Just last month, we learned that people hate U.S. airlines more than they hate the federal government. That’s bad enough. But now it seems that consumers’ ire is rapidly expanding to include their fellow passengers — and in a recent survey, they’re weren’t afraid to raise a stink about it.
Consider the case of an intoxicated 18-year-old on a cross-country JetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU) flight last week who urinated on an 11-year-old girl. The fellow, a skier who was kicked off the U.S. Ski Team after the incident, claimed he had had as many as eight drinks before boarding the plane and was unaware of his actions until the girl’s father confronted him “in midstream.”
This incident, which carries a federal misdemeanor charge, is an extreme example of a trend air travelers are becoming increasingly disturbed about — airline passengers’ bad behavior. To quantify the angst air travelers feel about ill-behaved fellow passengers, the travel website Lonely Planet surveyed 5,800 flyers on what bugged them most.
Top gripes included all sorts of intrusions into passengers’ “personal space” — including pulling at (or kicking) someone else’s seat, headrest, entertainment console and other types of what the survey characterized as “unreasonable space encroachment” — particularly raising the shared armrest. Bad behavior by children — whether crying, kicking seats or other so-called “feral” behavior by minors — got bad reviews, too.
Too much of the wrong smells were a constant annoyance: particularly stinky feet, which were rated by respondents as nastier than baby vomit, stale cigarettes, booze and body odor. While 68% of the travelers said it’s okay for their fellow passengers to take off their shoes on the plane, practically speaking, it’s only okay if your feet don’t stink. Respondents also nixed highly fragrant foods, perfumes or lotions.
It’s easy to chalk up bad passenger behavior to a general lack of etiquette in society. But, hard as it is to believe, bad passenger behavior can have an adverse impact on airlines, too. While the traveling public harbors little sympathy for airlines, it’s not news that incidents involving unruly passengers are on the rise. And when passengers behave badly, everybody has a disruptive — and sometimes expensive — day.
On an American Airlines (NYSE:AMR) flight in July, a passenger wouldn’t wake up to fasten his seatbelt. The crew, thinking he was to drunk to do so, summoned the captain, and they all attempted to remove the man from the aircraft. The man’s brother then punched the captain in the face, and a melee broke out involving other passengers. Also in July, a man on a United (NYSE:UAL) flight from Chicago to Germany began kicking, spitting and hurling obscenities at people. The plane made an emergency landing in Cleveland.
A fistfight that broke out on a United flight from Washington Dulles to Ghana in June resulted in the scrambling of two F-16 fighter jets. The 767 was forced to dump most of its 16,000 gallons of expensive jet fuel before returning to the airport because it would have been too heavy to land safely. Airport police arrested several people involved in the fistfight after the plane landed.
No wonder Hong Kong Airlines requires its flight attendants to take kung fu.
As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the stocks named here.