Sometimes incidents of air rage are so serious that they make the headlines. A seatback recline battle on a United flight from Washington, D.C., to Ghana in 2011, for example, got heated enough that the plane had to return to the departure airport escorted by F-16 fighter jets. That’s an extreme example of air rage, but last year the Federal Aviation Administration received an official report of an incident with an “unruly passenger” every three to four days, on average.

“Our members have to deal with angry passengers hundreds of times every day,” says Sara Nelson of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Air rage is largely caused by crowded conditions and a lack of space and services, says University of Hawaii professor Leon James, Ph.D. “The airlines are pitting passengers against each other by toughening their environment and creating less friendly and more competitive interactions,” he says.

What to Do About Passenger Air Rage

Speak to a flight attendant. If you suspect someone might be angry enough to act out, or you want to complain about something that’s annoying you, quietly let one of the flight crew know. “Flight attendants are trained on how to deal with and de-escalate these situations,” Nelson says. There’s little in terms of air rage they haven’t already seen or heard.

Don’t interfere. The crew will let you know whether they need your assistance. Passengers inserting themselves into tense situations will probably only make them worse, Nelson says. “I did once have to ask passengers to help me restrain a man who tried to open the plane door and was starting a strip-tease,” she says.

Talk it out. If something or someone on your flight is getting you steamed, try talking about it with your seatmates. “Just expressing what you’re feeling and getting support from others who are going through the same thing will help you calm down,” James says.




Editor's Note:
 This article also appeared in the October 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.