Class ‘Inequity’ Fuels Air Rage


A little-known 2016 study by Princeton University researchers is getting attention again for a different take on why airline passengers are so grumpy these days. The study, titled “Physical and Situational Inequality on Airplanes Predicts Air Rage,” confirms what every economy-class passenger headed to a middle seat on a crammed airliner is thinking as he or she walks through the comfort and bounty of the first-class section. The study found that just having a first-class section on an airplane quadrupled the chance of an air rage incident and that loading economy passengers through first class doubles that again. “We advance an alternative view: the modern airplane reflects a social microcosm of class-based society, making inequality salient to passengers through both the physical design of the plane (the presence of a first class cabin) and, more subtly, the boarding procedure (whether economy passengers must pass through the first class cabin),” the preamble of the study reads.

The study is resurfacing as regulators try to get a handle on the unpleasantness that erupts on about one in 600 flights. The rates of air rage skyrocketed during the COVID pandemic, but most of that was due to the mask mandate. What’s puzzling regulators is that it hasn’t dropped to pre-pandemic levels. According to University of Texas researchers the ever-shrinking personal space available might be a significant factor. As the space shrinks, it becomes more valuable and “thus opens the door to conflict between passengers.” Alcohol availability and the denial of alcohol, which occurred during the pandemic, are both cited as factors. Although well known as a potential trigger, the study says booze accessibility both in the airport and on the plane hasn’t changed much.

Regulators have been relying on a punitive approach to stem the tide and some violators have been hit with fines in the tens of thousands. Airlines also keep lists of passengers banned from traveling with them but the numbers remain stubbornly high. The National Post quoted sources saying the rate of in-flight nastiness is roughly double what it was in 2019 and after a sharp decline with the end of pandemic rules now seems to be increasing, according to Canadian authorities. Transport Canada says the bad behavior sometimes starts before boarding. Earlier this year it reported an increase in the number of unruly and sometimes violent people in the security lines. It’s considering adding a fine structure for passengers who abuse security agents.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. From having spoken to the head of security for a decent sized airline, the “ban list” probably doesn’t have much of an impact now, at least in the US.

    For that specific airline, almost all of their “banned” passengers were allowed to fly the airline again fairly soon after the mask mandate lifted, and although there were a single-digit number of people who have lifetime bans, those were people who did something egregious like assaulting a crew member, which would probably get you banned regardless of any given pandemic.

    • So why doesn’t someone scratch a Cadillac parked next to their old VW? Financial inequality is everywhere. Maybe people just don’t like other people.

      My wife flies Business Class while I go in the back of the bus. Everyone might feel better if they knew that she recently went United Business Class from Europe to the US and the food was just as shocking as mine in economy. The first time she wrote, her complaint was ignored and the second time they gave her 5000 miles !!! I am perfectly willing to save a couple of $K on a tight seat while eating my own peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

      Pricing is ridiculous anyway and should be based on a formula of Fixed Seat Cost + Total Weight Opportunity Cost.

  2. Wait until the plus sized passengers get the 2nd seat for free just for being glutinous.

    Add a little booze and let’s just watch the fun….

    • 🙂 I suspect you (or your well-meaning spell-checker) meant to write “gluttonous”, unless you were objecting to pax who are especially sticky. Very few of the people who struggle with their weight or girth are gluttons.

      Being a 95-percentile male physically (and thus too big for the current airline seat specs) I have had problems with oversized seatmates. I figure if I’m uncomfortable in my seat, they’ve got it worse, and try to share the space as best as I can.

      I never understood why the seats on a Greyhound bus are more comfortable. And trains are positively luxurious.

      • I think you do understand the seat thing. Smaller seats mean more seats and more seats mean more bucks. Airline CEO’s love more bucks, so airline CEO’s love smaller seats. Easy peasy.

        • My roommates played football for Michigan in the 80s. Each summer they were hired to paint the numbers on the seats at Michigan Stadium closer to squeeze a few more in. As a by the time I was a senior there wasn’t room for a skinny freshman to fit in the assigned seat. Same with airlines which is why I fly myself. Plenty of room in a piper or a cessna and now even a mooney

          • Absolutely perfect way to solve the problem, plus you don’t have to accommodate the huge passengers because it would affect your weight and balance calculations!

        • Not only that, but passengers subconsciously demand more seats. Price competition among airlines is fierce. Many (not all) passengers make their decisions based solely upon price. Ticket prices are still near historic lows, when adjusted for inflation. Airlines must cram in more seats or risk losing market share. The only thing that will change this are a change in passenger attitudes or new regulations.

        • To be fair – we all love less more affordable airfare and getting more people into a plane can reduce the per ticket price. Don’t beleive me? Then see how ticket prics change if the govt dictates the number of seats per plane model.

        • Well, than maybe airline CEO’s should start taking into account things like passengers who gets unhappy when being squeezed into Cattle Class. And that includes the like of having to divert, etc.
          There is a point that impossibly tiny space causes sufficient torture for a person to lose his civility and for some to become violent. It is not justified but it is inevitable. Basically, when you make the vehicle unfit for its intended purpose – carry humans- and still lie to people and tell them the opposite – some people lose it. I believe it is 100% unjustified on an individual level, but I lay 100.000% of the blame for the trend on those executives that believe that their mythical “person” is a block of wood and allow those inhuman “passenger seats” and the impossible and dangerous spacing.

          the FAA and the secretary of health should set REASONABLE minimum seat dimensions and spacing. The airlines may need to adjust their prices, but I cannot see how raising prices by more than 1-2% will be justified. And I suggest doing a poll how many passengers would agree to pay even 5% more for an extra 3″ in seat width and 5″ in legroom.

