Growing media notation of the term “air rage” has, if nothing else, raised the bar on what travelers consider truly bad behavior. We’ve all had the experience of sitting beside, or near, someone whose displeasure — with the airline, with the attendant staff, with a husband, wife or co-worker — was manifest. But verifiable instances of “air rage”? These are rare. I’ve never been witness to one — and yet news of ever-more egregious examples seems to arrive here, via MM’s various travel news feeds, each week. See here where a 43-year-old male was ultimately strapped to his seat after head-butting a stewardess on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London. See here the report of a 58-year-old traveler jailed for 6 months after attacking a female purser on a flight from Newcastle to Ibiza.
One hesitates to generalize about such things. However, up until recently, it appeared a great many of these incidents had two things in common: booze and a British passport. Where I live, in Maine, there’s a small airport serving the northern city of Bangor. Only regional jets fly in and out of this tiny market, but the runway there is outsized. Why? Two reasons: 1) It must be long enough to accommodate trans-Atlantic flights that may, on account of strong headwinds, need to land; and 2) Every so often some unfortunate captain is obliged to touch down in Bangor, not to refuel, but to unload on the local constabulary some particularly drunken, unruly Brit. This is not an isolated occurrence. It’s been going on serially, for some time.
Having gone to university in London and subsequently traveled all over the UK, I’ve witness dozens of outbound flights where some (certainly not all) British passengers view holidaymaking as an excuse to totally cut loose. I’ve got first-hand experience with this dynamic. Was it “air rage”? No. But I do think there is something to the idea, born of armchair psychology, that Brits cut loose on holiday in reaction to leaving what remains a very buttoned-up, class-restrictive culture.
Perhaps this helps explain the recent spate of air rage incidents on Chinese flights. Clearly, more and more Chinese are traveling abroad; 2014 marked the first time outbound international travel topped 100 million. Like the British, perhaps particularly high-strung Chinese view international travel as an opportunity act out in ways they cannot at home.
The Brit on his way to Ibiza attacked the purser because she had “tried to confiscate a Lucozade bottle that had been filled with brandy.” The incident on AirAsia’s Dec. 11 flight from Thailand to Nanjing revolved around four Chinese irate that they couldn’t get hot water for their cup noodle.
Different triggers. Same dynamic.
It’s surely dangerous to speculate much further on the cultural factors underpinning such incidents. Four passengers making a scene remains quite isolated behavior, even when set against the 200 other, perfectly reasonably passengers on that particular flight.
However, the American insurance conglomerate Chubb now offers insurance coverage against air rage. According to the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Chubb will provide some US$15,000 of coverage (for an annual premium of US$3,500) to cover medical or psychiatric services, or missed workdays resulting from incidents of air rage. Chubb reportedly chose to offer this policy after commissioning a report on the air rage phenomenon. Said report advises passengers confronted with air rage to ask the unruly passenger’s name and stand at a 45-degree angle to him or her – on their non-dominant side (is that the hand holding the noodle, or the one shaking his/her fist demanding hot water?). It also warns against “mirroring” the mood of the angry passenger, and that smiling is not a good idea because it could be construed as “ridicule”.
Good food for thought… which leads us directly, in conclusion, to the “nut rage” incident involving the now-infamous Korean Air Lines heiress who strongly objected to being served packaged macadamia nuts. Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of Korean Air's chairman, didn’t merely pitch a fit; she ordered the plane back to the gate and the offending stewardess off her Dec. 5 flight from New York City. Cho has since resigned in shame; her father has more or less thrown her under the bus, admitting publicly that he didn’t raise her right. Heads continue to roll in wake of this episode.
Judgment from the Korean public has been less harsh. Apparently, sales of macadamia nuts there have soared.