Why There Are So Many Passenger Incidents On Planes, And Why It’s Going To Get Worse

The FAA usually sees 100 – 150 cases of bad inflight behavior filed with them each year. Already this year there have been 2500, 1900 of which have deal with refusal to wear a mask. Most inflight disturbances don’t make it to the FAA.

We’ve seen a real increase in inflight conflicts, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. There are generally five reasons why we’re heading towards a new peak.

  1. More passengers = more incidents. Air travel is recovering, there are more people in the sky than there have been since before the pandemic. Sheer numbers make it more likely we’ll see more disturbances as passenger volumes stretch towards 1.9 million per day in the U.S.

  2. Fewer business travelers means a greater percentage of passengers likely to have issues There are fewer experienced passengers on board who are a dead-end against drama, the person sitting next to a first time flyer is more likely than ever to be a first time flyer.

  3. Distrust of elites and experts. The same broader society issues that manifect themselves in electoral polarization get brought on board the plane. Experts have largely failed us in the pandemic, and their advice has been inconsistent. We were told not to wear masks before being told to wear them. Somehow taking off the mask has become a symbol of standing up for ones’ self against the tyranny of rule by experts who are increasingly seen as flawed.

  4. Increased vaccination rates. More and more people see themselves as no longer needing to wear a mask, since evidence suggests strongly that recipients of mRNA vaccines are both unlikely to get or spread the virus (and for those who haven’t been vaccinated yet, that’s largely a decision they’re making for themselves and shouldn’t impose costs on others for it). This is doubly the case now that the CDC even says vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors in crowded bars, yet rules for masking during travel remain in place. This also reinforces skepticism about ‘experts’ and whether rules rely on science.

  5. Politicization of masks in the wrong direction. Masks should have been the conservative alternative to big government lockdowns. Instead they became a political flash point of government ‘control’. People who feel powerless lash out in whatever way they can.

With more leisure travelers than ever, and a greater proportion of first-time travelers, every airline’s passengers are Spirit Airlines passengers now. Throw people together from various backgrounds and with their own life issues inside a metal tube and give them a requirement that isn’t obviously benefiting them at the end of 15 months of frustration and deprivation and we inevitably see conflict.

As people continue to get vaccinated, as virus case loads and hospitalizations continue to fall, more and more people will see less and less reason to mask up in the face of requirements to do so that seem to no longer be backed by the science or at least consistent with other CDC pronouncements. And masks have become an outlet for political protest. So we’re going to see more mask incidents on planes until the requirement is finally lifted.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The behavior is unacceptable. If you think that leadership the last 4 years has nothing to do with bad behavior you are in denial about the state of the nation. This does not happen on flights in other civilized nations that have had normal leadership and behavior during the last several years.

    I have flown recently and have no trouble wearing a mask. If you do not want to follow the rules do not fly.

  2. Wow, comments blaming the ex-president, the administration and other leadership. Thats nonsense. People started behaving poorly on planes long before the previous administration. The pandemic has pushed people over the edge and the only ones to blame are the people behaving poorly themselves. Everyone is accountable for their own actions!

  3. I think it is another manifestation of the direction of our society in general. It has become acceptable to act out when you don’t like a situation or outcome. Many feel that resisting the police is OK. Rioting, looting,, burning cars and businesses has been ignored for months in some of our largest cities…if not condoned. In politics when there is a disagreement on a subject or policy it has become SOP to demonize those with whom you disagree. Airline passengers are taking this attitude onto the planes with them and feel emboldened and even justified in acting out against those with whom they disagree.

  4. @Gary Leff: “@TM – this happens all the time on European holiday airlines, just google “jet2”

    What you did is highlight @TM didn’t include Brits with the Americans in his comment so basically you proved his point, just highlighted what he should have added.

  5. Dennis M…loved it! You called out people for being loud mouth intolerant fools with a very loud intolerant post. You clearly don’t have a clue that all people should be treated with respect and the very essence of trumpism is dividing people into winners and losers……and he has garnered the support of wannabe “winners” who feel they have to put others down to build themselves up.

  6. Talk about politicizing information…

    2500 incidents…however drill down into the data and you find the vast majority are individuals refusing to wear the face covering. They wings about it the either do it or they leave. Most peacefully..now drill down into no kidding violent events like the recent one on Southwest. Hmmm very near the same yearly number as in years past.
    Yes people are testy and pissy and no one wants to follow the rules or de-escalate anymore …well welcome to new society. It does matter if your in a plane, train or auto it’s everywhere.
    How many of you righteous folks undo your seatbelt before you get to the gate…I lost count after 10 last week on my flight.
    Again yes there is an issue and it is compounded visibility…
    Now if the FAA, Airlines and Congress really wanted to crackdown they would add thee 5 year prison term to the penalties like they did with Laser pointing at aircraft.

  7. Follow the airline rules or get booted from the flight. Airline can ban you for life. Their option and legal right. No sympathy. I would be OK with jail time as well. If someone cannot behave for the flight process: parking/security/boarding/flying/getting off at destination, I prefer they are not in public unsupervised. I spent 40 years traveling, living, and working in foreign countries. This is unique to us. There is a reason the term ‘ugly American’ came into existence – and why it persists.

  8. Gary- I am responding to your comment being “”Experts have largely failed us in the pandemic, and their advice has been inconsistent. We were told not to wear masks etc …..”.

