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The Problem of the Air Rage


For the last couple of years, air rage has been on the rise; however, not much attention has been accorded to it, neither is there accurate statistics that have been developed. Air rage is bad conduct of plane passenger that may result in physical torture, emotional harassment or any conduct that affect the comfort of plane staffs and /or the other passengers. It may also take the form of serious safety rules disobedience and verbal assault to the staff members /passengers. This torture is not directed only to the crew members but may even be a target to the pilot, causing a lot of danger as the pilot is disoriented from his duties (Australian Service Union, 20th October 2003).

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Some travelers become a bother to the rest. They may start abusing their fellows; refuse to fairy share the sitting space, refusing to stop smoking that may cause discomfort to the other passengers. As much as freedom is allowed in a plane, the freedom should extend as much as it doesn’t affect the freedom of another person. The behavior has been on the rise because it’s only of late that the crew member report, the details of the flight after a flight have been considered.

Previously neither the staff nor the pilot took the initiative to report the offender after a flight. As the cases increase the media, national, international regulatory agencies, flight crews and airlines are now taking the cases seriously but funny enough there are not many concrete measures that have been developed to stop the behaviors.

According to a surgery conducted by International Air Transport Association, the trend has been on the rise with a recorded 5416 cases reported in 1997; arise from 1132 reported three years earlier. In the U.S. the cases had increased to 540, according to the US Aviation Safety Reporting System (ASRS). Recording of cases in Australia is as recent as in 1998 when 30 cases were recorded but in 1999 the cases had risen to 650.

In Japan, the exercise recorded 330 cases in 1999. The United Kingdom is not an exemption; it recorded 1200 cases in 1999, of which 70 of them were serious cases. The cases have been under-declared since not all cases are reported. A survey conducted in Australia showed that the cases that are frequently recorded are those that involve violence (Rolfe, 2000:83). The statistics are not adequate because not all forms of violence are recorded. A crew member may consider rudeness by a passenger as normal and fail to report.

The definition of this term takes different forms, but from a general definition, it is used to mean any form of misconduct, however minimal, to the plane staff or the passenger by people of bad character aboard the plane. It may stretch from mare rudeness of the passenger to the staff to physical torture to the staff or passengers. These cases are more in public air crafts. The term was coined by the media fraternity in the early 1990s.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines air misconduct as any destructive behavior that can make either the staff or the passengers, uncomfortable. The case may be so severe that the plane cannot continue with the journey and is forced to land in the nearest port to deal with the unruly person. The consequences may be severe especially when the pilot or the assistant is the point of target, he may get irritated and lose control, and eventually have an accident. This and among other consequences (we will discuss later) are the ones that are triggering the battle against air rage. Let’s now look at the major causes of air rage;

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Major Causes of Air Rage

There are various sources of violent behavior, they include;


The consumption of alcohol affects the central nervous system and thus it influences the functioning of the whole body. The effect that the consumption is likely to give is more felt in a plane environment than in the outside world. A drunken cannot be able to reason sober and thus can be violent or use uncomfortable language out of the drive that the alcohol is giving to him (Watson, 1997:2). The effect of alcohol is even more serious in planes because of the recycled air in the plane. The alcohol is freely available to passengers who are identified as mollify travelers and it is also available for sale. From the incidences reported, 40% of them relate to alcoholic passengers. This has given the start point to curb the menace by controlling the alcohol consumption in the plane, but its consumption is important;

It has been used as a relaxant on the passengers and it is known to reduce anxiety. Some passengers take liquor inside the plane. The consumption rules are not clear as they are in public normal situations and thus its abuse is more likely to occur. This is according to Canada v. Ontario (1997) (Anon June 26, 1997).


The effect of tobacco is more severe when it is taken at high heights and the concentrated carbon monoxide that is present in the planes. The carbon monoxide inhaled by the smoker and those people that are around him have an effect on the hemoglobin. It binds itself to hemoglobin 200 times faster than oxygen. This results in replacing the oxygen with carboxyhemoglobin; which should be at less than one percent a normal situation, in heavy smokers, the percentage can rise to 7%.

