American Airlines CEO Doug Parker took to social media to talk about the incident of a passenger attacking a flight attendant on board a New York JFK to Orange County flight. The passenger was arrested and has been banned from flying American AIrlines.
American’s solution to the problem of unruly passengers is criminal prosecution and fines. And anyone who assaults a crewmember (or another passenger) in the air should certainly face appropriate penalties, criminal and civil.
However these sorts of incidents do seem to happen more often on American Airlines than on competitor carriers, though of course they do happen on some other airlines (perhaps the most famous viral video is of a Southwest flight attendant having their teeth knocked out by a passenger). A plurality of incidents that get reported publicly, and certainly a plurality of those that show up in social media, are on American.
While most passengers and flights don’t see these sorts of outlier behavior, and none of these factors on their own explain the relative difference between American and other airlines, it does seem to stem from a combination of,
- lower quality passenger (resulting from their willingness to fill planes at lower fares and carry more people, as well as having a hub in South Florida)
- worse inflight experience (tight seating and no seat back entertainment on most planes makes things a bit more stressful)
- crew who don’t de-escalate as well (Delta crew are on average friendlier, Southwest crew more fun, and United crew have been through post-David Dao de-escalation training)
To be clear, the New York JFK – Orange County flight incident happened because one passenger acted horribly, period. It wasn’t the flight attendant’s fault, and it wasn’t even a dense aircraft lacking seat back entertainment (it was a legacy American Airlines Airbus A321T). My question here isn’t about this incident, it’s why incidents like this one seem to happen on average more with American than other carriers.
We can punish bad actors – and we should – but there appear to be a combination of factors that lead American to have to deal with this issue more than others. Yet aside from lobbying for punishments, American’s approach has largely been to lobby for airports not to allow vendors to sell alcohol to go any longer. It’s always struck me as sort of stupid that places do this, but it doesn’t seem to be a factor driving American to experience problems more often than others.