.
Airlines have done a good job of explaining the relative safety of the surrounding air environment, but this safety also requires people to wear their mask. The federal mandate protects crew members who can certainly be supported by law, not just their company policies. But this does not change the fact that people who do not want to wear a mask are increasingly pushing their views in places where they do not have a legal right to do so. While it would be nice to have a simpler policy of “vaccinated, no masks”, we are not there yet and should not expect to be soon. Combined with point 1 above, this has contributed greatly to the increasingly violent behavior during flight.
People have pandemic fatigue
Concept “pandemic fatigueIs not unique to airlines, but has been documented and discussed as a reaction to over a year with significant limitations of movement and ability to live what is most considered a “normal” life. This fatigue extends to companies that have to deal with customers who do not follow basic rules that are meant to protect everyone. At airports and on planes, this effect results in increasing tensions, as both the airline’s employees and other passengers will turn on customers who do not behave properly. In some cases, this has been because a toddler does not want to wear a mask, or someone claims they ate or drank the entire flight or other complicating factors.
This may be the single biggest reason why carriers see worse behavior during the flight. One of the realities of air travel is that customers have very little control over what happens to them and many people get nervous or react negatively to this loss of control. Frequent travelers understand this and deal with it all the time. But others see their “freedom invaded” or what they see as “rights” violated, and they push the point without understanding the consequences. The pandemic is not over yet, but we are moving in that direction and some believe we are already there.
Violence more common everywhere
The biggest societal cause of violence on planes may be because we see more violence everywhere with no apparent consequences. Daily news headline scenes of people looting shops, burning down buildings and riots when they want to make their point. Entertainment in movies and games is often brutal and uses violence to get others to accept their point of view. Since violence is normalized in these ways, it is not surprising that this would be transferred to an aircraft cabin. Accuse weapons, bad schools, poor family structure, unequal wealth or anything else, but violence is increasing and airlines are part of society and part of this trend.
As the requirements for the mask eventually end, I expect air raid incidents will decrease as so many relate to masking. But the bigger issues of violence normalization and personal justification will continue to keep some people at the forefront and cause problems when things do not go their way aboard a flight. Airlines are now learning how to handle this, and banning customers is a good start, but not the only necessary answer. The whole country must breathe!