The oxygen saturation of such smokers may equate to that found at 8000 feet above. It also has a long-term effect on the health of the smoker. They result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in the long run (DeHart, 1996: 83). The effect is immediate and combined with the effect of high altitude, it raises the stress level of the passengers especially those that did not have a previous record of taking cigarettes. The effect is also felt at a lesser effect by the smell and affects the passenger smoker, the nonsmoker as well as the cabin crew. Other than the health hazard that is as a result of the consumption, the immediate effect on the passengers and crew will raise the anxiety of the passengers and eventually discomfort (Dille & Linder, 1980: 90).

The effect of tobacco smoking accounts for about 40% of the cases of air rage, this is because of the stress that they form in both smoking and nonsmoking passengers. The stress and the impure air can result in a passenger being violent or rude. The same can make a customer take more alcohol in the effort to reduce the stress this will further complicate the case. Finally, smoking has a great danger to the plane in general; this is when the filters and the matches are not well disposed of.

The jet fuel is highly flammable and thus the fire, as a result of bad disposal, can burn the entire plane. There are debates to prohibit people from smoking in the plane but we cannot run away from the reality that there are some addicts to smoking. They are plane customers and thus need to be accommodated; the debate has not yielded any results. It is also hard to have a complete designated smoking zone in a plane because you cannot make a chimney in the plane, it is dangerous.

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Stress is another cause of air rage; we have examined how alcohol and tobacco have led to the increase in stress levels; however, this is not the only cause of stress. We have various causes of stress that are in the plane environment as well as in normal day-to-day life. We will examine the causes that have been defined by Muir and Moyle (Undated) in their paper ‘Contributors to Disruptive Behavior’

  1. The high level of attitude at about 8,000 feet is a major cause of stress; the body is not used to such attitudes and the resultant is stress. There are even times that the attitude may go as high as 35,000 feet. The body functioning is disrupted and a person just becomes stressed.
  2. Hypoxia – this is a situation that due to height a person feels euphoria. This is stress that can affect the way a person responds to a situation and can be violent as a result.
  3. The effect of highly concentrated carbon dioxide results in headaches in a normal situation. In the plane environment, this cannot be avoided since not much air can be gotten from outside – the plane keeps recycling the air present (Muir and Moyle 2005:123-16).

Since September 11, 2001, the United States bombing, the “hassle factor” there has been increased fears before even passengers board a plane. This is then transferred into the plane. The setting conditions in a plane are that there are a lot of things that surround a passenger. Some are the ones that he or she requires for a fright like the safety apparatus. The space that he or she is having also is not good enough to offer a relaxing atmosphere to the passenger.

There will be stress as a result of this hustle of space and the transferred stress. The overall experience (that the passenger gets) does not give a relaxing experience but is more likely to build anxiety, anger, and eventually stress. The passengers are required to stay stiff buckled on their seats as they experience the hostile physical environment that includes path destruction, noise, and smell. The effect is even higher for those people who have a problem in breathing, they have to compete for oxygen and they may start feeling dizzy and headaches as a result.

There is also the feeling after the alighting of the passengers, he feels disoriented as he has crossed over different time zones and this change in the atmosphere may result in stress. There are some passengers that are affected by this feeling in the plane depending on individual previous experiences.

Let us take a deeper look at some of the stress categories that happen in a flying situation;

Pre-Departure Stress

The security measures that are put in place at the time one reports at the airport for a scheduled flight can be a cause of stress, the lengthy lines that one will have to make at one particular point. The lines are long and they result in the passenger getting anxious. The security scan can prohibit the passenger from carrying into board something that the passenger had carried. Some of these things may have a deeper meaning to the passenger and thus the fact that they have been disqualified for the flight is a cause of stress.

The emotional balance that the client had is disoriented. On the other hand, the passenger may feel that he is being suspected to be carrying prohibited goods especially when he has been requested to undergo further or second scrutiny that may seem cruel. After the process is successfully done, the customer now goes to the hostile plane environment and thus instead of getting a relaxation, the stress developed at the reporting stage can only increase. There are also some perceptions that are held by nearly all service providers that can have a negative effect on the passenger. Take an example of a Nigerian pastor who will be subjected to high scrutiny because of the belief that the world has on Nigerians that they are drug traffickers.

