'Unruly' Airplane Behavior Surged 47% Last Year, New Data Shows

Physical assaults in the air, while still rare, are up over 60%, an industry group reports.

Despite air travel returning back to normalcy in post-pandemic times, the airport and in-flight experience is only becoming more hostile.

Yesterday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published an analysis just in time for the summer travel surge, revealing that "unruly passenger incidents" increased dramatically in 2022 compared to 2021.

The data shows that for every 568 flights in 2022, there was one unruly incident, as opposed to only one incident per 835 flights in 2021, representing an increase of 47%. While this may not come as a surprise given travelers' recent horror stories (including a passenger opening the emergency plane door), the report is no less unnerving.

The IATA categorized the most frequent types of incidents that occur on planes into three types: non-compliance, verbal abuse, and intoxication. Common examples of non-compliance included smoking in the cabin, refusal to fasten seatbelts and properly store baggage, and consuming smuggled alcohol on board. While physical altercations are thankfully less frequent, they are still prevalent and they rose 61% last year according to the analysis; just the other day, a passenger reportedly hit a Spirit Airlines ticket agent after being denied boarding.

Experts have attributed the stress and anxiety that flying brings on for passengers as the reason for these unfortunate incidents. While there are many things you can do to assuage any nerves or restlessness, much of the responsibility lies in the symbiosis between the passengers and the crew. Because of this, the IATA has put strategies in place, calling for governments to have the ability to prosecute any disobedient passengers, working with airport bars and restaurants to prohibit irresponsible alcohol consumption, and training crews how to de-escalate any situations that may occur.

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Kelsey Allen is an editorial assistant at Thrillist.