Higher Rates of 'Air Rage' Linked to Flights With First-Class Cabin, Study Finds

In-flight tensions can run high on flights with a first-class section.

May 02, 2016, 4:47 PM
PHOTO: Businessman shouting at an airline check-in attendant in this undated photo.
Businessman shouting at an airline check-in attendant in this undated photo.
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— -- Air travel seems to become more grueling every year, with delayed flights and cramped seating. One study finds that there might be another factor for your frustration in flight: a first-class cabin.

Researchers from the University of Toronto examined how having a first-class cabin on board and having passengers walk through that cabin was associated with an increase of "air rage" incidents, where passengers become unruly or abusive. The study was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences medical journal.

Researchers examined more than 1,500 flights and found that having to walk through a first-class cabin meant a flight was 11 times more likely to have an “air rage” incident. By looking at other models on how delayed flights impacted behavior on board, they found that merely having a first-class cabin on board meant the odds of having an “air rage” incident was the same as if the flight had been delayed for nine and half hours.

Lead author Katherine DeCelles, associate professor of organizational behavior at the University of Toronto, said the researchers theorize that it’s the repeated mentions of first-class cabin in coach that can make passengers more frustrated.

“When they close the curtains between the cabins or they remind economy passengers to not go into forward cabin” or bathroom, DeCelles told ABC News, “it reminds people that they’ve paid hundreds of dollars for this experience,” and are still denied amenities.

DeCelles said she remembered her own frustrating experience flying coach on a plane when the first-class cabin got freshly baked cookies.

“They were baking cookies in the first class cabin and it’s like they will never have that in economy,” Decelle said.

E. Scott Geller, professor of psychology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said the frustrations of air travel have increased in recent decades and that there are common sense solutions to diminish frustration.

Geller, who was not involved in this study, said a "simple fix" would be to allow passengers to board in the middle of the plane so they don’t walk past first class and allowing faster boarding by having people in the back of the plane board first to relieve frustration.

Economy-class passengers can feel frustration when an airline makes them wait as first-class passengers boarded and got a free drink.

For passengers stuck in coach and facing their own feelings of “air rage,” simply talking to others may help diminish these feelings, he said.

“You can say, ‘Oh, that jerk,’ or you can say ‘I don’t know them,’” Geller said. He pointed out stewing because someone takes over an arm rest won’t help you enjoy your flight. Instead, simply ask them politely if they can move or compromise, he suggested.

“People are nice if you allow them to be nice,” Geller said.

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