Bring 100 or more people together inside a cramped metal tube, place them in close proximity together, and shut the door and you’re going to get a certain amount of drama.
Everyone brings their own personal issues to the plane. Some people are having a bad day, or suffering a personal loss. And there are a variety of cultural expectations on board. The sky is no longer the province of the wealthy or expense account travelers, at least since deregulation. I genuinely think that’s a good thing. It also means, though, that travelers are less homogenous than they used to be. They’re less alike. So they may not understand each other’s styles, smells, or demeanors.
Most airline conflicts in the Before Times though involved one passenger or one party traveling together and crew. They’d usually be removed from the aircraft, sometimes by law enforcement. You wouldn’t have very many situations devolve to where multiple groups of passengers are fighting with each other – as we’ve seen happen over the past year.
— Tommy in Hialeah (@Dolphinfan201) April 25, 2021
Caught on Camera: A fight over whether or not to wear a mask onboard a Spirit Airlines plane that had just arrived in Puerto Rico led to a woman – who police say was the aggressor – being tased by police who are considering filing charges.
— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) October 27, 2020
Since last summer I’ve written ‘all airline passengers are Spirit Airlines passengers now’ since last summer. It’s been nearly all leisure travel. There’s always a certain amount of people on a plane who fly once a year, or less often, but those are for the most part who has been traveling during the pandemic. Not only hasn’t there been business travel, business traveling elites have been less likely to fly for leisure pre-vaccination, too, at least according to airline reports about the percentage of elite frequent flyers in the air.
The return of business travel is going to have a calming effect on the skies. When it’s passenger vs. passenger, business travelers in the mix are a kind of herd immunity. The crazy first-timer in the skies running into another first-timer in the skies becomes less likely when there’s an increasing proportion of passengers who aren’t first timers, who tend to take travel in a bit more stride.
Each time an incident starts, it runs into someone who might accelerate the incident or it doesn’t. As the proportion of “doesn’t” travelers grows, the less likely it is for the behavior to spread.
It’s not just total number of people, it’s the mix and the break for employees from newbies every single interaction. Having more people with experience who know the drill means,
- Gate agents and cabin crew aren’t frustrated at every single interaction
- A smaller proportion of total passengers needing help, asking for things the airline doesn’t do
To be sure, business travelers can complain. They can be entitled. They can flaunt their elite status. But they also know the drill, they’re more likely to stay focused on their work and more likely to know how to stow their carry on bags, when to board, and what they can bring on board.
And airlines may not be fully ready for the ramp up in their schedules for summer. $79 billion was appropriated across three bills on the claim that this was needed so that airlines would be ready when travel demand returned. At the very least shouldn’t pilots have been kept current, kept run through the simulators, been given their takeoffs and landings? Sure, some fleet types were retired and that meant some pilots would work different aircraft, but shouldn’t that training have already happened because we were paying $79 billion so it would?
But we shouldn’t see the same frequency of multi-passenger brawls and similar incidents once the number of people flying for business reaches a threshold of herd immunity.