Air Rage Increasing, Expert Says

Oct. 1, 2007
Disruptive behavior close to same level as before Sept. 11 attacks

Sep. 28--The passenger who was clearly drunk and refused to fly because he didn't get upgraded to first class was obnoxious and rude. It took someone from the cockpit of the airplane to come out and calm him down. That was in 2000.

This was an example of the old challenges faced by the airline industry, noted Andrew Thomas, a world traveler and University of Akron assistant business professor. But there are different challenges today, he added.

"That clearly isn't what's happening today. Pilots are locked in the cockpit because of potential terrorist attacks," he said. "There is no authority figure today to offer any calming effect. The people on the front line today are underarmed and undertrained."

Thomas, who has written extensively about air rage and aviation security, said flight attendants aren't properly trained and he is seeing more passengers trying to intervene.

"It's a lot different than a disturbance at a restaurant," Thomas said. "You can ask that person to leave, but not when you are in a closed air cabin."

He said law enforcement officials are reporting a rise in incidents of rude and sometimes violent passenger behavior.

"Disruptive behavior is up again and things are going back to the level before 9/11," he said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Abnormal, aberrant or abusive behavior in the context of the air travel experience is back with a vengeance."

Thomas said with more than 30,000 flights a day in the United States, there are simply not enough air marshals to fly on board to monitor or control potential problems. Marshals are on only 1 or 2 percent of the flights.

"Air travel isn't as pleasant as it used to be and is getting worse," he said. "Everyone is experiencing crowded planes, flight delays and lengthy security checks."

Thomas said witnessing and reading about incidents inspired him to write on the subject. He started keeping records of incidents and has written 13 books on the subject.

His first, Air Rage, Crisis in the Skies, was published on the day of 9/11 six years ago.

For a while after 9/11, he said, passengers had a different attitude acting nicer and more patient. "They had better behavior," Thomas said. "Now, so many of the frequent fliers are business people who aren't used to being told what to do when asked to turn off their phones, computers or Blackberrys. They also aren't used to hearing the word 'no' when they ask for something."

Thomas has often been quoted in the Wall Street Journal on airline industry reports. He maintains a Web site called that he started in 2000.

It was the same year a 19-year-old man was on a Southwest flight traveling from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. "He ran into the cockpit twice trying to grab the controls," Thomas recounted from his research. "The first time the young man got halfway into the cockpit and succeeded for a split second, then the second time he was subdued and beaten by the passengers."

Thomas said the youth was unconscious when passengers took him off the plane. They sat on him until police arrived, but he died during that wait.

"None of the passengers were ever charged. There were no drugs found in the young man's system, but mental illness was suspected," Thomas said. "The judge ruled it was a pure case of self-defense."

Thomas said that on the other hand, his findings revealed that out of thousands of cases in which unruly passengers have been charged, a small percentage is actually prosecuted.

Thomas, 39, grew up in the Cleveland area. He was a stay-at-home dad while doing his writing. He received his bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in international relations from UA, where he teaches marketing and international business classes.