Sunday 21 January 2018

Why air travel can bring out the worst in people

Jenny Lauren, centre, niece of US fashion designer Ralph Lauren, arrives at Killaloe District Court, in January 2014 on charges of being drunk and disorderly on a New York-bound plane.

August and Christmas are peak season for bad airplane behaviour - seating is the big issue, says Sinead Moriarty.

Air rage is alive and well.

In the last short while, three planes have being forced to divert because of passengers having fully blown arguments.

What were the passengers getting so riled up about? What was so frustrating and exasperating that it led to pilots having to perform emergency landings? The culprit was the reclining seat.

We've all been there, just as you place your cup of tea on the tray in front of you, the passenger in front flips the chair back and spills the hot drink all over your lap. Or you could be reaching down to get something from you bag when you get walloped on the head by the flying chair-back.

Summer and Christmas are always testing times for passengers as airports are crammed with harried families getting away on holidays, and with screaming babies and hyper children running about.

It's no wonder passengers are fraught by the time they board a plane. Going through security now often involves stripping down to your underwear, being frisked by a security guard with a beeping wand and then having your hand luggage rifled through, with your underwear and personal items exposed to all around you.

When you have managed to get dressed and re-pack your bag, you then enter the next phase: the scrum at the boarding queue where everyone pushes and shoves to get to the top of the line.

Having survived all that, you finally board the plane where you have to heave your bag into the ever shrinking over-head lockers and you will undoubtedly be whacked in the face by someone else's suitcase or (as happened to a friend recently) be walloped on the head by a bottle of duty free vodka.

By the time you sit down and gather yourself, your blood pressure is high and your breathing irregular. The last thing you need is more blows to the head or scalding tea poured into your lap.

Robert Mann, a straight talking, former airline executive who now runs an airline-industry analysis company has said, "August is the highest load-factor month of the year… it's not surprising to me that the highest frequency of incidents between passengers occur in that month. It's like rats in a maze. At a certain point they start eating each other."

Meanwhile a Skyscanner survey has revealed that 91 percent of people want seat reclining to be banned on short flights - 43 percent felt that on long haul flights, set times should be implemented when passengers are allowed to recline their seats.

"The strong support for a change in reclined seat procedures makes sense", according to psychologist Dr. Becky Spelman, Clinical Director at the Private Therapy Clinic in Harley Street.

"The effect of people reclining their seat can result in various negative emotions such as anger, stress, anxiety, frustration and upset for the passenger behind them.

Jenny Lauren, centre, niece of US fashion designer Ralph Lauren, arrives at Killaloe District Court, in January 2014 on charges of being drunk and disorderly on a New York-bound plane.

"This emotional impact can result in a whole range of unhelpful behaviours, including air rage."

Ryanair, famous globally for its' no frills approach, got rid of reclining seats in 2004. The decision helped boost profits because reclining seats weigh more than non-reclining ones, don't require maintenance when they break and removing them gives you more room to add more seats. It's a win-win for the airlines.

Meanwhile, the passengers are being increasingly squashed into reduced spaces with less leg room, overhead locker space that would barely fit a child's schoolbag and toilets that an anorexic midget couldn't fit into.

There is, however, a way that passengers can 'fight back'. One of the recent disputes that resulted in a plane being diverted was due to the use of a 'Knee Defender'.

The gadget which costs about €17 is clipped onto the tray table and prevents the person in front from reclining their seat.

When the flight attendant was called over, they asked the passenger to remove the Knee Defenders, which he refused to do. The passenger in front then dumped a cup of water over him and a fight broke out.

The inventor of the Knee Defender, Ira Goldman, has said that people should be courteous and tell the passenger sitting in front of them when they are using the device. "The Knee Defender says right on it: 'Be courteous. Do not hog space. Listen to the flight crew.'"

I have to say, the Knee Defender sounds good to me. If clipping it on to your table tray can save you from third degree burns, concussion or travelling with your knees wrapped around your head, then I have a feeling it's about to be a bestseller.

Sinead Moriarty's new book The Secrets Sisters Keep, is published by Penguin, price €15.99.

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