        • While unfettered greed is definitely an ill of our country; take a look at the insane rate at which hedge funds and other investment entities are buying up single family homes, the complete nosedive in quality of all aftermarket automotive and industrial parts as private equity has bought out so many manufacturers, flying in the cheap seats is CHEAP. Look at the history of airline ticket pricing, it’s incredible how cheap flying is now, in some instances it’s cheaper than the gas to drive to the destination in a car. They’re certainly making a lot of money off of seat density, but you’re also paying walmart prices for walmart service. Just like how is filled with cheap junk because people reliably shop by what is cheapest and are willing to sacrifice quality for it, the airline industry has been a race to the bottom when it comes to who can offer the cheapest seats. When the majority of Americans are shopping solely based on price, it’s no surprised that they’re getting terrible service, uncomfortable seats, and idiotic baggage policies in return. Sacrifices have to be made to take 1,000mi flights $100.

      • Actually, one can be quite ” gluttonous ” and still remain quite trim and conformative to published weight/ height / gender medical charts.
        The variance lies in the multiplier.

      • You wrote: “Very few of the people who struggle with their weight or girth are gluttons.”

        While this is what our current social mores want us to believe, it is simply not true. Obesity rates, particularly in the U.S., have risen dramatically over the past few decades and nearly all are a function of excess calorie inputs vs outputs. We simply eat and drink too much. The proof is apparent when traveling virtually anywhere else in the world where the sight of an obese person who isn’t American is uncommon. While we shouldn’t bring back fat shaming, we also need to stop making excuses or using euphemisms for what is a serious health risk that for most is solvable with the discipline and social support to eat and drink less.

        • Absolutely correct – and I am guilty of it too. Reduce calories and/or increase calorie burn (exercise) and the weight slowly drops. Of course that’s not a fun/enjoyable so most of us don’t do it.

      • Sorry, but your facts are out of date. The people who have genetic causes or non behavioral medical causes for large weight gain are now a large minority of our overweight population. It’s actually unfair to victims who used to only have to suffer the ire of the ignorant.

        • Interesting – but please provide a source because I’ve read that the vast majority of obesity today is NOT due to genetic/metabolic causes – but due to excessive calorie intake and poor food choices.

        • All you have to do is go back to post-WWII America photos and videos (home movies, Hollywood movies, TV, etc.) to see that in most of the 20th century (and before for that matter) there were not nearly as many obese Americans as there are today.

          The 1970s and 1980s epitomized the last skinny (normal weight) culture. Starting in the 1990s with the supersize me culture (Michael Moore even made a movie about that) people started getting fatter in America. Then you add on our youth’s inactivity increase since the tech world took over their lives, and there’s another factor. The COVID lockdowns just amplified all the above! Those are NOT a gland problems!

  3. I learned from an old A-10 driver many red-eyes ago not to single out the drunk in back. That only gives the drunk more ammo to keep whatever hill that booze addled brain is willing to die on. You don’t have the FA give them the individual “we can’t legally serve you alcohol because Federal Blah Blah Blah …” speech they are trained to give. You make an apologetic PA, identifying yourself as Captain, stating “unfortunately we were not catered fully and we no longer have any alcohol available on the flight, even if, especially if, you have your own Duty Free, that of course would be against the law, and we are very sorry to ALL our passengers for the inconvenience”. Commiserate with the drunks, don’t inflame them. Tell the Lead to dim all the lights, don’t turn them all on for heavens sake. A quiet sleeping drunk is safer than a wide awake drunk that needs a fix.

    Explain to your Lead FA, they can surreptitiously serve other passengers, but if the drunk finds out, it’s going to be a very long day, and it’s up to them. Then message ahead for LE to be standing by.

    I take no pleasure in watching the local LE remove ranting, self important belligerents. Especially, if said person refuses to cooperate while yelling “You don’t know who I am, I’ll have your job!” to the previously escorting, and now arresting officers. I find it personally upsetting if the officers are forced to put the inebriate on the ground for their own safety with the knee in the back thing, to cuff them. However, that is the very moment when, if you look carefully at them, you may actually see the dulled flash of “Wow, I think I just F’d up big time” light up in their eyes.

    Okay, I take that back. Having a front row seat to immediate, if only temporary justice, is a wee bit satisfying. It’ s certainly a relief.

  4. People today are fiesty; prone to become argumentative , combative — drunk / high or not.
    And they are that way in all areas and locations be it a Mall, Concert , Football ,Basketball, Ice Hockey, Baseball Stadium or at a Soccer match.

    Witness the road rage occurrences.

    I spent 39 years in law enforcement, courts. Military Police / Security Forces, and the Airlines, — and still do so- part time and combative unruly behavior is a societal problem at all levels.

    It goes far beyond passing through the 1st Class Section or Business Class Section of an airliner.

  5. I used to fly airlines for biz travel and occasional pers travel. I’ve done neither since before C19. I used to view biz travel as a week out of the office, being +leg length, now view the airline/fellow pax as participating in a lockup and refuse to leisure travel unless crossing a pond or the Mississippi…and I’m sure no airline CFO is losing sleep over it.

