Sense of inequality may lead to air rage

Published on : Tuesday, May 3, 2016

air passengersWe squabble for space in the overhead compartment and on the armrest while travelling in a plane. Some passengers have also been caught kicking each other and screaming at the flight crew, as YouTube videos have gone viral.

“Research in psychology tells us that when people feel a sense of deprivation and inequality, they are more likely to act out,” said Katherine A. DeCelles, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto. DeCelles is the lead author of the study, which was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A recent study suggests an unexpected trigger for these rare cases of air rage. It found that passengers in economy seating were 3.84 times more likely to have an incident of air rage if they were on a plane that had a first-class section. They were 2.18 times more likely to have an outburst if they had to walk through first class to board the plane, as opposed to boarding in the middle of the plane, directly into the economy section.

Passengers are probably not even conscious of the deprivation and inequality, and how much it is stressing them out, DeCelles said. However, she and her colleague were not able to talk with the enraged passengers to get a better idea what set them off.

On the other hand, there was also a nearly 12-fold increase in the rate of air rage among first-class passengers on flights where all passengers boarded through the first-class section, compared with flights that had separate entrances for first class and economy.

The researchers looked at a database from a large international airline that collected information on air rage during several recent years. DeCelles and her colleague could not reveal the identity of the airline or specify the years or exact number of air rage cases because it could be used to identify the airline.

“When people from higher social class backgrounds are more aware of their higher status, they are more likely to be antisocial, to have entitled attitudes and to be less compassionate,” DeCelles said.

The good news is that overall, cases of air rage were rare. For every 1,000 flights on planes with a first-class section, there were 1.58 incidents of air rage in economy and 0.31 in first class. This resulted in a total of only a few thousand cases of air rage during the several-year period. However, flight crews might not have reported every case of air rage, so the real number could be higher, DeCelles said.


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