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Unfriendly skies? Data shows unruly passenger incidents on the rise

Posted at 5:00 AM, Dec 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-12 11:30:55-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From screaming to full-on fighting, videos on social media show just how unfriendly the skies can turn when unruly passengers are on board.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) collects data on disruptive passengers. The airline industry group recorded nearly 9,000 incidents in 2017. That adds up to 1 for every 1,053 flights, compared to 1 for every 1,424 in 2016.

The FAA tracks the data for incidents reported on U.S.-based flights. The agency's totals show 120 incidents in 2018, up from 90 in 2017. It's an upward tick in what had been an otherwise steady decline since 2012.

There are many theories for why passengers are flying off the handle.

"Probably alcohol might have something to do with it, or just the tension of flying during the holidays," Marty Hoffey, a passenger at KCI, said.

"The seats are not very comfortable," Rita Morris, another flier, said, "More and more passengers into the same place."

Traveling can be stressful, but this holiday season you don't have to get wrapped up in the drama.

Mark P. Mitchell, a customer service expert, spent more than 30 years with American Airlines and has some advice for fliers.

"You might want that armrest, but maybe it's not the right time today because the person next to you has a child and they need that extra armrest," Mitchell said, "So just understand who's around you and show a little empathy."

If things start to spiral, you can always turn to the professionals.

"Always try to defer to the flight crews or the airline professionals. They are trained in de-escalation, they are trained in these kind of events," Mitchell added.

If an unruly passenger is escorted out in handcuffs, the consequences are steep. The passenger can face criminal charges or fines of up to $25,000 per violation.