As much as it may be true the pastor will feel treated unfairly and thus may develop stress. This stage cannot be done away with, however, it is important for it to be done with the correct motive and those passengers who feel anxious be well explained why the process has to be done. On the other hand, there should be the use of computer-aided methods to avoid any anxiety.

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As the plane flies higher the oxygen levels in the plane reduce. As this happens the passenger is more likely to develop a feeling of dizziness and lack of concentration the changes results in reduced oxygen in the brains cell, which causes headaches and anxiety in the passenger. The body system has a mechanism to adjust to this change in the oxygen level. The mechanism is a reduction to the arterial blood oxygen saturation of 98% to 92%. Although the body adjusts to this, it is operating out of its ideal level and thus the body feels stressed and its functions are reduced.

There are also other minor causes that are attributed to stress they include;

  1. The engine noise of the plane as well as the noise created on the way, as the plane flies, are not comfortable.
  2. The passenger is supposed to sit belted on the seat and not much room to exercise his muscles. This may lead to stress
  3. The catering department may also fail the passenger whereby they may serve low quality food or lack food for a certain category of people for example the vegetarians. This is very hard to cure since nothing can satisfy everybody.
  4. Passenger in bad health is affected by the regulated temperatures in the plane and may result in the changed mood.
  5. Hardly do passengers sleep when aboard the plane and thus this fatigue can result in stress.
  6. The general fear of flying and the uncertainty involved is also another cause of stress (Rolfe 2000).

Circadian Dysrhythmia

As the passengers pass through different time zones then the “body clock” that is based on a 24hour system is disrupted. When this happens the body becomes disturbed and stressed. The way it is supposed to interpret the situation changes. This has an effect on the whole body’s functioning. When we change a time zone, the circadian rhythm is not in synchronization with this time zone and the resultant is an internal conflict in the body system. The same story happens with physiological functions. For example, from the East coast to Europe one has to cross six time zones, as soon as the body starts adapting to a time zone no sooner has the plane gotten into another. These changes will result in stress. Not only does the passenger feels fatigued, but also has lost track of time (Dehalt, 1996: 56).

Deep Vein Thrombosis

As a matter of health, there is a reported presence of people who suffers a genetic tendency for increased clotting, whether they are in the first class or the business class of the plane they are likely to experience it. This is not limited to planes but some people even experience this disorder even in-vehicle traveling. This is taken to be the aforementioned condition. Other than one being unhealthy when traveling, those people who smoke are likely to experience this disorder (Kesteven & Robinson, 2000: 32-36). Though there is no adequate evidence that the condition can be a result of traveling, the various situation that is more likely to appear include;

  • Blood (disorders) affecting clotting tendency history
  • (abnormality) clotting following mechanism impairment
  • Cardiovascular ailment
  • Malignancy
  • Surgery (major) carried out today
  • Recent trauma (to lower limbs or abdomen)
  • Personal or family history of DVT
  • In cases of pregnancy
  • Estrogen hormone therapy, (including oral contraceptives)
  • Age (especially above 40 years)
  • Prolonged immobilization
  • Depletion of body fluids resulting in increased blood viscosity (Note that this is not dehydration as a result of dry aircraft cabin air)
  • Tobacco abuse (or the cigar and cigarette smokers)
  • People who suffer from obesity complication
  • Varicose veins (Kesteven & Robinson, 2000: 32-36).


The effect that air rage can have is great and other than just making life uncomfortable to other passengers and crew members it can lead to the death of the entire team. The danger that is likely has made the airlines, governments and other stakeholders come together to derive a formula to curb this. The most obvious reason that will make this act important is the safety of the crew and passengers.

It is the responsibility of the airline operators to assure that there is the safety of the staff and the passengers. This is in the normal business as well as a requirement for licensing. The other area is in the line of business as the airline wants to build a good brand name the correct way of doing this is through them ensuring that safety measures have been adequately put in their planes. In many incidences, the operators will hardly report incidences of air rage to keep their name clean and strengthen their brand name. This will ensure that the confidence of the customers is not eroded, at the expense of future remedies.

