If you’ve ever been herded past people sipping champagne on your way to a cramped economy class and immediately wanted to punch something, you’re probably not alone.
A new organizational behavior study, published yesterday (May 2) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzes just how angry people get when they have to brush up against the cushier seats on the way to theirs.
Researchers from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Harvard Business School showed that incidents of air rage in economy class were significantly higher when planes had a first class cabin.
Their models showed that rage was nearly four times as likely on flights with a first class cabin than on those without. Controlling for factors like seat pitch and width, the researchers concluded that having first class increased the odds of passenger problems amounting to an additional 9.5-hour delay.
In addition, the researchers showed that when people had to walk through first class to get to their seats, rage among first class passengers themselves was nearly 12 times as likely as when people boarded from the middle. When people in economy class had to walk through first class, rage was about twice as high among the economy class passengers. Neither the haves nor the have-nots, it seems, like brushing up against one another.
The researchers wouldn’t say how many flights they looked at, to protect the identity of the airline they collected data from, but said they examined between 1 million and 5 million flights from a “large international airline” over the course of a few years. The flights resulted in between 1,500 and 4,000 incidents.
The study shows correlation, not causation, so the researchers can’t be sure that simply the sight of wealth makes people more irritable. There are other factors that could contribute to air irritability: Larger flights with multiple cabins could correlate with longer board times and more unwieldy carry-on storage, which could both make people more likely to act out. (We’ve reached out to the researchers and will update the post with any comments.)