In the first recorded air rage incident, a drunken man assaulted another passenger and bit a flight attendant. The year was 1947, and the flight was headed to Miami from Havana, back in the days when a certain type hopped over to Cuba for the nightlife. Fortunately, the flight was brief and required no diversion or emergency landing.
Times have changed, though some fliers’ behaviors haven’t. In early January, a Delta Air Lines flight from Barcelona to New York was forced to land in Shannon, Ireland, after Jennifer Lauren (Ralph Lauren’s niece) berated flight attendants with cuss-laden insults. She was convicted of drunkenness and threatening, abusive or insulting behavior aboard an aircraft and charged roughly $2,700. Never mind that the surprise landing cost the airline considerably more money than that and that the other passengers were delayed and otherwise inconvenienced.
Though the Lauren case may be garnering attention — we seem to be fascinated when famous, rich people behave poorly — it is just one among many. According to the International Air Transport Association, incidents of unruly and disruptive behavior by airplane passengers have increased dramatically. From 2008 to 2011, there were more than 15,000 reported cases, according to the trade group that represents 240 airlines. There were fracases after fliers were caught trying to smoke, birthday parties that got out of hand and fisticuffs over reclined seats. Lauren’s outburst occurred after her seat would not recline.
No doubt, 1947 airplanes were loud and lumbering, but at least there was legroom, no security checkpoints and the whole flight was tinged with glamour. The stress of today’s flying experience is taking its toll in the air.