It found that passengers in economy seating were 3.84 times more likely to have an incident of air rage if they were on a plane that had a first-class section. They were 2.18 times more likely to have an outburst if they had to walk through first class to board the plane, as opposed to boarding in the middle of the plane, directly into the economy section.
American Airlines Boeing 787 Economy
That’s the claim, anyway, and how the study is being reported. The underlying research is in the May 2 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and I decided to spend the $10 for two days of access to the article so I could see what’s actually being claimed.
- Data is circa 2010 from just a single airline, and the airline isn’t identified. We do know that the airline in question isn’t United because researchers weren’t able to evaluate whether extra legroom economy seating had any effect since “this feature was implemented by the airline in specific planes—not in entire plane models” over the period of years surround 2010 data being looked at.
Since American didn’t announce Main Cebin Extra until March 2012, and Delta’s announcement came a year earlier, it seems somewhat more likely that the data in question is Delta’s.
- The study acknowledges that longer flights and delayed flights correlate with air rate incidents. They just suggest that first class cabins are a bigger factor. They aren’t able to show that first class cabins drive air rage independent of flight distance. Remember that while there are certainly long flights on single cabin aircraft (and single cabin regional jets can feel even longer still), longer flights are more likely to have first class cabins.
- They find that boarding from the front of the plane correlates with greater instances of air rage. They also find that domestic flights are more likely to have instances of air rage than international flights for this one U.S. airline. Of course, smaller domestic narrowbody aircraft (737s, Airbus A320s) are more likely to board from the front of the plane.
American Airlines Boeing 737 Economy
- Since the only data they’re looking at is “flight number and date” as well as “seating class, gender, and incident type (e.g., belligerent behavior or emotional outburst)” they don’t have the ability to even look for or test alternate causes like alcohol or drugs, medical conditions, or extreme emotional disturbances passengers are bringing onto the plane. They didn’t have data on the load factor of flights with and without incidents.
The presence of a premium cabin didn’t cause a 24 year old passenger to attack another passenger — an overdose did. A premium cabin didn’t cause an Air India passenger to urinate in the aisle on his flight — anti-depressants and whiskey did. This American Airlines passenger urinated at his seat also because he drunk. Here a passenger melted down due to delays. After Blac Chyna’s meltdown she was arrested for drug possession.
The authors here want to “posit that the modern airplane is a social microcosm of class-based society” and that “inequality can trigger antisocial behavior” and thus inequality is bad. Unfortunately they’re using travel for their own purposes, not really trying to understand travel.
All they’re able to do here is correlate disruptive behavior with the presence of a first class cabin, without rejecting alternative hypotheses. That doesn’t get us very far — especially when they don’t seem to understand the subject matter.
They isolate air rage to domestic flights with first class, and suggest this is of growing importance because “first class cabins claiming an increasingly large share of total space” which is of course false. Take American’s retrofit of their legacy US Airways Airbus A319 aircraft, chopping those down to two rows of first class (and replacing MD80s with four rows of first with those same A319s with two). Similarly, American has been cutting down the number of business class seats as they’ve improved their seating.
Air travel is increasingly affordable — as prices are so much lower than before deregulation, and society is wealthier. Ultra low cost carriers make travel more affordable still. And planes run full. Airlines bring together diverse people from across society, it’s no longer the province of the wealthy and (mostly male) busines travelers. And it puts them together in close quarters. Sometimes with alcohol and drugs. And yet we think that it’s first class seats that’s he primary problem?