Your Fellow Passengers are Generous, Polite, and Well Behaved. The Data Says So.

Back in August, the knee defender guy touched off a media firestorm.

The fight started when the male passenger, seated in a middle seat of row 12, used the Knee Defender to stop the woman in front of him from reclining while he was on his laptop…

A flight attendant asked him to remove the device and he refused. The woman then stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water at him, the official says. That’s when United decided to land in Chicago. The two passengers were not allowed to continue to Denver.

For about a week there was a ‘national conversation’ about how bad things have gotten with air travel, whether there’s a right to recline your seat, and the need to be polite (“we’re all in this together”).

There were even other incidents in quick succession, and the original perpetrator even claimed he’d do it again.

Last year I even sat next to a woman who was written up with an inflight disturbance report. She brought her own wine onboard and didn’t want to relinquish it.

The crazy thing? There were fewer passenger incidents reported to airline authorities since statistics for this began!

Domestic flight crews reported 121 unruly passengers to federal authorities last year. These include incidents in which a passenger assaults, threatens, intimidates or interferes with an airline crew member in the course of his or her duties while aboard an airplane. Reporting is at the discretion of crew members.

There were over 200 such incidents in 2001 and 2004. Most do not lead to fines.

While there are theories posited as to what’s led to the reduction in reported incidents, such as “Flying has become so undignified and degrading that the airlines have successfully cowed their passengers into submission” and “The FAA adopted stiffer penalties for passenger disruptions in the year 2000, and airlines adopted zero-tolerance approaches to bad behavior in the years after 2001” none of this actually explains the year-over-year variation in the data or that 2014 would see the fewest incidents on record.

Whether 120 or 300, the number of reported incidents is dwarfed by the number of domestic airline passengers. These incidents have always been rare, and generally defy a single unifying cause.

Whatever the reason, though, there are fewer of them!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I generally do not have to interface with “coach” passengers, but when I do, I always order Large Fries!

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