    This is my response
    You are sadly mistaken because I don’t think you’re understanding how science operates. When medical experts tell us to do a certain thing that advice is based on scientific data gathered as of that day As new data come in we modify our opinions and medical advice I do not see the experts as having been inconsistent with us They were doing their job by telling us what we needed to know based on the information gathered up to that point Yes we were told not to wear masks initially and that advisory was changed later on when new data became available demonstrating that SARS-CoV-2 was being contracted through the pulmonary system

    You call this being inconsistent but to me as a doctor it is very scientific and highly accurate You may think that the experts have failed us but you are sadly mistaken If it was not for the experts we would’ve had more deaths and more infections The reason we had so many deaths in the United States is not because of the negligence or the inaccurate advice of the experts Rather it was because of people who were stubborn and idiotic and who refused to listen to sound medical advice Yes they politicized medical advice which is ridiculous That is why we had so many infections and so many deaths. People refused to follow medical protocols So before you go bashing the experts I submit to you that you think about this again If it was not for the medical experts we would’ve had more deaths and more infections

    In case you do not know science is data driven Advice is given based on the data as of that date and as new data come in the advice is modified Maybe to you that is being inconsistent but to the rest of us in the medical field and who are scientists that is exactly how science operates You change your opinions and advice based on new data as a data come in. I thought that you needed to know in case you don’t

    The medical experts did not fail us Our fellow citizens failed us by refusing to listen to sound medical advice such as social distancing , wearing of masks and avoiding mass gatherings I am sure that had our fellow citizens listened to the medical experts we would’ve had less infections and the hospital ICUs would have been less overwhelmed I rest my case

  9. Spot on Doctor SS…..I have the deepest appreciation and respect for the medical community and the work it has done during the Pandemic. The thousands of Doctors and Nurses that put their lives on the line and worked to the point of exhaustion treating the onslaught of Covid patients is nothing short of heroic……it has become a pretty sad statement of the times that we have so many gullible people who deal in conspiracy theories and thinks they have special internet knowledge that supersedes the highly educated and experienced professionals who actually know what they are doing.

  10. Wow, I go from an opinion-based article, to blaming a former president to elevating a human being because of a degree.

    Humans have been behaving poorly since Adam & Eve and their sons, Cain & Abel. Americans are not the only ones; let’s not be stupid. Just look at a soccer match in Britain.

    The notion that scientists or Dr’s have the answer and are correct is pure ignorance and delusion.
    To make a statement about the causes of the deaths means you are part of the problem with spreading fake news. Many deaths were attributed to COVID to get money; people died because treatments were withheld like hydroxychloroquine because Trump said it was effective and the media went into a peeing frenzy.

    While scientist is supposed to be data driven, it hasn’t been in decades. Elementary scientist taught us how the earth orbits the sun has a direct impact on the temperature of the planet yet we let idiots tell us global warming, oh yeah now climate change, (because they also f** that up from cooling to warming) is due to man made instances. Well, tell that to the dinosaurs that are extinct.

    Stop with the warm feeling running down your leg. If you want to say you are data driven, ask the question why in states that did not fully shut down and treat people like idiots FL vs. CA or NY (or even countries) how they manage to have less infected folks than more.

    What noble deed did these people do. My employees took their asses to work every day to ensure folks had their essential needs. You aren’t calling them heroes. Get over the BS.

  11. Well Lee you sure made the point well about gullible people that think they have some special Internet knowledge that counters what experts with years of education and experience have to say. You covered the Q anon line (hydroxycloroquine , fake Covid numbers and Climate change ) well , although you left out saying the election was stolen and Chemtrails…..
    I do appreciate the workers that came to work to help others and I hope you gave them a bonus for doing so (hint, if you didn’t and pocketed all the profits you’re a real jerk)
    no one is criticizing them, but to equate that with the Doctors and Nurses that spent incredibly long and dangerous hours dealing firsthand with seriously ill Covid patients and discounting their perspective and to promote the lies that they skewered the numbers for profit or withheld a treatment based on politics is beyond the pale and proves how irrational your point of view is. It is the height on narcissism.

  12. John, it’s funny that only you are capable of having an informed opinion and the rest of us are idiots; you are in great company, Hilter, Stalin, Mussolini. Your self imposed supremacy sounds just like much like a society where a dictator rules and can’t have an intelligent discourse because they have no capability to do so, just attack individuals personally.

    Self promotion about who is a hero is non-sense, which is why I did not say who my employees were; police, fire, EMS you discount by pure ignorance so again you conflagrate about internet education yet here you are trying to control those who choose to exercise their right to free speech. Maybe you did not learn that in school when you should have but you still have the chance to learn it.

    The mirror may give you a better idea of who is gullible; your God complex is misplaced, as many in your profession is so your horse can ride into the desert and look for the mirage of self indulgence with the lot of you. YOU don’t get to decide what is sound judgment or GOOD data. Get over yourself!

  13. Lol, never said I was in the medical profession, just expressed the opinion that those that are deserve our respect and appreciation for what they did during the pandemic.
    Brought on by you using misinformation to slander the profession, no Doctors did not withhold effective treatments because of Trump or any other of the Q-anon talking points you raised.
    Even funnier is you made the claim how wrong the medical profession has been but you have the answers……then went on to accuse me of thinking I thought only I had an informed opinion, that’s classic!
    This is just a blog with different opinions, but mine sure got under your skin. Guess that means at some level it creates doubt for you.
    News flash, your boy Trump, more then any other we have ever had is the President that most resembled the practices of the dictators you quote. He sure didn’t believe in American democracy, or honesty or integrity or, well you get the picture.
    By the way, Q anon is apparently originating from Russia, you are being played.

  14. Lee, one point that should be made and it’s not opinion.
    You threw out some misinformation about states that locked down vs those that didn’t.
    Hawaii locked down and had a very low death rate compared to say Florida.
    Big difference and if Hawaii had done what Florida did they would have suffered many many more deaths.
    That’s actually not “my” opinion, it’s a simple comparison of the Covid deaths per capita
    of both states….unless of course you think the Doctors in Florida are lying about deaths (as you said about Doctors in your first post) and the Doctors in Hawaii are more honest.

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