TSA security checkpoint data shows that on a given day only a quarter to one third last year’s number of passengers are traveling by air. There are up to 75% fewer people in the skies, but there have been no shortage of conflicts from brawls on the jetway to brawls on the plane.
It seems like that shouldn’t be happening. On many routes airline load factors are lower – there are still empty planes. With more personal space to spread out we shouldn’t be getting in each other’s business. And the mere fact there are fewer people means that statistically there should be fewer incidents of conflict (if those incidents have the same likelihood of happening as before).
Everything isn’t equal though. The flying experience is different, and so are the people that have been flying this summer.
People are being kicked off for profanities printed on their masks and getting kicked off for refusing to wear one. Fights have started on the plane and continued into the terminal. Passengers are still sticking their feet on things. And they have even attacked gate agents over a brief delay.
It seems like there are 5 potential drivers of frequency of conflict in air travel right now.
- There’s a greater proportion of first time flyers. There is almost no business travel right now, and a smaller proportion of travelers are members of airline frequent flyer programs too.
- Tensions are running especially high during the pandemic, with protests over racial injustice, in an election year while everything – even mask wearing – has become political. I wonder if this is less of a factor, because conflict isn’t unique to the U.S., it’s happening in Europe too.
- Flying during a pandemic is a new experience for everyone, it takes time to get used to mask requirements and less on board service.
- Fewer flights mean delays and misconnections are a greater inconvenience than ever and by the way more time in airports means more time indoors being exposed to other people.
- This is speculative, but people likely to fly during the global pandemic may be less risk averse, they’re willing to put themselves in harms way in the world – and in the faces of airline employees and other passengers.
Bottom-line: We’re all stuck in a metal tube together, and that metal tube is more of a powder keg than ever before – and the passengers themselves are less used to it. All the airlines are Spirit now.
Which of these factors seem they best explain what we’ve been seeing?