Air rage terrorist in the waiting,
August 23, 2001 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Air rage terrorist in the waiting, or cranky old man? I can understand flight crews taking every caution with their captive audience, but will the new "zero tolerance" policies make for an airline police state, where shoddy treatment is the norm, and passengers dare not speak out Or Else?
posted by Oriole Adams (27 comments total)
Maybe it's just me, but I don't want to be @ 30K feet to find some @$$hole in First Class who decides to fsck with the pilots and/or flight attendants because they can't get their way. Who cares if he was (as the article states) "a great-grandfather and World War II veteran "?

People like this endanger the safety and lives of the crew and passengers. I've travelled a lot in my time, and I've never had such bad service that has made me threaten and/or intimidate any of the crew.

These pilots and flight attendents aren't dumb; if it was bad enough to land the plane, my guess is the guy was a clear and present danger to everyone on the plane.

All this for a "Diet Sprite with no ice", too...
posted by crankydoodle at 4:08 PM on August 23, 2001

I think the flight crews put up with BS for a long time using threats and freebies, in the name of customer service. But since the 2 (two) incidents last year involving deranged passengers attempting to interfere with the plane, even open emergency doors, I think most airlines have abruptly moved to a zero-tolerance policy.

Read this pointed analysis of the one where the young man was choked to death while being restrained by passengers. Heroic lifesaving volunteers, or mob action gone awry?

I'm also seriously wondering about the possibility of the physical environment of airplanes contributing to psychological conditions. Is the oxygen mix right? Are there toxic materials in the interior? Perhaps there's an unsuspected trigger. I hope this is being carefully studied.
posted by dhartung at 4:08 PM on August 23, 2001

"Our senior management once believed the customer was always right," Hotard said. "Well, today we don't have that view. There are some folks we do not want flying our airlines. Now we back up our flight attendants."

This quote (from a senior airline official) sums up neatly why I hate to fly. The customer may not always be right, but he's still paying your salary and deservers some respect and courtesy.
posted by Bluecoat93 at 4:13 PM on August 23, 2001

The customer deserves exactly as much respect and courtesy as he gives you. If you're going on a plane, simply refrain from being an asshole for the duration of the flight and you'll be treated fine.
posted by kindall at 4:17 PM on August 23, 2001

simply refrain from being an asshole for the duration of the flight and you'll be treated fine.

Where "fine" is defined as "an unfeeling piece of cargo that must be relocated from Point A to Point B at the lowest possible cost, with no concern for your comfort, convenience, and/or health."
posted by rushmc at 4:24 PM on August 23, 2001

Never mind Schneider's pain and suffering, think of the razzing this guy got as a kid:

"said John Hotard, a spokesman at American Airlines' Fort Worth headquarters."
posted by machaus at 4:30 PM on August 23, 2001

kindall: Wouldn't you agree that this applies just as much to the flight crew as to the passengers? Courtesy isn't a one-way street.

Case in point: last year I got bumped off a KLM flight to Amsterdam. The gate staff were unbelievably rude to me and the other folks that got bumped. In fact, they refused our polite requests to help us reschedule our flights until we ganged up on them and threatened to all march straight to their managers. Should I have just tucked my tail between my legs and walked away in that situation?

On the flipside of that experience, I just returned from Amsterdam on KLM. This time, our flight was cancelled due to a hydraulic leak. The ground crew couldn't have been more helpful. They gave us regular updates on the plane's status, and when it became clear that the flight wasn't going to go, they quickly and effeciently booked us all into the excellent Sheraton hotel next to Schiphol and then organized both a dinner buffet and a breakfast buffet the next morning. They even gave me a gratis upgrade to biz class. All of the passengers behaved in a gracious and understanding way despite this big inconvenience because the airlines didn't treat them like shit!
posted by MrBaliHai at 4:33 PM on August 23, 2001

We didn't hear about Sky Rage until they banned smoking on flights.
posted by Real9 at 4:44 PM on August 23, 2001

As the guy tells it, they kept making him wait while serving other passengers around him. When you fly first class, they ALWAYS serve you while the flight is boarding. Maybe this guy, being a bit on the elderly side, had a severly dry mouth, or had had a coughing fit, or maybe he had to take his medication. Or whatever. They did not follow standard procedures in HIS case, but seemed to be doing so in others cases. Doesn't seem right to me. I'd be pissed too.

