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Outrage in the skies: Are airline passengers getting more unruly?
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Outrage in the skies: Are airline passengers getting more unruly?

Air travel can be hard work, whether it’s navigating super-long security lines, losing the seat lottery and ending up jammed in the middle of the row, or finding yourself on a plane grounded on the runway, delayed and unmoving for the foreseeable future.

In these stress-inducing scenarios, most of us might plug in our headphones and get lost in a podcast or movie — or simply close our eyes and try to get some sleep.

For others, the pressure gets too much, the scales tip over into the wrong direction and the perfect storm’s created for the unfortunate phenomenon known as air rage.

In the photo above, actors play out a disruptive scenario as part of training carried out by the aviation security company Green Light.

Air rage is a term used for disruptive and unruly passenger behavior, ranging from snapping at the flight attendant, refusing to sit down, brawling with another passenger and even, in the most extreme scenarios, attempting to enter the flight deck or open the emergency exit door.

These situations might be exacerbated, or even directly caused, by excessive alcohol consumption, fear of flying, mental health conditions or other individual issues the traveler is dealing with.

Statistics recorded by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggest incidents involving unruly airplane passengers are on the rise.

Certainly, they’re seemingly ubiquitous on social media — who hasn’t winced at a grainy iPhone video featuring travelers shouting obscenities or terse air stewards manhandling flailing passengers?

Airlines and aviation authorities have been clamping down, with campaigns such as the European Aviation Safety Agency’s #notonmyflight initiative shining a light on the issue.

There’s even whole conferences dedicated to the problem: in September 2019 CNN Travel attended DISPAX World: the International Conference on Unruly Airline Passenger Behavior, in London in the UK.

So what’s really going on? Is air rage on the rise? And what can we do to ensure peace, quiet and security in the skies?

Steady increase
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been collecting data on disruptive passenger behavior since 2007.

The latest available data, from 2017, indicated an average of one incident for every 1,053 flights. In 2016, IATA reported one incident for every 1,434 flights.

It’s worth bearing in mind that not every airline that’s part of IATA submits data, and not every airline records every instance of unruly behavior.

In 2017, 81 global airlines submitted data for over 900,000 flights.

IATA ranks each unruly behavior incidents on four levels — minor, moderate, serious and, finally, flight deck breach.

“Relatively few airlines are members of IATA — and even IATA is only reporting those incidents that are reported to them by its own members,” says Philip Baum, managing director at Green Light, a company that provides aviation security training, and the mastermind behind DISPAX World.

The FAA compiles its own statistics for US-based flights, which tell a slightly different story of oscillating figures in the years since 1995…

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