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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Passengers from Hell: What are your experiences?
More than nine out of ten airline cabin crew believe that physical and verbal abuse by passengers are putting lives at risk, according to a new survey.
The study carried out by the Transport and General Workers' Union for the BBC's current affairs programme "4 x 4", suggests incidents of air rage are on the increase.
Most flight staff said they have either been verbally attacked, physically assaulted, and some even scarred for life by passengers and said alcohol was to blame in a majority of cases.
Have you ever been threatened by another passenger on an aeroplane? How did the cabin staff deal with it? Was alcohol or smoking a factor? What did you and the other passengers do?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Vicky Ramasamy-Pearson, Malaysia
On Friday 13 July I travelled from Johannesburg to Lagos on flight SA203. There was an incident on this flight which terrified my wife and I. Basically, before the flight took off an entire Taekwondo (martial arts) team got out of line. Medical equipment, including glass was smashed. Medical staff, security staff and cabin crew were verbally, and in some cases physically assaulted. Eventually, the offending Taekwondo team were removed from the aircraft as were the passengers sitting in the surrounding seats.
What I found the most frightening is that South African Airways officials eventually let all those concerned, including the two obvious, ring leaders board the aircraft again.
Thankfully, more by luck than judgement I suspect, the rest of the flight passed without incident, although after the events on the ground in Johannesburg we were 4 hours late arriving in Lagos.
Last year I almost hit a cabin attendant because I was extremely agitated. This event has troubled me considerably since I have been a frequent flyer on both short and long haul flights for almost 30 years with no previous incident of this type. I had not been drinking but was suffering from oxygen deprivation on a BA Boeing 777. I asked to be given oxygen and I calmed down significantly in only a few minutes. I suspect that a significant proportion of air rage incidents occur because the airlines and aircraft manufacturers reduce the oxygen levels, particularly in long haul flights as being in an agitated state is common with oxygen deprivation. I don't suggest that this is the only cause of air rage but it is one factor that the airlines do not wish to acknowledge.
Yes Sarah J, I'm sure that what a grumpy, frustrated, crying baby really wants is to be handed over to a complete stranger. I would be in favour of segregating families with young children (especially those whose response to a long boring journey is to repeatedly kick the seat in front of them). That way, they can share the childcare duties, and everyone else can have a (relatively) peaceful flight.
Colin Mackay, UK
Several correspondents have homed in on small children as a "problem". I have advice for them. Next time a harried mum is desperately trying to soothe her toddler or baby in an airline seat near you, instead of snapping at her to "quieten the baby" as if the child had an off-switch, try the following words, gently uttered; "Would you like me to hold him/her for a while?" You may make a friend for life and even start regarding children as people, not nuisances.
Just three weeks ago as my family and I waited to board a United flight from Heathrow to Washington DC two first class passengers (an Asian and a white American) began a fight over who would board first. The American was a huge guy whom I had seen earlier drinking in a United lounge. I stepped in to defuse the situation as I was almost in the middle of this with my 10 year old daughter by my side. The fist throwing stopped and I quickly moved away. I grabbed a United crew person and told them to be aware of these people. Luckily nothing further happened on the flight but I don't think they should have been allowed to board the plane. As we were getting off the plane in DC I noticed where the American family had been seated, their seat area was a pig sty.
Prohibit alcohol and tobacco and make cannabis consumption mandatory on all flights over 1 hour in duration. Air rage? Problem solved!
Peter Goff, UK/ Kuwait
Having taken a number of economy flights my experience is that a number of small things, each in themselves quite trivial, combine to make me very frustrated. Although I am glad to say I have never "lost it" on a plane I am amazed that "air rage" is such a rare phenomenon. The answer is to serve less alcohol and more water and give people just a little more space. I've seen people squashed into an economy class seat and honestly not known how they got in it at all. If I were in the situation after a couple of hours I'd be pretty cheesed off about it too.
Vacuous and patronising cabin crew, uncomfortable cramped seating, disgusting "food", interminable delays getting on and off - it is hardly surprising if air passengers are at last rebelling against greedy airlines. If this occasionally takes the form of violence, the airlines have only themselves to blame.