    Loyalty goes both ways…airlines, cell providers and a fair number of retailers have gone from valuing customers to doing the math and figuring profit per customer and not caring about customer experience/repeats. I’m not surprised to pay extra for special treatment, but do not consider space for my legs to fit an “upgrade” just because I don’t want DVT, or getting there the same week if, heaven forbid, mechanicals or weather intrudes. If every provider has dropped to lowest common denominator there’s no competition to worry about.

    Always amazes me when vendors treat customers like crap at almost every interaction and are then surprised that they’ve ticked them off, the only folks I feel worse for are the front line staff that have to absorb the rancor incurred by the policies

    …and no, I’m not going to fill out their survey.

    • “airlines, cell providers and a fair number of retailers have gone from valuing customers to doing the math and figuring profit per customer and not caring about customer experience/repeats.”
      Sadly, Rich R, you have absolutely hit the mark on the attitude of business today. When I got my college degree, back in the stone age, I was taught that the customer was “always right”. No longer the case pretty much anywhere. “Service” is a costly commodity that is no longer on the “menu” for way too many companies. Too bad that airline execs, and a myriad of other business people, don’t read platforms like this one. Of course, if they did, their thoughts would be something like: “what a bunch of whiners”. That attitude permeates businesses across the board. No idea how to go about beginning an “attitude adjustment” but one is sorely needed.

    • I agree 100%.
      I also note that in the past businesses were commonly ran by professionals IN THE FIELD OF THE BUSINESS. Today it is the mostly someone that learned how to raise the stock price for the next quarter.

      Years ago I discussed a new idea with a CTO of a company that contributed greatly to winning WWII (aviation and Marine). He loved the idea but explained that the company was just purchased by a new group of investors (led by an ex political appointee). He explained that the instructions they received were – no more than one year development and three years to net profitability . When I pointed out that their foreign competitors where given similar instructions, just in generations instead of years, he looked at me sadly and declared he is happy he will be retiring soon.

      Another example dates back to the 1980’s: when supertankers grew exponentially the bean counters pushed a standard that scantling (the thickness of an outside plate of a ship) of 12 mm. is sufficient regardless of the size/weight of the ship. 1,000 ton to 5000,000 ton super tanker. They found some engineers that supported that ridiculous idea. The result was numerous huge leaks. When the Exxon Valdez happened, they were forced to use double hulls (still with 12 mm. scantling, but at least two of them) at much higher build and operating costs.

      The bean counter rule exist for many years. The concept that a company is only responsible to its (short term) stock holders and not to anyone else (as long as they can get insurance) prevails. and we see the results now in falling apart of so many aspects of civilization that were based on competition within decency.

  6. I think the problem is both larger and broader than just airline passengers. A little quick Googling found that conflict in the workplace in general has been increasing:

    Our society in general has become less polite and more contentious. People seem much more willing than previously to take offense and express their grievance over someone wearing the “wrong” political hat or giving the “wrong” holiday greeting whether on an airplane, in the workplace or anywhere else.

    I’ll leave it to someone else to figure out the “why”, but I don’t think walking through first class or 2” less legroom in coach is what’s doing it.

    • The NIH article you linked says a lot, the first sentence in the abstract: “Interpersonal conflicts at workplace are increasing in relation to high competitiveness and pressures at work, mainly connected with labor market globalization.”

      Labor market globalization really started around 1980 and has accelerated since then. Most people don’t know the US actually manufactures near the output of China, in terms of raw output.

      The big difference today is far less manufacturing jobs, much higher use of robotics, and the descendants (if you will) of pre-1980 American manufacturing workers are today making far less money, relatively. (Otherwise, we’d all be paying $2000 for a microwave.)

      When already angry people go on a flight in 2023, boarding through first class becomes a tipping point for too many, enough that it shows up in air-rage statistics.

    • I agree 100 % percent with Ma-ake and Jay. I stated it above , that ” People today are fiesty; prone to become argumentative , combative — drunk / high or not.
      And they are that way in all areas and locations be it a Mall, Concert , Football ,Basketball, Ice Hockey, Baseball Stadium or at a Soccer match.”

  7. Let’s not forget the cabin crew in the rush to fix the blame. Take a strung out FA on the last flight of the trip after dealing with the hoi polloi all day, spring-loaded with a God complex to DEMAND compliance–because the government says all must obey them–mix with a passenger who’s spent THEIR day stuffed into one of today’s “luxurious” coach seats next to a couple of plus-sized fellow passengers, add a sprinkle of misunderstanding, and voila! You have all the ingredients for a nice fit of air rage.

    A bit more de-escalation training might go a long way toward solving some of these issues.

    • Commercial air travel has become painful, and it’s not just in the smash packed coach seats. We flew for the first time in almost 4 years this fall. Between the seat up charges for; legroom, (the wife had a knee replacement, and I don’t fit in a std seat), baggage fees, early boarding , etc. the cost was approaching 1st class so we decided to treat ourselves. We had a connection, which is always a PITA, however the flights went fine except on our last leg home. The 1st class flight attendant seemed to think playing with her phone, from boarding to touchdown, was much more important than doing her job. She even snapped at my wife for requesting to have the trash picked up. I filed a complaint and heard nothing, we will not be flying that airline again.