Oh, and for the record, "flight attendants" (which seems to be the phrase for them this year), are not nearly as friendly (on the whole) as they used to be. I find, each time I fly, and increasingly surly bunch of people, which is a damn shame because I'm pretty much always nice to them.

How wonderfully smug and elitist is this quote:
"We call it the vulgarization of air travel," said John Hoff, a Chicago attorney who specializes in aviation issues. "The flip-flops and tank-top set has found its way to the airports from the bus depot."

Fuck you and your snobbery. I don't remember reading anywhere on the ticket that people below your class had to take the bus, you pompous ass...
posted by fooljay at 4:50 PM on August 23, 2001

What a spoiled society we are, that not being served a soda on demand makes some of us feel justified in this sort of behaviour.
posted by kristin at 4:51 PM on August 23, 2001

Strange. I've been flying a lot recently, and I don't get that feeling when I fly.

To me the stewards and stewardesses are nothing but kind, respectful, helpful and always going out of their way to get me what I need.

I blame people for the decline of customer service. You get treated like shit, and yet you still go back because the fares are cheap.

What airlines are you flying?
posted by perplexed at 4:54 PM on August 23, 2001

Some people are rude a**holes and don't deserve good service. However, if you're just an ordinary passenger there are times when you have to act like a rude a**hole. Many airline people work really hard to give good service and I'm amazed by the amount of patience they display but if as a customer you've tried reasonable requests, polite reminders, trying to deal with another employee, and the issue is important enough (peanuts are not important enough) you have to switch into bitch mode. It's what employees pay attention to. It's what they reward. The airline aren't going to give you anything for your lost luggage or delayed fight unless you make them.

Many years ago I flew to Paris. I think the airline was TWA. I bought the ticket a few weeks in advance and then realized that I needed to change the return date. Fine TWA does it. I get to the airport. They give me boarding passes for both ends of the flight. I go to Paris. A few days later I go the airport and try to return. No, no, no. It seems that the fare I originally purchased the ticket with was restricted and the first valid return dates were several days away. I HAD THE TICKET AND BOARDING PASS IN MY HAND. The gate agents were sympathetic and so on and so on but nothing changed until I got angry and made it clear that I was going to stand there until the problem was resolved. I never screamed at anyone but I did manage to drive the first customer service person away from the counter. The second customer service person gave in and put me on the flight. This was years ago before Europe had even begun deregulating airline travel so there was much less pressure on TWA agents to screw the customer than there would be (if TWA existed) today and I still had to act like an asshole.

If airlines weren't afraid of making real commitments like actually telling passengers the truth about delayed flights or really trying to find your luggage and deliver it to you, then I think there'd be a lot less air rage.
posted by rdr at 5:05 PM on August 23, 2001

Southwest Airlines all the way, baby (in CONUS)!!!

Perhaps they don't have the prettiest fabric on their seats or "First Class"; but *dang* their crews are fun, attentive, and always courteous! Plus, the flights are usually nice-n-cheap! :)
posted by crankydoodle at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2001

Work for an airline for six months (on the ground or in the air) and you'll have a lot more respect for the flight crews and what they have to deal with.

And rdr, "It seems that the fare I originally purchased the ticket with was restricted"--an airline ticket is a contract and if you want to change the rules doesn't mean the airline has to. You were lucky. No symapthy here, sorry.
posted by wiinga at 5:15 PM on August 23, 2001

That link from dhartung about the choking death on Southwest was disturbing to say the least; as that writer suggested, media reports- the ones most of us initially heard- cleaned up their stories and omitted details to maintain the pleasant version of "courageous passengers restrain violent passenger that threatened their lives, but unfortunately the passenger accidentally died". It reminds me of the typical police killing, such as the Aaron Roberts (here in Seattle) slaying, which are puffed up in the media to wash police hands of any culpability in the public's minds.

