Airplanes can already be uncomfortable, but having an unruly passenger on board can take the experience from unpleasant to dangerous. On October 18th, for example, Aer Lingus Flight 485 from Lisbon to Dublin was diverted to Cork when a passenger began convulsing, biting another passenger on the hand. The 24 year old Brazilian passenger was attended by a doctor and two nurses on the flight, but was pronounced dead soon after landing. (A post-mortem examination revealed that one of the 80 pellets found in his stomach, most likely containing cocaine, had burst.)
In order to deter potentially aggressive passengers with harsher penalties, the International Civil Aviation Organization announced the Montreal Protocol in 2014, which would allow for stricter enforcement of airline rules, closing legal loopholes for offenders. It has been ratified by 113 countries and the European Union, and it will hopefully be able to curb air rage and make passengers feel safer and more comfortable on flights. In the meantime, here are Hipmunk’s best tips for being staying calm in the air and dealing with a rude or belligerent fellow passenger.
How to Deal with an Unruly Passenger
When confronted with an angry or rude passenger, the first step should be staying calm. Shouting or yelling may exacerbate the problem, or could lead to both parties being ejected from the flight. In August of last year, a male passenger on a Newark to Denver flight tried to use a device to prevent the woman in front of him from reclining her seat. Rather than allow the crew to address the situation, she threw a glass of water in his face. Both of them were escorted off the plane. So use whatever strategies are helpful for keeping a cool head, such as breathing deeply, meditating, or listening to peaceful music.
If a problem with another passenger persists, notify the flight crew immediately. Flight and cabin crew members are trained professionals who know how to handle most in-flight situations. Their primary responsibility is safety, so don’t be shy in reporting difficulties with another passenger, whether they’re being violent or simply rude. They may stop that person’s supply of alcohol or try to placate them with a snack. In the most extreme of cases, they may have to physically restrain a passenger, as was the case for a Singapore-Brisbane passenger who tried to open an airplane door in the middle of a flight
How to Be a Better Passenger
Tensions can run high on cramped airplane spaces, so stem air rage by trying to avoid alcohol before or during a flight. Many instances of inappropriate passenger behavior can be traced to the tendency to drink during flights and at the airport beforehand. Being intoxicated can exacerbate anger issues, and can make it more difficult even for reasonable passengers to respond to aggression. Limiting alcohol intake on flights can also help combat dehydration and jet lag, so it’s a good idea for both health and safety.
Passengers can also help flight crew when they require a few extra hands to subdue an aggressive passenger. For example, on an Icelandair flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport in January 2013, a passenger became violent with passengers and crew, choking the woman next to him and spitting on other passengers. It took several other passengers and crew members to restrain him, and he was tied up for the remainder of the flight. In general, it’s best to let the professionals handle the situation, but those who feel comfortable assisting may be called upon to help.
Passengers traveling in the near future shouldn’t be overly concerned about in-flight aggression. The stories tend to make headlines, but only 144 incidents with unruly passengers were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in 2014. That’s a pretty small number, especially in the context of the 28,000 flights that leave from the United States every day. If travelers do their best to be calm and courteous in the air, most trips will be smooth and incident-free.
(This post was posted by Hipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on November 4th 2015.)