  8. Good article, Russ. As I mentioned in an earlier post, all this “canning” has expected results. It is not surprising. 1960s studies on rats in crowded cages showed similar effects on humans. Crowded space can lead to increased stress, anxiety, aggressiveness, and even violence. Flying while under the influence is not helpful either. Airlines need to recognize human factors and behavioral patterns for safety.

    It’s the airline’s responsibility. By improving seat size, boarding procedures, and potentially managing alcohol availability, coupled with strategies for managing passenger stress and expectations, airlines and regulators might be able to create a safer and more respectful flying experience for everyone.

  9. The article implies that it is the airlines – or at least the presence of the First Class section – that somehow contributing to the bad behavior of passengers. But what the article doesn’t point out is that bad behavior is rampant in our society. I don’t think it has anything to do with First Class or seat size or passenger size. It is the general degradation of manners and self control among the population that is the cause. Poor customer service by the airlines (in its many forms) is just an excuse for those who have no class themselves.

  10. No doubt aircraft seat strength and attachment is regulated. How about seat pitch / elbow room? I’m not aware of any. Could take into account, not the morbidly obese, but somewhat larger folks and also psychological considerations. Would increase the required fare per seat but all air carriers would start on an even playing field. Remembering long, long ago when you could recline your seat-back with no repercussions.

  11. I think we rely too much on airline travel in this country. I’d prefer a high-speed train option. With a nice big twin, I don’t travel on the airlines much, just for overseas travel. It’s a joy to ride the trains there and other places where they have them.

    • Yes, train… It’s amazing what you see when you sit back in comfort, stretch your legs out and let someone else do the driving. Beautiful way to travel.

    • I think most of those who advocate train travel (which I agree can be very enjoyable) or other options miss is what airlines actually sell. The primary reason people fly (even if they don’t understand it) is time. I get on airliners because for the vast majority of my trips I save a significant amount of time over other options. There is no way I could have the same lifestyle I enjoy without the time I save by sitting in an airliner.

        • Like Robert said, it would be great to have a *high-speed* train option. It still wouldn’t beat plane, but could easily beat car in this scenario.

  12. The largest determinant of behavior is the local environment. Period. That is why “fine dining” establishments require the men to wear sport coats and ties, and the women to wear dresses or slacks. No “flip flops”, shorts, t-shirts, or gym clothes.

    It’s also why there is little acting out in church on Sunday, where everyone’s behavior is literally shaped by the social environment, or at a symphony orchestra performance, or classical ballet.

    If the airlines want civility they should simply design the space and require appropriate dress.

    • That’s a good idea, but isn’t going to happen. Back when men wore suits and women wore dresses on an airliner, air travel was something special – an adventure – generally used for business travel or a special vacation. But deregulation brought it down to the commodity level where low cost rules and everything else is adjusted accordingly. You want a cheap seat? No problem, we will just shrink it down to offset the price with more passengers. Oh, and by the way, we will make up the revenue difference by charging bag fees and feeding you barely edible “food” for an exorbitant price. Sadly, there is no going back.

  13. An added source of frustration is carry on bags. When the airline charges $30 to check a bag, many — maybe most — people try to fit whatever they want to bring into a carry-on roller bag, many of which have no chance of fitting into the overhead bins. Many regional jets have even smaller bins, and not as many of them. This leads to passenger stress as they either can’t find a space for something they perceive as their right to have with them or then struggle upstream to get their bag ramp checked.

    For trips of 500 nm or less, it is faster to fly myself and if someone is going with me, it can even be a cost savings.

  14. LOL do a web search for “Carol Burnett Show” “The Lowest Cost Airline You Can Imagine”. The situation has been around a lot longer than since 2016.

  15. As an airline Captain (A330, B767 before that) of 24 years I’ve watched this grow. In my view this is a class issue of sorts but not that referred to by the study. There is a large group that feel they are entitled .. to everything. This is fed largely by social media, these people encouraging each other, but also by mainstream media often painting airlines as cruel and heartless. Many arrive at the airport looking for conflict. Reading complaints in the media is frustrating – people complaining about missing a trip because they planned to show up 2hrs before departure after travelling halfway around the world.
    To wit SWA recent decision to give, for free, people of size an additional seat. While I sympathize, why should a passenger who also paid for a ticket now be left behind because a person of size doesn’t fit in their seat? The latter should be accommodated on the next flight where there is a spare seat available. This is not unlike the lunacy of support animals. Most are merely bling, look at me I have an emu with me! It’s gotten to the point that airlines are now rejecting them all.
    The pendulum swings.

    • While I agree that the sense of entitlement is problematic, but I am sorry to say that the “airlines as cruel and heartless”.

      They are not alone in being cruel and heartless, but squeezing passengers to the “seats” in a density that would be considered cruel to cattle is cruel and heartless. The passengers and airlines got into adversary relationship primarily and above all due to the attitude of the airlines that look at a passenger solely as payload.
      Yet unfortunately you and other flight crew and gate agents are the ones that have to pay for this despicable attitude.

    • I was on a flight out of Manila, preboarded in economy, and two Filipino women boarded with eleven boxes and bags, and looked at me sitting in my allotted seat, presumably expecting me to leap up and help them locate their items in the overhead. Instead, I said “You should have checked those items” to which one replied “we bought tickets — we are entitled”.
      That says it all.