As much as developing a brand is an internal objective, the feeling that a passenger gets when he/ she travels is of great importance. Thirdly, efficiency is another aspect that the plane should guarantee, take a situation whereby an unruly person has become so violent that a decision has been made to stop the plane in the nearest airport and keep him out. The result of this is delayed to the other members. Since the plane had carried people of different occupations and others going for different missions, the consequences can be far-reaching. The passenger may decide to sue the airplane company or the agent with whom he booked the ticket. In case, for example, a doctor was delayed as a result and the patient that he was going to attend to dies, such a case cannot be compensated. So out of just a single incident of air rage, the danger can be great.

There are some measures and ways that have started to be adopted by various airline companies with the support of the local government. They include; the British airways have introduced a warning system like the one used in football. The passenger is given a warning of the consequences that can accrue as a result of being unruly. The consequences include arrest and jail at the next point of landing, high penalties. The Swiss air has allowed the crew members to carry with their handcuffs, so as they are empowered to arrest unruly passengers. Once they are arrested they are dealt with according to the governing laws.

The International Air Transport Association has developed methods for dealing with problematic passengers. It was developed by Gatwick Airport and the Civil Aviation Authority in the United Kingdom. It is currently working with airlines and airline companies to come up with a range of measures to enable staff to deal with problems. They are also undertaking education on certain safety measures in the plane (Barron, 2002: 39-44).

Examples of Celebrity Air Rage Cases

In London’s Heathrow Airport, a celebrity by the name of Naomi Campbell, 38 years old, model was sentenced to 200hours following a case of air rage that involved two policemen. The celebrity pleaded guilty to two offenses brought against her. The charges were that she had used abusive language to the crew members and also had assaulted a police officer. The case was heard in Uxbridge magistrates’ court, west London.

Campbell was protesting the loss of her luggage that had been accidentally not loaded in the plane at Los Angeles. She received a 4600dollars fine and an additional $400 to every attacked officer as well as $300 to the disrupted British Airways captain. The magistrate said that he did consider the previous record of the model which was good and thus this punishment can be seen as lenient from this angle of reasoning. The spokeswoman for British Airways concurred with the magistrate’s decision and said that they are allowed to bar some passengers from using their planes. It was not clear if the model was banned but she gave an impression that implied it as if it has happened to her.

The same celebrity had been arrested in New York in 2007 for hitting her home keeper with a mobile phone on the head that resulted in the housekeeper leaving her needing four stitches, she pleaded guilty to the charge and she was sentenced to a community service sentence and was ordered to attend stress management classes (Fox News, Friday, April 04, 2008).

Air rage has been on the rise and the safety of the passengers as well as the workers of the airplane should be protected as much as possible, the business people, governments, and the international community should be reading from the same script to avoid the vice. The passengers should be educated before boarding the plane on the dangers that the vice can cause. On the other hand, in the training of the various categories of crew members, the lesson of safety should be well taught.

The standards of the planes should be continuously improved and the old planes that are likely to cause discomfort ruled out. Anyone who boards the plane should give his or her medical history to assist the crew members on how to treat him or her. The above are preventive measures but a clear strategy should be adapted to punish those people who cause air rage especially if it is not as a result of a medical condition.

Reference List

Anon. (1997) Judgments of Supreme Court in Canada. Air Canada v. Ontario (Liquor Control Board), [1997] 2 S.C.R. 581. Web.

Australian Service Union (2003) Zero Air Rage Making Airports safer. Web.

Barron, E. (2002) Air Rage: An Emerging Challenge for the Airline Industry. Asia Pacific Journal of Transport. Web.

Dehalt, L. (1996) Fundamentals of aerospace medicine. Washington D.C., Williams & Wilkins.

Dille R. L. & Linder, M.K. (1980) The Effect of Tobacco on Aviation Safety. Washington, Report FAA.

Fox News (2008). Report: Naomi Campbell Arrested At Heathrow Airport, Suspected Of Assaulting Police Officer. Web.

Kesteven P.L. and Robinson, B. (2000) Traveler’s Thrombosis. London, Thorax publishers.

Muir, H and Moyle, J. (2005) Disruptive Behavior (“Air Rage”): Possible Aetiology. Springer Berlin / Heidelberg.

Rolfe, P. (2000) “Air rage”: Disruptive passengers the cause and the cures. Web.

Watson, D. (1997) The effect of Alcohol consumption on a pilot. Avmedia.

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