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Air Rage Causes Increasing Concern

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Reported incidents of disruption by air passengers are on the rise.

Incidents involving disruptive air passengers occur with alarming frequency. According to some experts, like the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority, instances of violent behaviour have tripled in the past five years.

Disruptive behaviour can be verbal abuse towards other passengers or cabin crew. Disobeying the directions of the flight crew can also endanger the safety of the flight. Most alarming are physical assaults. When a flight is at cruising altitude hours away from the nearest airport, such incidents can be very unnerving for those on the plane.

“Every month”

On Finnish flights such behaviour happens fairly regularly. Mauri Koskenniemi, Chairman of the Finnish Cabin Crew Union (SLSY) says, “We as a union don’t keep statistics about air rage. But as far as I know there are minor incidents at least every month on intercontinental flights.”

The Head of Security at Finnair, Kaarlo Karvonen, reports that air rage incidents happen a dozen times a year. “Serious air rage incidents, where police are requested to meet the aircraft on arrival, occur about ten to fifteen times a year,” he informs. “Less serious incidents like drunkenness, verbal abuse or non-compliance with crew orders are more frequent.”

Luckily physical assaults are quite rare, but when they happen they can be exceedingly dangerous. Airlines are normally loath to discuss specific incidents, but a flight attendant with one of the large European carriers speaks of one such experience. “In my nine years of flying I did have one case of severe physical violence where a crew member was attacked and choked. This ended in restraining the passenger and an unscheduled landing and detainment by local authorities.”

For those on the flight, this can be a very frightening incident. Images of hijackings and shoe-bombers remain engraved on the public consciousness. “When things like this happen other passengers usually react with irritation or fear,” explains the flight attendant. “In the one case which ended with restraining the offender other passengers signalled the willingness to assist the crew if their help should be needed.”

Historically judicial authorities have been quite strict with disruptive air passengers. Judgements depend upon individual situations and the laws of the country in question, but several recent sentences in Europe have called for prison time of 12 months.

Alcohol = air rage

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is one common culprit that is most often cited as a cause of air rage: alcohol abuse. “In the most common cases alcohol and drugs are the most likely reasons,” confirms Koskenniemi of SLSY.

Finnair’s Karvonen agrees. “Drunkenness followed by unruly behaviour are the most common cases. According to statistics excessive use of alcohol is very often involved,” he says.

The flight attendant explains in more depth: “In my personal opinion, alcohol abuse during long transit times is one of the main causes. Air rage is a specific long-haul phenomenon as it is easier to pull yourself together for two hours rather than ten. The long duration of the flight, crowded space, restricted privacy, lack of sleep, no smoking policy and generally increased stress level due to the time and nerve-wracking security checks are all contributors to disruptive behaviour. One major problem is that most people do not know or understand that alcohol affects you more strongly in a pressurised cabin than at sea level.”

Proactive training

Airlines are well aware of the problem, and flight crews receive ongoing training on how to deal with disruptive passengers. One tactic is prevention: a noticeably intoxicated passenger is likely to be refused permission to board the aircraft.

Finnair’s Karvonen explains aspects of their training: “Crew members receive yearly safety and security training that also includes the aspects of air rage. The main method for calming an unruly passenger is the use of verbal skills. Restraining a passenger is very rare. If such a case occurs, however, the restraint method and action taken depends upon the case.”

SLSY concedes that Finnish airlines give good training in this regard. “Cabin crew members have basic training to recognise the potential persons who might cause trouble during the flight,” says Koskenniemi. “All Finnish airlines give rather good training in this matter.”

Even though crews receive good training, there are no illusions about the difficulty of their job. “I’d like to point out that an airplane is a very demanding place to work,” explains Koskenniemi. “It has a lack of space ergonomically. The flights between Helsinki and the Far East have cabin crews working mostly in the night time for eight to twelve hours with planes full of people with different cultural backgrounds. This is very demanding for cabin crew members.”

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