    • Thankfully as a retired airline pilot I never have to use my NRSA travel privileges. Never thought I would be an executive platinum level either. But needing to travel to South Africa from DFW once or twice a year, I can’t imagine being in any seat less than a business class seat. Those of you who can afford to own your own plane are always in first class. Obviously society has changed in the last few decades and I think most of us would agree not for the better. My dad was also an airline captain and when my mom would get the 5 of us children together to non-rev some where we all wore coats and ties while my mom wore white gloves to fly in a Boeing 727-200 with 24 first class seats and only 106 coach seats. I don’t recall my dad ever coming home from a trip and complaining about some passenger behaving badly. Now we have the equivalent of Boeing 727-200 in the 737-800, same tube but with 175 to 185 passengers crammed in. We pay less to fly now than in the 60s but we have to deal with the crammed planes. But obviously that is what the flying public wants the cheapest seat they can get. They just don’t like it when they show up to fly. It is simply a choice pay for the better seat or not.

      • Business class is typically five times the cost of an economy seat. That’s the real problem — just too great a spread. So airlines introduced Economy Plus, better legroom and a slightly better seat recline, but the same economy seat at double the economy fare. However the abuse by airlines adds to the discomfort.
        The Boeing 787 is the latest example – the aircraft was designed for eight across in economy so the airlines had Boeing redesign the layout for nine across by taking 1 1/2″ out of each seat width, and even narrowing the arm rests. I’m not fat, but I have long legs and while a few hour flight doesn’t matter a long haul to Australia is miserable, forcing me to pay the premium for a business class seat, and I resent that.
        I was in first class on an Alaska Embraer recently and I noticed that their first class premium seat is now identical to the economy seat we had forty years ago. That is absurd.

    • I doubt I can change your mind, and I’m not really trying to, but like you I am retired (DL) and I make at least 24 round trips per year using my travel benefits. That’s not to say I won’t pull out my credit card if I have time constraints and my chances of getting on are slim, but it doesn’t happen more than once a year. I don’t really need to use NRSA and could buy tickets but why spend the money if I don’t need to? I do not have any desire to slow down and at 75 years old I need to fly to take full advantage of the time I have remaining orbiting the sun. I will also say if my wife and I need to take an ETOPS flight we do buy business class. I do not understand the avoid the airport at any cost many of my peers have but I’m happy we all can make our own choices.

  16. The wife & I switched to first – or at least business – class in our old age, plus the wife is disabled, so we typically ended up seated comfortably (and with a cocktail) as the remainder of the load struggled by us. That always struck me as being really bad optics, so I’m not surprised the study found it to be a significant factor in increasing sky rage incidents. Not that I ever considered rejoining the economy madhouse, mind you.

    • You speak the truth about bad optics.

      This study was less applicable decades ago, but with enough data on air-rage and informed science-based insight on human behavior, reasonable hypotheses about root causes lead to possible improvements… (beside all the other factors cited in the article & comments, which are also significant).

      Here’s a thought experiment: Instead of merely boarding coach from the back of the plane, why doesn’t somebody “double-down” on proving the theory wrong?

      Why not have the biz jet class board on the same concourses? Same announcements of destination, etc. “Would the passengers of Gulfstream 12ABC form a line at Gate 23B for their flight to Kona?”

      Any theories about how that would go? (It’s a complex psycho-social phenomenon.)

      We all know how that would go… which helps illustrate the point of the study.

  17. To sum it all up, it’s not the class of the cabin it’s the lack of class of the passengers. The moronosphere is very active when pax show up in their pajamas, ripped up knee jeans and a socialist attitude of egalitarianism. Get over it; grow up, pay the fare if you want to ride in first. … and take a shower or bath before you get there.

  18. Add to all of the above with folks in CLEAR line getting escorted to the front of the line and you can see it starting from way before you board. It starts during the purchase where you get nickled and dimed by the airline.

    And to the comment about keying Cadillacs… it’s a matter of time before you start seeing this in America. Growing up in LatAm this was a part of daily life where inequality gap is gigantic

    • It’s the woke mentality of entitlement.
      A story — I was passing the London Stock Exchange fifty years ago and three louts came by and noticed a Rolls Royce parked, with a driver, and one loudly said “Look at that! How many people did that guy rip off to get the money to pay for that! They should tax that away from him!”
      A decade later I was in Pasadena, CA, and a Rolls Royce drove by, and the man pumping my gas looked up and said “Look at that!” (and I thought, here we go). Then he said “I hope that one day that I have enough money to buy one of those”. That embodied the spirit of America to me – the wish, the enthusiasm and the drive to succeed, but that’s changing before our eyes. So sad. Now, instead of incentivizing, governments are taxing almost everything away from a successful person.

      • A British friend explained the difference between Brits and Americans 25 years ago with this anecdote: “An American sees a nice car, and says “If I work hard and save my money, I’ll be able to own one of THOSE!”

        The difference between the American and the Brit thought process? The Brit says “LOOK at that car–I’m going to bring that bloke down to MY LEVEL!”

  19. Has anyone calculated the instances of passenger disruption to the actual (and ever increasing) number of people flying now fversus in the past? I ha to believe that at least a portion of the increases numbr of incidences is due to more people flying – more often – because it is mor affordable than ever. Also, with social media and cell phone video we now see/hear about many incidences that in the past we wouldn’t have.

  20. Airline travel is what it is. If you have the $$$ and want to fly first class, so be it. If you want to save $$$ and fly coach, so be it. Live with your choices. For those who have no choice other than coach, be grateful that you could afford a coach seat and not have to take the bus.