Ranting aside- for now- regarding this issue, it sounds like the facts are clear about one thing: this passenger was never posing a physical threat, but at worst verbal abuse- and limited non-profane verbal attacks at that, by both accounts. Hardly reason to land a plane prematurely, or even call the FBI to meet them at the original intended destination. If anyone should be arrested, it should be the flight attendant(s) that seemed to have yelled "fire" in a crowded theater here. But of course, this is based on one article's reporting of the facts, so who knows what else occured?

The larger issue is that everyone's getting pushed and pinched by air travel, which has all the exclusivity of bus travel at this point. Airline execs don't seem care about what's happening, which means the employees and the passengers are left to fight like stray dogs in an overcrowded kennel. The employees get burnt out and frustrated with constant apologies for overbooking, flight delays, crappy food, cramped seats, and dealing with rude passengers. Those passengers become rude because they have to deal with stress and hassles and surly treatment.

While air travel is cheaper than it used to be, and very common, we're still talking about shelling out a few hundred dollars for a plane seat on most flights; in my mind that ought to still offer a certain level of respect and classy treatment from the airlines. I believe that treating the passengers like VIPs will in turn make them behave the way they see VIPs behaving; notice how if you go out with the family to a really nice restaurant, everyone knows to be on their best behavior.
posted by hincandenza at 5:24 PM on August 23, 2001

And rdr, "It seems that the fare I originally purchased the ticket with was restricted"--an airline ticket is a contract and if you want to change the rules
doesn't mean the airline has to. You were lucky. No symapthy here, sorry.

Read what I wrote. The ticket was for the flight I was trying to board. TWA just happened to notice the restriction when I was already in Paris after issuing the ticket and without warning me.
posted by rdr at 5:44 PM on August 23, 2001


A British Airways 747 flight suffered a near disaster experience on a London to Nairobi flight.

A Kenyan national passenger walked from the main deck economy cabin, through the upper deck Club Class cabin before entering the cockpit of the aircraft as it flew over Sudan at about 35,000 feet.

The passenger accosted the First Officer, and during the struggle to restrain the passenger the autopilot was disengaged. The plane began a nosedive towards the ground, and many passengers onboard the aircraft believed that they were going to die.

Assisted by two passengers, the Kenyan passenger was restrained as the Captain and First Officer regained control of the aircraft. The flight landed safely in Nairobi where the Kenyan passenger was arrested.

With stories like the one above, is it any wonder that pilots are a little jittery when it comes to air rage, even if there's a hint of potential that it might erupt?

kindall nailed it: refrain from being an asshole for the duration of the flight and you'll be treated fine... and, oh yeah, nobody will die!

Why do people defend arrogant bastards who think that the purchase price of their ticket somehow entitles them to treat everyone like shit? So what if the plane wasn't in any danger from this old man (in the original story), I'm sure everyone's flight was a damn sight better after he was booted off.
posted by lairdj at 7:18 PM on August 23, 2001

Air-rage laws can only work if there is a balance, i.e. while passengers must be responsible for their behavior, airline staff should be well-trained enough to avoid causing such situations as well. This doesn't seem to be the case, however. Air-rage laws aren't striking at the root of the problem: bad service. Oh, sure, violent and dangerous passengers should be dealt with severely, as always, but if airlines start dumping people for being rude, many of them will probably end up spending most of their profits on the extra costs of extra landings, money which could be better spent upgrading their service and thereby avoiding many, of not most instances of air rage.
posted by Poagao at 8:24 PM on August 23, 2001

I recently flew back to the U.K from Australia via Japan. It is a nightmare journey and by way of dealing with it was to get pissed and sleep, wake, get pissed, sleep, wake and so on. I was not rude once, but kept on getting refused drink, because they decided that I had had enough.

Now I understand their concerns, BUT, they way I was dealt with was actually more likely to cause trouble than prevent it. They were rude, spoke down to me, and generally acted like jumped up little Hitlers, when I know from experience than 73.2% of them are brainless slags.

