Nightmare fliers numbers soaring, travel body says

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IATA: Air rage incidents are on the up, with an incident on one in every 1,205 flights in 2015

Booze a major factor in on-board incidents

CNN  — 

The next time you’re battling over an armrest or silently enduring that toddler kicking the back of your seat, remember that it could be worse. Much worse.

Incidents of air rage – the sort of gob-smacking bad behavior 30,000 feet above the ground that can turn around a plane or get someone arrested – are increasing, an industry study has determined.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airline industry body, has found that your odds of meeting a true airborne nightmare are increasing. It recently released a report which finds that “unruly passenger incidents” on board aircraft are inexorably on the rise, with a 14% increase in incidents reported in 2015 compared to the previous year.

In the last calendar year, 10,854 were reported – a one in 1,205 shot of meeting that drunk, aggressive or just plane (sorry) disruptive passenger on your flight. This is up from 9,316 incidents reported in 2014, or one incident for every 1,282 flights.

Air rage

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Passengers stuck, outraged by delay
01:46 - Source: CNN

Most on-board incidents involved “verbal abuse, failure to follow lawful crew instructions and other forms of anti-social behavior,” the report found. As much as 11% of reports “indicated physical aggression towards passengers or crew or damage to the aircraft.”

Not surprisingly, booze – and drugs – play a big part in turning otherwise docile travelers into raging, rule-breaking belligerents. The report finds that alcohol or drug intoxication was identified as a factor in 23% of cases, but adds that in most of these cases, it’s consumed prior to boarding.

“Unruly and disruptive behavior is simply not acceptable,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO says.

“The anti-social behavior of a tiny minority of customers can have unpleasant consequences for the safety and comfort of all on board. The increase in reported incidents tells us that more effective deterrents are needed.”

One simple way to curb bad behavior in the air is to nip it in the bud on the ground, the report recommends.

Bar and duty-free staff need to be adequately trained to “proactively” dissuade passengers to imbibe heavily before flying, and to limit offers that encourage binge-drinking – research shows that this can effectively halve on-board incidents.

How this would work when sales staff are confronted with a 20-strong bachelor party on its way to Ibiza, though, is anyone’s guess.

Litany of aerial abuse

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China's air rage problem
02:08 - Source: CNN

Indeed, it does seem that the skies are getting a lot less friendly. During two torrid weeks at the end of 2014, no fewer than four incidents involving Chinese passengers made the news, including four tourists who threw a series of tantrums on an AirAsia flight from Bangkok to Nanjing.

Cabin staff refused to serve hot water to a couple who wanted to immediately heat their instant noodles. The couple retaliated by crushing nuts on the floor. Things got, err, heated, when the woman threw hot water on the back of the flight attendant.

Around the same time, a fidgety passenger not content to suffer through the excruciating disembarkation process following a China Eastern flight to Sanya went ahead and opened the emergency exit door, engaging the aircraft’s inflatable slide. It wasn’t the only time that emergency doors had been opened prematurely.

Xinhua news agency said the reason for the man’s action was unknown, but The Nanfang website from southern China reported that the passenger said he simply wanted to depart the plane sooner.

Famous – or infamous?

It’s not just the chattering classes which can’t seem to pipe down while on a plane.

There’s the “nut rage” Korean Air executive, who found herself locked up after throwing a tantrum over how her macadamia nuts were presented to her.

Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan was arrested in 2014 after allegedly assaulting a member of airline staff on a transatlantic flight and headbutting a police officer who tried to arrest her. The singer was fined over the incident.

And, infamously, former “30 Rock” star Alec Baldwin left an American Airlines plane in a huff after a run-in with flight crew over powering down his electronic device – because he was addicted to playing Scrabble-like app Words With Friends.

In an e-mail to CNN, Baldwin spokesman Matthew Hiltzik said, “He loves WWF so much that he was willing to leave a plane for it.”

Air rage triggered by walking past first-class seating, study says

CNN’s Maggie Wong contributed to this report