    • That’s a cop out. People haven’t always acted so poorly on airplanes. How about people make better decisions in public, instead?

    • Agree. People have always acted poorly on aircraft, just not to this modern extent, stemming from many reasons stated by others.
      I recall when the family used to fly down to FLA every year in the sixties and there was a smoking section (don’t spittake that morning coffee!) and Dad would ask the guy in the smoking row in front of us to please not smoke because of us kids, and the lout would blow smoke back in our face. Dad kept his cool but later killed the man in the parking lot.

      People cannot make better decisions in public until they have a change in consciousness. There’s no other way. Being retired, it’s only first class now for the wife and me and we’re not wealthy.

  21. The Princeton University study is liberal nonsense. “…confirms what every economy-class passenger headed to a middle seat on a crammed airliner is thinking as he or she walks through the comfort and bounty of the first-class section.” What a ridicules statement. I for one have never thought that, regardless of where my seat was nor has anyone I’ve flown with commented about first class. Having a first class section on an airplane is not an indication of a “…class-based society…” another ridicules statement. It’s merely more comfortable seats at a higher price. The reason rates of air rage have increased is the same reason road rage has increased, courteous driving is almost non-existent, politics has no compromise by our law makers or the general public – it’s because we have become a selfish society with lower values.

    • Most all the studies from academia nowadays are the exact same trash. They are written to get attention and citations after passing through biased and lazy peer review. Then, they get filtered through the press which often deletes the caveats and context and boosts the bias and sensationalism.

      I wonder if anywhere it was noted sample differences of the pax and flight duration in flights with no first class (commuter, short flight, small plane, cheaper), and flights where you board amidships (long haul, international, more expensive).

      • Disclosure – I haven’t seen the study or the raw data.

        This topic is very interesting, and I wonder if some of the new-generation, data-driven economists could build on this study to reveal firmer findings.

        Back when I was an Econ researcher the field was rich on theory and macro data, but newer (often corporate) data sources and serious compute power are helping a new generation of economists find deeper insights.

        Some insights are kind of obvious – it’s better for the parents of poor children to rent apartments in high wealth areas than own a home in a poor area. Some aren’t so obvious.

        • I think there’s too much emphasis on data and math while not ensuring we are asking the right questions. Overall, it’s an integrity problem that’s gotten out of hand. It’s always been there, but I don’t know when it really jumped the shark.

          • I work in healthcare research, and before that in Econ research.

            It’s getting tougher and tougher to get high end research jobs – the money is less, competition is ferocious… compared to going to work for Big Pharma or moving to nations that are strategically prioritizing healthcare research, like Australia or Singapore.

            Perhaps ironically, big data and AI are helping shine the light on poor research, in ways that might have been more hidden, before.

  22. Maybe there could be a regulation that all airline executives have to be in economy seats when travelling by air. No first/business class, no economy plus, no private jets just ride with their customers. Voila problem solved.

    • The half joke back in the day was that first class was for the airline employees.
      There once was a time when first class was really first class. Does anyone remember TWA transcon from LAX to JFK and they served vodka and caviar followed by chateaubriand in first class?
      Today the food is trash up front, the service hostile.

    • Interesting comment. Back when Gordon Bethune was CEO of Continental Airlines, he was often seen walking through the Houston airport, with no entourage, just visiting with random customers and the gate agents. I ran into him on a couple occasions, so it wasn’t just a one-time thing. Pretty sure you won’t see that from the current slate of airline CEOs.

  23. I haven’t flown in 13 years. The last time I did fly, I told myself, “Self, you’re done with this”.
    I have the luxury of being retired now, so if I go somewhere, I drive, as I have the time to do so.
    I was a kid in the 1970’s and we flew a lot. It was awesome. Besides being a kid filled with wonder of all things aeronautical, the class of service and people were just better. Mom dressed us up in our Sears Best, and Dad soaked our heads in Vitalis. People were cordial, the planes, as well as the seats were big – it was just a great time to be a traveler.
    Society as a whole, has degraded. From tv and movies to the incessant need for a cell phone to fiddle with, we just don’t know how to act well in public anymore.

  24. I’m sure there’s some validity to the study, but I wonder if they considered whether the incidents of air rage were also tied to the relative disparity between the first class cabin and economy. The seat width and row pitch have shrunk to such a degree that it really is very uncomfortable in economy. I suspect that resentment would be greatly lessened if economy passengers actually felt like their seats, while not as roomy as first class, were at least comfortable.

    Then there’s the whole game that airlines are playing by charging extra fees to check bags, thus leading to passengers schlepping all of their crap through the security checkpoint and down to the gate, then racing for inadequate overhead bins. That just adds to the whole sense of being treated poorly, and being nickel-and-dimed at every turn only to be acutely uncomfortable for the whole trip.

    I realize that the airlines are deregulated, and so there’s a race to the bottom on ticket prices. But I really think that there must be room in the industry for an airline that treats people well even if they “only” fly economy.

