The worst airline passengers are usually sober

Who wants a drink?
Who wants a drink?
Image: Reuters/Eric Thayer
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Airline passengers aren’t the most cheerful bunch, but many are downright terrible.

The number of unruly passengers in the skies globally is growing twice as fast as the number of people flying. Airlines reported 10,854 cases of unruly passengers—that’s one per 1,205 flights—last year, a more than 16% increase over 2014, the International Air Transport Association, a trade group, reported Wednesday. The number of ticketed passengers, meanwhile, rose just 7% to 3.6 billion passenger trips over that time period, IATA said.

Most incidents involved verbal abuse, failure to follow crew instructions and what IATA calls “anti-social” behavior. In about 11% of the cases, the passenger was physically aggressive toward another passenger or crew member, or damaged the aircraft, according to the report.

A logical culprit would be alcohol, and booze is, indeed, partly to blame. But alcohol or drug intoxication was the culprit in only 23% of the cases of unruly passengers. In most of those cases the substances were consumed before boarding or from passengers’ “personal supply,” IATA said.

IATA didn’t say why the number of cases of unruly passengers is growing faster than the number of people flying, or give other reasons for the behavior. ”From the perspective of the industry it isn’t about categorizing the behavior,” an IATA spokesman said.”We want it to stop.”

One challenge to stopping air rage is that many unruly passengers don’t face prosecution. Under laws that govern international air travel as well as certain local laws, some countries lack the jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute passengers, IATA has said.

Another problem that could be stirring up passengers are the class divisions on aircraft. A study this year recently showed incidents of air rage are higher in planes with a first-class cabin, which is physically separate from the masses in coach.

Several airlines including Delta Air Lines and United Air Lines are phasing out their first class cabins for international flight in favor of souped-up business service.

But the envy-inducing divisions among passengers may live on as airlines slice up even their coach cabins into different classes, such as premium economy.

It’s enough to drive you to drink.