With global air traffic getting ever busier, air rage incidents have become increasingly common. High-profile cases of unruly passengers have made headlines and one notable example is the infamous "nut rage" incident from December 2014. That happened at New York's JFK International Airport and saw Korean Air vice president Heather Cho order one of her company's aircraft to return to the gate before takeoff. Why? She was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of a bowl, aiming her fury at the flight attendant serving her. After the incident became public, Cho resigned from one of her executive positions and served three months out of a twelve month prison month.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA)
recorded 9,315 incidents of unruly passengers across the globe in 2014 and that increased 14 percent to 10,854 in 2015. That fell slightly to 9,837 in 2016, one per 1,434 flights. By comparison, the U.S. is seeing its prosecutions for air rage incidents decline. According to the Federal Aviation Administration
, there were 310 actions against unruly passengers
in 2004 and that descended to just 99 in 2016.
Aircraft design may be a contributory factor to air rage and a study has found that the class difference onboard agitates passengers. The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States and it claims that the presence of a first class section onboard makes an incident of air rage 3.84 times more likely. The risk also goes up when economy passengers
pass through the first class section after entering through the front of the plane.
Economy passengers are 2.18 times more likely to become unruly when they enter through the middle of the aircraft while first class passengers are 11.86 times more likely. Even though the differences in leg room, flight length and the number of passengers on the flight may cause trouble, the difference in the quality of in-flight meals between first class and economy probably also contributes to air rage, something that of course can be seen by Heather Cho's reaction to being served macadamia nuts in a bowl rather than a bag.