Alcohol-Related Air Rage On The Rise
Author: Jessica Sherer | Published:
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What Is Air Rage?
If you’ve been in an airport recently and felt like everyone was on edge more than usual, you’re not alone.
With summer 2023 air travel numbers surpassing pre-pandemic levels, airports are busier than ever, with travelers accused of forgetting travel etiquette and having poor social skills post-pandemic.
This, mixed with a stream of flight cancelations due to staffing issues and worsening weather, makes for a volatile combination of stress and anxiety that’s taking less and less time to erupt.
Coined “air rage”, this term refers to the physical and verbal altercations that are increasing in airports and airplanes worldwide, often fueled by alcohol use. The effects of these air rage episodes are wide-ranging, including fees, arrests, flight diversions, and emergency landings.
Increased Alcohol Consumption
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported an increase in episodes involving unruly passengers from 2021 to 2022, with one case occurring in every 568 flights as opposed to one in every 835 the previous year. When these incidents were categorized, alcohol use was identified in two of the top three categories, including non-compliance (consumption of personal alcohol on board) and intoxication.
Since January 2023, 783 air rage incidents have occurred in the US (49% higher than pre-pandemic levels). This large increase is credited, in part, to the unmatched use and access of alcohol in airports and on airplanes today.
Sources point to airline and airport lounges as one of the leading providers of alcohol. Lounge access, previously only earned by loyalty and frequent flyer programs, can often be purchased with day passes starting as low as $25 a day. These lounges provide passengers with alcohol (often at no charge), increasing the number of people drinking before boarding a flight.
Another contributing factor to increased alcohol consumption on airplanes is the COVID-19 pandemic, which heightened general anxiety levels for many but particularly affected those with a fear of flying (aviophobia) when they had to return to the skies. This led more people to turn to alcohol to help calm their nerves before and during a flight.
Air Rage Incidents
With alcohol consumption levels up, it is no surprise that cases of air rage have increased accordingly and are occurring on flights across the globe with varying consequences.
Diverted Flights And Emergency Landings
A flight from Florida to Washington, D.C. was diverted to North Carolina after a woman was told there was no drink service on that flight. The woman, who admitted to having a shot before boarding and sometimes needing a cocktail “to cool off and calm down,” became visibly upset and confrontational (which she disputes) and was detained at the back of the plane before being charged by police for a misdemeanor airport obstruction charge.
Four Australian men were kicked off a flight (and subsequently banned from flying on two Australian airlines) for being verbally abusive to other passengers and crew members. It was said that the men appeared intoxicated and refused to follow safety instructions before becoming confrontational.
While escalation to physical altercations is still considered rare, the IATA reported a 61% increase in 2021. In another incident of refused alcohol service, a flight bound for England had to make an emergency stop in Maine after two men pulled out a large bottle of alcohol from their personal carry-on bag and became intoxicated and violent, assaulting another passenger and a flight attendant.
These are just a few examples of the many instances of air rage occurring in the skies today.
How Can Air Rage Be Prevented?
In her address to the US Senate, Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, called for more restrictions on alcohol use and enforcement of safety policies to protect flight crews from these unprecedented situations. She credits alcohol consumption with “no responsible oversight” in airports as a particular factor in the uptick of air rage incidents.
In response, the IATA has created a two-fold strategy focused on regulation enforcement and prevention training. They hope other agencies and governments will join them to create a united front in taking precautions and implementing policies to maintain the safety of crew members and passengers alike.
Help Is Available
While not all air rage incidents are alcohol related, too many of them are.
Author: Jessica Sherer | Last Edited: October 11, 2023