Just an observation.....
posted by Atom Heart Mother at 8:39 PM on August 23, 2001

"Why do people defend arrogant bastards who think that the purchase price of their ticket somehow entitles them to treat everyone like shit? So what if the plane wasn't in any danger from this old man (in the original story), I'm sure everyone's flight was a damn sight better after he was booted off."

Why do people defend arrogant bastards who think that the fact that they are in a position of authority entitles them to treat everyone like shit? So what if the guy complained about the shitty service he was recieving? And personally, I'd be fucking pissed if I was on a late night flight home and we had made an extra stop because some flight attendant wouldn't get an old man a sprite with no ice.
posted by rorycberger at 11:56 PM on August 23, 2001

I think the world would run a whole lot smoother almost instantly if everyone over the age of 15 suddenly realized that they are the only ones responsible for their level of happiness. I've never had a bad flight or bus ride in my life for two simple reasons :
a) I pack a book and power bar, and
b) I ignore the fuck out of everything else.
16 hour layovers, delays, morbidly obese people, smokers, crying babies, psychos, republicans, that chick screaming something in Spanglish to the other chick... bring it. Dong Resin isn't available right now.
posted by dong_resin at 12:50 AM on August 24, 2001

Instead of just landing the plane, why did nobody warn this man? Surely a simple "shut up or we'll boot you off" would have done the trick in this case?

And while I think about it, is there a single case where "zero tolerance" has worked? It failed in drugs, crime, US schools...
posted by salmacis at 1:19 AM on August 24, 2001

To all those poor sad people who think they should get their own way on aircraft, guess what flight staff have every right to act as though they have authority over you in the air, because they do. They always have, since the first plane first carried a passenger.

Get off your high horses and realize you are in a metal tube at 30,000 feet. Just because you paid to be there doesn't mean you can demand and whine and whinge. You don't like the rules, fine, get out and walk.

Funny thing is I have never ever had trouble with flight staff, but I have run into all those and probably a few more mentioned by Dong Resin. Oh and of course the drunks who think playing football and groping the flight attendants is great fun for everyone and those who want to whine about the service, the food, the flight, the plane, the airline and the weather.
posted by Option1 at 2:04 AM on August 24, 2001

There's an self-styled Air Rage expert who's quoted in the recent article about the FAA's air rage brochure being distributed in major airports beginning this month. He teaches something called "Compassionate Crowd Control" (marked by goofy community-building exercises like asking the assembled waiting room who hasn't had a decent meal in 24 hours, or giving each flight a name instead of a number -- though apparently also focuses on situational management techniques).

And after reading that page, I had a little web rage. Jakob Nielsen would plotz.

Back in 1997 there was an international conference on air rage, which reached some fairly obvious conclusions.
posted by dhartung at 4:30 AM on August 24, 2001

"drunks who think playing football and groping the flight attendants is great fun for everyone" are a far cry from a man who got irritated that the guy next to him was served after he'd been told at least twice he had to wait. seriously, people, you'd've been irked too.

and word to what rory said: I'm ordinarily the last person to be sympathetic to folks who're showing their ass in public---my usual strategy is to stare daggers at them and hopefully make them realize that whatever their issues are, it's no need to make everyone in the vicinity miserable too---but it sounds to me like the flight crew were the ones showing their ass here. Landing the plane because some old man had a bad attitude, thereby making *everyone else* late and cranky? Yeah, that's justified and fully appropriate to the guy's actions.... not.
posted by Sapphireblue at 7:24 AM on August 24, 2001

[From the article]: But the truth is, the numbers don't support the view that air rage is on the rise. Reports of air rage incidents have remained largely stable in recent years.

Translation: There's no story here! But hey, people, we've got papers to sell!
posted by Skot at 8:10 AM on August 24, 2001

The problem is how attached people are to the illusion of perfection. If people believe that everything should be perfect and anything that goes wrong is a direct attack on them then small problems rapidly get out of hand. However, if people understand that not everything goes according to plan, people just try to do their best and a few good backup plans are in place then even large problems can be dealt with quickly and with a minimum of pain. "Zero Tolerance" falls into the former category.
posted by krisjohn at 5:03 PM on August 24, 2001

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