Whenever possible I now travel by train. It is usually fast and comfortable, food is excellent, staff are intelligent and accommodating, and prices are reasonable.
Although I have not flown to and from the Middle East in the last few years, I was a regular commuter.....at least once a month.
Due to many incidents on BA and BCal flights, I began to fly with Saudi Air (who do not serve alcohol for obvious reasons)....there was never any problem and one could easily have a nap on board the plane.
If you need alcohol to fly....take a sedative!
Simon Cameron, London, UK
Flying today is probably one of the more awful experiences we have to go through. Last year, taking a flight from St. Louis to New York, the airline loaded the plane in a hurry, moved the plane away from the gate, and then had us sitting on the runway for 1½ hours! The objective, of course, was to have the plane "leave on time", which they technically did! The cause of the delay was bad weather over New York ... a perfectly acceptable reason to be late. But why couldn't we sit in the terminal rather than on a hot plane on the tarmac? It is this kind of treatment of passengers that really upsets people ... taking it out on the staff, though, is unacceptable; it is the airline management who are at fault and ... naturally ... they're nowhere to be seen! My response was to never fly that airline again.
Tom seems to have the right idea, but I'd modify it slightly....
Keep the ban on smoking, ban alcohol and ban grumpy old so and sos who dislike kids (maybe have grumpy old so and so flights).
Provide nicotine patches if withdrawal
is a problem.
I think that the problem lies with the availability of alcohol - especially on long haul flights. On a flight to Bangkok, a guy sitting next to me was asking for two double whiskeys every time the steward passed. The situation deteriorated to the stage where he was throwing food around and then he managed to lock himself in the toilet for about half an hour. Airlines have a responsibility to decline serving alcohol when someone has quite clearly 'had enough'. They also have a responsibility to protect their own staff and other passengers.
K. Sadler, UK
I'm sure it'd suit everyone a lot more if we were just sedated, put in a comfortable travel-box and loaded onto cargo planes.
This is not just an 'economy' problem. I was flying
non-stop from Singapore to London in first class and witnessed
a fellow passenger start fighting with the person in the
seat next to him. It took both the on duty and off duty cabin staff
to split them up and pin them both down. They were drunk
and with the strain of knocking each other about and being sat on by most of
the cabin crew they sat in seats apart from each other and just dozed off!
That is the only time I have seen this happen in 20+ years of flying.
I only ever had trouble from a passenger once. I asked him to sing a little less loudly and he got aggressive to the point of being physically threatening. When he stood up as if to rush me I started laughing as he was about half my size. When he realised this he decided not to bother and sat down again.
I was on a flight from Gatwick last year
and was sat next to a big fat bloke who
couldn't stop farting. He stunk, and was
chuffin like a steam train. Guess what
we had for the inflight meal...beans!
It got so bad, I had to use the oxygen mask
which was supposed to be used for
Here we go. The "BAN EVERYTHING!!" brigade are out in force once again. What's their recommendation this time for dealing with a tiny minority of idiots who can't handle alcohol? Answer: Deny everyone else on the flight the chance of having a glass of wine/beer whilst jetting out to their summer holidays. As a frequent flier and one of the 99.9% of humans who don't turn into suicidal idiots after having a glass of wine with my meal I object to these proposals very strongly. If you're looking to reduce stress levels on flights then consider introducing "no children" flights. I had to sit in front of three screaming kids for a 4 hour flight recently. An experience I found considerably more stressful than having a few drunks on the plane who, in the vast majority of cases, are no trouble whatsoever.
I think that if they laid on better looking airline staff people would not drink so much. There is nothing worse than an ugly chick walking up and down saying more tea/ coffee more tea/ coffee.
Keep the ban on smoking, ban alcohol and ban small children (maybe have special family flights scheduled?). Increase legroom and improve food. Train cabin crew to administer strong sedatives for persistently aggravating passengers. Problem solved!
However on holiday flights the tone is totally different with people arguing in the queues to check in and pushing to get on the planes. In addition the charter airlines try to sell as much alcohol as possible throughout the trip. The worst situation is always on night flights where the holiday makers have had a few drinks prior to arriving at the airport and then continue on throughout the evening and during the flight. There should be some measure that the airlines could take if they see people acting drunk and in their eyes are unfit to be on a plane, something like the breathalyser.
