New research suggests that the mere existence of a first class cabin on an airplane triggers ‘air rage’ in both economy and first class passengers.
Instances of air rage – in which passengers become unruly and engage in disruptive or violent behaviour – are on the rise. Considering increasing baggage fees, disappearing meal service, and waning legroom, it doesn’t seem like a surprise. Except, according to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, those common explanations aren’t actually responsible.
The research team “obtained several years of flight records from a large international airline,” reports New York magazine, “then catalogued thousands of reported disruptive passenger incidents and crunched the numbers to see what other variables on a given flight, if any, influenced the likelihood of an onboard freak-out.” What was really inciting air rage, they found, could be described in one word: inequality.
The study identified two factors that strongly contribute to in-flight meltdowns: the existence of a first-class cabin on a given flight, and boarding from the front of the plane instead of the middle so that all passengers must walk through first class. Being so clearly confronted by inequality highlights the indignities of coach, and sparks the airline equivalent of class warfare.
At the same time, first class passengers become more aware of their privilege as they watch the hoi polloi shuffle past to the back of the plane. Their unconscious response is to psychologically justify that privilege by feeling superior, and as a result they become more demanding of others.
To decrease incidents of mid-air misbehavior, study authors Katherine DeCelles and Michael Norton suggest, for an obvious start, boarding passengers from the middle of the plane. They also recommend not closing the curtain between cabins and not repeatedly telling economy passengers not to use the bathroom in the forward cabin.
Our thoughts? Sharing the free champagne with the back of the plane wouldn’t hurt, either.