  25. Works both ways. It is very annoying to have the unwashed slouch (does no-one learn posture anymore?) past your seat at the front as you are settling in…

  26. I think the canning and attitudes of business leaders do matter a lot, and have been covered above along with how the airlines have all raced to the lowest common denominator. All great problems have multiple causes so I’d like to point out one reason the airlines cannot differentiate themselves.
    If one of us were running an airline, we’d likely be very tempted to run a higher quality outfit. While it might cost a little more, we could advertise a better value, and likely avoid many of the worst customers. We could hire the best people, and they would want to compete for a job with us. Everything would be better, and there would be a synergy, and we’d have less problems over all. I think we all intuitively know this would work, but we also know it’s not done. It’s not done because we cannot get the best people because of union rules which incentivize staying in a single company, and make enforcing subjective, qualitative standards on existing employees problematic. You cannot even get the needed management talent because those people can, and most often do, go where there are no unions to deal with. They want to use their talents to innovate and do better.
    There are other reasons the airlines get stuck acting like the other airlines. Surely the amount of non labor regulations cause similar outcomes as well. We never actually deregulated the airlines. We just removed some marketing and pricing regulations.
    As long as any industry is more affected by voters than owners, it cannot get the full benefits of free markets.

  27. This issue is just the latest of many the CIA analytical framework for assessing social and political stability predicts. Air rage is just a drop in the bucket.

    “Mommy, mommy – why don’t we have a BMW or Mercedes like those families who are getting one for Christmas on TV? Is Santa bringing us one?”

    Where I live an exclusive group of the well-to-do have bought up a side of a mountain to build a private ski resort, with an elite 9 hole golf course, the minimum cost to get into the club is a non-refundable $500K, with an obligation to build a $1 Million dollar home – has to meet the code. It’s not open to anyone, you have to have two existing members nominate you, and membership information is completely private.

    In their marketing material it was claimed: “Who are we interested in? The 1% of the 1%.”

    (That ain’t anybody who reads AVWeb, folks. Maybe a few of you fly for a .1 percenter, if you’re flying a Gulfstream, Global Express or a big Falcon for a single owner.)

    Who is opposed to this new development in my area? The liberal entitled folks who think they deserve everything? Nope, this area is more conservative than just about everywhere else in the US, but the locals are irritated at the money driving past their 150 year old ranches, changing their way of life, buying out their neighbors, changing their pristine valley since pioneer times, forever. This is a real life version of the tension seen on “Yellowstone”.

    But like air rage, this particular development is just a brick in the wall of a much broader social uprising that’s been building since long before Obama was president.

    When I was in grade school in the 70s, 30 miles from the Yellowstone knock off, I had classmates whose fathers were truck drivers, dentists, teachers, factory workers, lawyers, retail managers, physicians. One kid’s uncle was a Congressman, visited our school to explain how the Constitution works. We really didn’t know inequality, not like today. We all played on the same sports teams, wished each other well at HS graduation. That existence is long gone.

    In the very same area 40 years later, now some have $10 Million homes and drive $200,000 Ferraris around town – to keep the battery charged, otherwise it might be a nondescript BMW or Mercedes. They’re not *trying* to irritate everyone else, that’s not their intention. They really don’t think their EC135 makes *that* much noise.

    I personally don’t care about the wealth. My kids are grown and successful, I still fly a small airplane, like I learned to way back in HS. I’m fortunate.

    There really aren’t any Democrats to speak of, where I live. But the resentment and anger are getting intense. It has nothing to do with party and everything to do with how wealth can poison what was once a vibrant, healthy, positive area to raise a family.

  28. I wonder if the well meaning folks at Princeton ever heard or traveled on Spirit Airlines. No Business Class to walk through but plenty of fun times once everyone is on board. I’m pretty sure Southwest doesn’t have a Business Class either and I believe they carry more passengers than any other domestic airline. I’m not a friend of Bill W, or a Baptist, but when I walk through an airline terminal at 7am and the bars are open with plenty of customers I have to believe that alcohol fuels a lot of the passenger meltdowns the airlines have been experiencing. Does anyone keep a record of how many passenger incidents involve alcohol or drugs? Are airport restaurants and bars subject to any type of rules or restrictions that limit their hours of operations or how much they can serve someone? I’m not saying to eliminate serving alcohol but I think it might be worthwhile to have reasonable limits on its availability. I mean think about it, how many bars do you know of that open at 7am?

    • I don’t disagree with your (very valid, IMO) point.

      One of the predictions and outcomes of widening economic inequalities is poorer health outcomes, based in large part on poor health choices people under economic – or relative economic – duress make.

      Many people turn to alcohol and drugs as “medicine” to reduce stress. Substance abuse is disproportionately prevalent in areas where people are under economic stress. Working Joe comes home from a stressful job, listens to his kids talk about other kids whose parents have Teslas & BMWs, faces some bills… and turns to pizza and booze. This is *partially* responsible for declining life expectancy here in the US.

      I don’t drink and think people are better off avoiding booze. But we’re not going back to Prohibition, and what’s behind the bad trends?

      To be clear, it’s absurd to think *equality* is realistic or fixes everything. But the economic stats reveal the level of social instability we’re seeing… much like the CIA’s GINI index predicts.

  29. Man, those that want DEI and equity don’t realize how stupid this stuff sounds and how many people they turn off.

  30. If most of us didn’t care only about the cheapest price, bottom feeder airlines and cheap cramped seats likely would not exist. People who want a better phone experience don’t buy the $79 phones. No one is up in arms about that ‘inequality’. Those of us who are over six feet tall and who must travel for work, often at the last minute, gladly pay the small premium for Comfort+ or whatever it’s called on other airlines. If C+ is full I can usually get an exit row seat in the main cabin. I’m often expected to work a full shift equivalent upon landing after a cross country flight. I stick with one main carrier because where I live is a hub and they treat me better. Frequent flyers are 10-15% of passengers but bring in 50-60% of airline revenue. How’s that for ‘inequality’?