I have been flying for over 30 years and have yet to see an air rage incident. Passengers with too much to drink and a bit rude occasionally but nothing more. It has always amazed me that there isn't more as I and other passengers are often the recipients of incredibly bad service, rude staff - at the very beginning of the flight - no announcements of delays, sitting on the tarmac in the sun without air-conditioning and nothing done until passengers almost pass out.
It has nothing or very little to do with alcohol.
Bad and rude service, staff that would rather talk than make it a nice flight for passengers, cramped conditions and on the list goes.
I've worked as a cabin crew member for an international airline for several years now and I have to agree that alcohol would appear to be a deciding contributor to air rage. On flights between Europe and the US, my colleagues and I are constantly busy serving drinks to holiday travellers who cannot get their fill of the free alcohol. Passengers who really want to drink heavily are often very difficult to keep track of, and to control. On a wide body aircraft there are up to 20 cabin crew members onboard. If I have been serving many drinks to a passenger and decide that they need to be cut off, many times this person just goes to a different part of the airplane and asks another attendant for a drink.
We are not on board to baby-sit our passengers, but are forced to so that we do not have to deal with larger problems later. This does not make us popular with those that just want to get drunk. Interestingly, there are never as many problems on flights to Asia even though the flights are much longer. In general there does not seem to be as much drinking in Asian cultures.
It is clear from the many diverse comments you have received that there are many specific reasons, but I truly believe it is principally the fault of the airlines, who more and more treat the passengers as freight. Inadequate legroom, frequent delays, lengthy boarding and disembarking procedures, few air changes (smoking was banned to enable air changes to be even fewer, not for safety reasons). Economy class is so cramped that the seat belt sign is turned on long before landing so the crew can move along the aisles. As far crew stress is concerned: Tough, do they imagine they have less stress than other occupations, such as police under extreme provocation during demonstrations, or London bus drivers or someone on the bread line trying to raise a family. If they can't stand the heat, time to get out of the kitchen.
I would have to agree that problems with service on the ground would test anyone's patience. During my time working for an airline, I often found myself at the sharp end of disputes with irate passengers. Most of the time the problem was well beyond my control. Passengers should keep in mind that airline workers are under a great deal of stress. So, if an employee is snippy, it may be that they have just been bawled out by the passenger who believes that the person at the counter is somehow personally responsible for their bag being sent halfway around the world in the wrong direction. Be understanding, and not part of the problem.
I fly over 300,000 miles per year in both Business and Economy and must agree with a number of your callers re the state of service in Economy. It seems that the ability to smile is removed when air crew look after the back of the plane. This coupled with the poor seating is enough to spark things off.
What I don't understand is the call to ban alcohol on flights, I enjoy a drink or two whilst flying and at no stage have I seen any air rage, I have however seen the rage of customers when they are complaining of a lack of service from the crew. Maybe this is what is called air rage.
"Air rage" is just like so many other syndromes - an excuse. Allowing people to say they are in the grip of "air rage" lets them sidestep the real point - they feel they have a right to do whatever they want, and are too moronic to have any response other than violence when they're frustrated.
It is important to maintain a realistic perspective. This is a small (thankfully) but dangerous problem. Here in the US, I am a very frequent flier with a leading airline and my consistent perception is of highly capable, patient and flexible staff being harassed by impatient and rude passengers. The problem root cause is in society, not the airlines. Bad seating, bad food, delays etc may well bring rage behaviour to the surface, but the ills in our society put it there in the first place. Don't blame the airlines.
The only case of air rage that I have seen was during a transatlantic flight to the UK. Alcohol wasn't the reason, instead it was a combination of things including: a delay, a crowded airplane, and several young families. Finally, five hours into the flight when everyone is trying to sleep a woman with a two year old (who had allowed the child to run rampant during the flight) that wouldn't stop crying caused a man in the row in front of her to ask her to quieten the baby down. Instead the woman told the man that it was impossible. A loud argument ensued and the flight attendants had to break them up. I think that young children are probably as much of a cause for air rage on long flights as excessive consumption of alcohol.
