Why passengers get air rage: The real reason passengers misbehave on flights

Incidents of air rage from passengers are four times more likely if the plane has premium seating rather than just a single economy class cabin.

This is according to new research into disruptive behaviour in the skies that suggests the awareness of inequality on board is comparable to the effects of a nine-and-a-half-hour delay when it comes to angering fliers.

Katy DeCelles, an associate professor of organisational behaviour at the University of Toronto, studied data related to on-board incidents shared by an unnamed major airline and found a strong correlation between class divide and passenger misbehaviour.

The presence of a second class of cabin was known as "physical inequality".

See also: Travel etiquette: Ten rules every passenger should follow

DeCelles, along with her co-author, Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School, compared flights that had separate first and economy class with those that did not, as well as planes that boarded from the front – so that economy passengers have to walk through what they are missing out on – with those that boarded from the back or centre.

She also looked at other possible triggers, including leg room, seat width, delays, flight length and cabin space.

The report, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the existence of a first class cabin made an incident four times more likely, while loading from the front doubled the odds of air rage over boarding from the middle. This is equivalent to the effect observed from a delay of six hours and was referred to as "situational equality".

Bizarrely, the effect was even more pronounced among first class passengers who, when having economy class passengers walk through their section, were 12 times more likely to indulge in air rage.

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See also: Flight attendants: What they're really thinking about passengers

The report said that first class passengers were more likely to behave in a disruptive manner as being reminded of their superiority "prompts negative emotions" and "triggers entitled behaviour". This is certainly supported by the catalogue of incidents provided by angry airborne celebrities

DeCelles said that the type of behaviour also differs according to which section of the plane the passenger is sat.

"In first class you have passengers getting upset relating to issues of alcohol and anger," said Decelles. "In economy, it's more common to have people who have emotional outbursts like panic attacks or fear."

It is worth noting that long-haul flights are more likely to have a first class cabin, whereas many short-haul flights will not, so the correlation between the class divide may also be linked to the length of flight as well, with passengers more likely to behave poorly when spending hours in a cabin.

The Telegraph, London

See also: What to do if there's a disruptive passenger on your plane?
See also: When is it OK to recline an airline seat?

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