  31. Individuals can be smart, but collective intelligent behavior doesn’t exist, it only mimics and reacts.

    I have to laugh reading some comments that blame everything and everyone under the sun in order to avoid what seems obvious to me as the core reasons for such air travel disruptions from undisciplined human behavior – corporate greed – enjoying near free reign from the status quo of capitalism and free markets. Carlin showed this decades ago with his routine how the large business owners run everything – everything – because our complacency, ignorance and inertia to change the status quo leave us thinking we are powerless, so we revert to our fight or flight instincts in nearly every aspect of life nowadays.

    We’re not powerless. But who wants to bother with the effort, right? The slope is so slippery it seems impossible to even stay on it, so we complain and blame mostly results that affect only us at the time. We’ve lost the big picture in so many ways, and it doesn’t appear we’re trying to get it back.

  32. I’m a big guy. I’ve had middle seats. I never once even considered acting out and always try to respect the ones around me. I think it is a general lack of civility which HAS gotten worse with the relative anonymity afforded by the whole COVID-MASK-ISOLATION thing.

    Personally, I think they should issue tasers to the flight attendants. That would get these folks attention with no or minimal damage. Better than MACE or bear spray for disabling and collateral damage.

    By the way, I’m a boarded EM physician. I got empathy but absolutely believe in personal responsibility and consequences.

  33. When I was a young engineer at a large aerospace company 40 years ago we traveled a great deal on the luxurious L1011, the queen of the skies. I was a very frequent flier and was always upgraded to business or first class. One day we were loading up to go somewhere, I was sitting in business class feeling pretty smug about my status in life as a 25 year old hotshot engineer, and the president of the company walked right past me on his way to sit in back in coach. I never cared much after that.

  34. Did anyone stop and think WHY there is a first class or business class? The reason is to reward the poor slobs that have to fly for business and pay full fare. Flying on the commercial airlines sucks. I’ve flown over 3M miles for business on all the major carriers. Yes, I have been upgrade to first many times but when I’m sitting in the back, just about every flight I was sitting next to someone who paid half of what I did for a seat.

  35. In a nut shell; I want it. I want it now and I want it for free. Nothing else needs to be said. Nice job Russ, you got what you wanted.

    • Wait, one more thing. Class ‘Inequity’ and Air Rage are symptoms of a deeper illness – an industry struggling to find the sweet spot between profit and passenger sanity looking for clear and smooth rides. I suggest:
      • Airlines: Invest in comfort, think legroom, assroom, and elbowroom.
      • Passengers: Practice patience, slip into darkness, chill, explore escapism.
      • Regulations: Implement policies that protect both passenger well-being and airline viability.

  36. First class on US airlines existed also 30 and 40 years ago. Passengers typically passed through first class on their way to their seats (including middle seats) in economy. Yet there were few to none incidents of flight rage. Look elsewhere for reasons to the change. Passengers have changed. Airlines have changed. Cabin crew have changed. Passengers expect more service. Cabin crew try to do the absolute minimum. Airlines simply don’t give a s… about passengers. That’s a combustible mixture.

  37. One thing that might help would be to manage expectations by showing the available space when offering a seat assignment. Maybe like an approach plate, with a plan view and an elevation view, along with other relevant seating info. Inconvenient for the airlines when they swap planes later, but that’s their problem. You should get a significant partial refund if they move you to a seat smaller than the one you agreed to sit in. The refund should be enough to make the CEO cry.

  38. Profits matter, and so do affordable tickets. Physical and situational inequality may not be the foremost concern. The airline’s primary economic motive behind the seat squeeze is to safeguard profit margins and stay competitive. Despite potential discomfort for passengers and safety concerns, budget-conscious travelers are likely to accommodate seat shrinkage. So, what’s the airline’s gain from this strategy? Let’s consider an aircraft originally designed for 100 seats with a 32-inch pitch and a width of 19 inches. By reducing seat pitch to 28 inches and width to 17 inches, the passenger load factor would increase by 22 seats. This could potentially translate to a 22% boost in revenue and offer other operational benefits. Airlines are likely to continue down this path, with historical studies on rat behavior in crowded cages from the 1960s unlikely to influence the course.

    • I think that’s about right except I’m not sure they really saw increased profits for very long. As they all raced down the same path, competition squeezed the margins back out didn’t it? So, here we are choosing between cattle car carriers.
      Didn’t Jet Blue start out offering a better trip on selected runs? What happened?

    • ‘ So, what’s the airline’s gain from this strategy?’

      To me, another step on the corporate ziggurat of profitability and market dominance.
      As I believe Eric was hinting at, customers adjust to a new level of forced conditions for passage, a plateau is reached, then a pause to assess customer tolerance, and then another step is available for the company.

      Similar to immunotherapy for allergies, gaining ever-increasing doses of profit levels, combined with ever-decreasing quantities of polite, courteous human behavior and….
      fasten your seatbelts.

  39. a lot of the crowding problems would be solved if the FAA 2 minute requirement for emergency exit of all the passengers actually used groups of people that represent the actual passengers. fat, old , mothers with children, tall large people. this would actually force the airlines to have enough room for people. and the crowding would be a lot less.

    the 2 minutes exit requirement does not mean anything when you have trained athletes doing the exit rather than a group representative of actual normal passenger people .