With all due respect, people should stop complaining about economy class. Yes, the conditions are cramped, yes, the service is hardly great, yes, the delays are bad. But at less than the price of a bus ticket to travel so many hundreds of miles you get what you pay for. Deal with it and quit whingeing.
I travel frequently and have never seen a problem on the scheduled flights I take, usually BA or Air Canada. However when I have travelled charter from Toronto to the Caribbean or from the UK to southern Europe, there have been several times when passengers have become rowdy. This is not only the alcohol, but the "Air Sardine" conditions on the cheap charters. At Luton airport in May there were several groups of people already loud and drunk at the airport bar at 6am. I guess it was the start of "We are on our hols, let's get drunk" attitude.
Susan Fraser, Luxembourg
Last time I flew to Asia in economy class, I sat for almost 17 hours in a seat without the legroom I get on a bus.
The installation of in-flight entertainment systems has further reduced the available legroom because they require huge metal junction boxes under almost every seat.
It only amazes me that there aren't more cases of air-rage.
I used to work for an airline, and have therefore spent a lot of time travelling. In my opinion air rage cases seem to have increased since airlines banned smoking. There are a number of passengers who use smoking to calm the nerves and would prefer to have a cigarette than a drink, these passengers then turn to alcohol as an alternative to try and calm themselves down. This in fact, as we all know, has adverse affects when consumed in high quantities in the air. Maybe smoking should be brought back, or at least some further research done into this to prove or disprove.
The answer is simple. Re-institute the sky marshals on all flights, and give them the power to arrest and subdue such passengers when they become a threat. The known presence of law enforcement on these flights will deter all but the most aggressive (or unintelligent) people.
Remember, folks, when you get in a large airliner you're sharing that tin can with up to 100 people who are all going through nicotine withdrawal - often described as far worse than heroin withdrawal.
As far as I'm concerned, the only surprise is that there are so few incidents of air rage under the circumstances.
I've never witnessed any "air rage" incidents, but I've had a handful of flights ruined by babies and toddlers who screamed for hours. The headsets provided on the aircraft were unable to block out the racket without turning the radio or music volume up to dangerous levels. By the end of the flights it was very nearly me who committed "air rage". Why can't airlines relegate families with small children and babies to some corner of the aircraft where they can cause most disruption to each other and let the rest of us travel in peace?
As a number of people have stated, a lot of air rage incidents are linked to alcohol.
But in my own experiences it can be very difficult to get water in any quantity on a plane, and when it is available a small bottle of the sparkling variety. Planes are dehydrating anyway, so might it not be better for the airlines to provide more water as opposed to alcohol.
P Owen, UK
Isn't some of this cause and effect?
Delayed flights, and therefore drinking in airport bar, to while away time?
Delays on take off and landing slots. It builds up to huge frustration.
Alcohol also makes the effects of jet-lag worse, and the best thing to drink is lots of water.
The authorities should ban alcohol on all flights, and if people want to buy Duty Free booze, then the order should be picked up at destination - which would also save the weight and hazard risk of storing bottles in aircraft lockers.
You cannot compare smoking and drinking. Smoking can be a fire hazard and will always pollute the environment for other guests. I thoroughly enjoy a drink whilst flying and would not dream of antagonising anybody. Stop bringing in rules to punish the many as a result of the few. Simply ensure that should people become drunk and aggressive on board a plane that they are met at the other end and let them spend 3 weeks in jail awaiting trial. The cost of this and inconvenience will always be the best deterrent.
Whilst we "economy class" passengers have to deal with interminable check-in queues, cramped seating, and sullen cabin staff I am not surprised "air-rage" is on the increase. Indeed, given the speed and standard of service on most flights, I am amazed anyone is served enough alcohol to GET drunk...
I'm wondering whether this happens around the world or is it just British people? Because with all the reports released about the reasons etc it is clear that the UK is breaking down socially. Everywhere you look people are being attacked; road rage, paramedics, doctors, teachers, fire fighters. The list goes on. A the end of the day air rage has nothing to do with food or drink or cramped conditions, it is to do with the fact that in Britain violence has become the answer to everything. We are becoming a country of thugs. I don't often see stories of air rage in other countries but I'd be glad if someone could inform me if I'm wrong. Cheers!
Not being allowed to smoke on the long routes to, say, Australia contributes to my feeling in a bad mood.
The reasons for most airlines to disallow smoking is in the interest of the airline and not the passenger.
If there were to be a "behind the bike shed" area
for we lepers, that would relieve tensions for many fliers.
Airlines keep saying that the problem in alcohol related but seem unwilling to take the logical step in banning it from their flights. As with all things these days, until there is a crash caused by someone going berserk, nothing will be done.
I have thankfully never witnessed an air rage incident, but the many comments regarding the availability of alcohol on flights seem to have hit the nail on the head. Not only do the airlines and staff have a responsibility in stopping serving alcohol to those they feel are already intoxicated, but they should certainly not be ENCOURAGING passengers to drink.
On a charter flight to the Caribbean earlier this year, we were offered unlimited wine on our flight, but were required to pay for water and soft drinks. It is hardly surprising that alcohol fuelled air rage incidents are on the rise with ridiculous regulations such as these in practice.
I don't believe alcohol should be banned on flights... I think that those who are unable to control themselves after a drink should be banned from boarding a plane for life. Why should the rest of us suffer because of the faults of the few?
Too often when I worked in "security" at airports, the captain would radio ahead to his destination requesting help with a violent passenger. As soon as the offender was offloaded, the cabin crew either disappeared into the mist, or complained they had to turn the aircraft around quickly and had no time to deal with legal matters. Neither giving statements, nor wishing to "get involved". Equally, passengers who were witnesses, did not wish to be involved.
I have a question, of the cases of air rage reported what is percentage split between scheduled flights and charters?
Most people enjoy a drink whilst flying to take the time away, unfortunately, you get the odd idiots who think it's very funny to frighten everyone with violent behaviour, I think it's time to name and shame those people responsible, and stop them flying at all, after all if they were hooligans at a football match they would be banned. This behaviour whilst flying is putting hundreds of people at risk!
I don't think that the airlines make it easy on themselves. Poor services, long delays and insolent staff don't help create a mellow atmosphere. I note from your statistics that only 11% of incidents involve actual violence - presumably the other 89% are simple customer complaints! Maybe the airlines should clean up their own behaviour before they request to take the law into their own hands.
I don't think it's just a problem with alcohol and flights. A general lowering of moral standards and behaviour can be seen everywhere. Until there is a strong enough desire by the general public to not accept the appalling antics of modern day yobs and thugs, I'm afraid we're stuck with it. The courts could make a start by actually dealing with such people, and stop worrying about "human rights" - Sufficient deterrent will always make a difference.
It isn't always the passenger's fault. The disgusting food and indifferent cabin crews create resentment in the passenger who is crammed into an intolerable seat with little legroom. It is a perfect set up for rage.
Yes - ban alcohol, and hang on, what if watching a film triggered a copycat killer - let's ban films too. Come on, at some point we have to take responsibility for our own actions and not keep blaming the tools to the effect.
My husband and I were on a Monarch flight to Hurgarda in Egypt earlier this year and a group of men got very loud and badly behaved on the flight spending most of the flight up and down the aisle and knocking other passengers all the time and they kept going up to the cabin crew for extra alcohol which they agreed to serve to them until they realised the group were drunk. Do these charter flight staff get encouraged to sell as much alcohol as possible by the flight company? Or are the cabin crew on a commission for how much drink they can sell?
I enjoy being pleasantly inebriated when flying. It's great listening to my favourite music while sipping a Gin and Tonic and looking out at brilliant white clouds. I think the few selfish people who spoil it for us happy flyers could be handled better if airlines did the following:
1. Clearly and repeatedly announce the seating order when boarding the plane. This always goes wrong in my experience and begins to wind people up.
2. Stop - I really mean Stop people boarding with large bags or more than one cabin bag at the check-in.
3. Keep telling people when things are going to happen. e.g when food will be served. Make announcements when turbulence starts - it will make people less nervous.
Turning a blind eye to issues 1 and 2 only pushes the responsibility on to cabin staff or fellow passengers to sort out the resulting arguments.
Has there been any figures published about the correlation of people falling foul of their own air rage, and how many of them smoke? Reason I ask are some of the bizarre side effects I recently felt whilst giving up smoking. It doesn't take long to become agitated.
I notice that there is an airport outside of Boston, Ma, USA, which gets used quite regularly for offloading dangerous UK passengers bound for the Caribbean, is this because it is the first one available, after a few hours of flying, or is it because any air rage incidents happen within a certain distance of this airport?
Before we go banning alcohol on flights shouldn't the issue as a whole be looked at more? Maybe issuing nicotine patches would be a good start for smokers.
I feel a need to speak up on behalf of the passengers who are portrayed as a set of drunken belligerents. I take about 60 flights a year and have never even seen an air rage incident. Yet all the reports seem to suggest that there is an epidemic. What are the real statistics? (Geographical statistics would be interesting)
The problem is usually with alcohol consumed prior to boarding the plane. Breathalysing passengers at the x-ray security point could bar individuals already drunk from boarding flights.
Paul Miller, UK
As a frequent air traveller, I've still to witness air rage in the flesh thankfully. There's no doubt that alcohol should be banned on flights. It's only a few hours and the excuse to 'calm nerves' is pathetic - flying is statistically the safest form of transport. Air ragers, grow up!
Cabin Crew work is very hard indeed and most people do not know what the job involves. I definitely think that they should be trained in negotiation, self-defence and restraint. This Air-Rage is getting far too common and more needs to be done to prevent it.
They may have banned smoking on flights and it seems now that alcohol is now getting a bad name for itself. I think it is more to do with the fact that the airlines are greedy and cut corners in Economy Class service. A survey on this website shows that 95% of air rage happens in Economy whilst only 40% can be attributed to alcohol. It is so easy to get a top-up of your wine in Business or First but trying to get a second single serving of beer is near impossible in Economy. Maybe the airlines and cabin crew should try a little harder to help their customers, and make the whole trip a pleasant event - even if it is as heavily delayed as they always seem to be.
Passengers are often drunk prior to boarding the aircraft. This is when some of the potential troublemakers should be identified and boarding refused to them. Prior to take off, strong warnings should be made as to what the airline's policy is regarding drunk passengers causing disruption during the flight. In the air, the cabin crew should also be able to identify passengers who are starting to become inebriated and warn them accordingly, before they get so drunk that everything gets out of control.
I must say this experience was rather frightening in the confines of an aircraft and I can't understand why passengers are offered alcohol when it's quite clear they are already intoxicated. They should ban alcohol on flights full stop. It impairs reactions in the event of an emergency and people become a danger to themselves and other passengers!
I have seen more examples of rage at airports than in the air. The whole experience of having to queue to go through the arcane mysteries of check-in (why, oh why does it have to be so complex and time consuming?), to be subjected to ever-growing delays while being kept ignorant of their cause and all of this in overcrowded and overheated airports with poor and expensive facilities. Is it then surprising when the last straw of runway delays or some other minor irritation finally causes an outburst of pent up stress? The whole flying experience needs to be made civilised.
Phil Jones, UK
Maybe those people who can't face going without a drink for a couple of hours should consider spending their summer holidays in a clinic.
I was witness to an "air rage" incident on a transatlantic flight once, turned out the guy was diabetic. I'd sussed this out but it took a long while for the cabin staff to twig this.
One observation especially on transatlantic flights is the long time between boarding and getting fed. If you've been travelling prior to checking-in, waiting and boarding, it could be easily four, five or maybe six hours since the last meal. It would only take the slightest drop of alcohol to make someone inebriated under these conditions. Stressed, hungry, drunk - dangerous combination. Not everyone is aware or has the time to stock up on a burger before boarding. Maybe the airlines need to think about their passengers' diet before judging consequent behaviour.
They said smoking would never be banned on flights - now almost all flights are non-smoking. In my mind it's just a matter of time before alcohol is also banned on flights. Surely for the safety of all passengers and crew members this would be the right move.
22 Jul 01 | UK
Staff fear 'air rage epidemic'
26 May 01 | UK
BA launches 'air rage' crackdown
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