Home Travel What To Do (And Not Do) If There’s An Unruly Passenger On Your Flight

What To Do (And Not Do) If There’s An Unruly Passenger On Your Flight

by SharonKurheg

2021 was a banner year for problems on flights. According to the FAA, there were nearly 6,000 cases of unruly airline passengers. And that’s just the events that were reported! A mid-2021 national survey of flight attendants suggested that 85% of FAs have had to deal with unruly passengers, 58% have experienced at least 5 incidents, and 17% have had to handle a physical incident.

The chances of you having an unruly passenger on any singular flight is, admittedly, relatively low. Of course, the more often you fly, the higher your chances are of being witness to a problem in the sky.

But if you DO have a troublemaker on your flight who won’t comply with what the flight attendants says  – someone who won’t wear their mask, or who’s drunk, or who thinks they don’t have to do what they’re told – there are a few things you can/should (and SHOULD NOT) do:

Stay out of it

Mind your own beeswax. Don’t get involved. Or as they say in NYC, mind ya bizness!

You’re not responsible for the inappropriate behavior of others and it’s not your job to stop them. That includes not telling them to put their mask on, to lower their voice, or to stop cursing because there are children on board. And it certainly includes not getting physical. Getting involved could wind up with you being part of a verbal or physical altercation that could result in anything from your getting hurt, to getting kicked off the plane if the flight is diverted, to getting arrested. Not exactly a good way to end a flight, y’know?

Follow directions of airline staff

If a flight attendant or other flight crew asks for assistance, that’s the one caveat to “minding your own business” – if you’re capable of doing what they ask to help get the unruly passenger under control, then go for it.

But if you’re told to go sit somewhere else, to stop talking, or whatever – do it. When you’re on the plane, the flight staff are in charge. Leave your ego at the door (to say nothing of the fact that you could wind up incurring your own fine if you don’t do as you’re told).

Stay neutral

There’s a small chance that the troublemaker is the person sitting near or next to you. They may try to get you involved by looking like the victim (“She’s not asking anything else to stop ordering drinks! Just me!”), or by trying to get you on their side (“Eff masks! Am I right?!?!?!”). Don’t fall for it. Don’t react positively or negatively; just stay neutral.

If you have no choice but to say something, make it something benign and non-judgemental. “I’m sorry you feel upset” might help in diffusing the situation, but still keep you out of what they’re upset about.

Keep your emotions in check & look that way

This goes with staying neutral. Stay calm, cool and collected. Someone who is upset is only going to get more agitated if they’re around others who are also upset. Angry people feed off each other. Angry people can also get angrier if they think someone’s laughing at them. Keep your face, tone of voice and body language (no pointing, no fists) neutral.

Get out of their personal space

Granted, there’s little space on a plane. But if you can get out of the person’s way, it keeps you out of danger of any physical alternation. Giving them personal space also helps to decrease agitation, especially if someone is feeling trapped (because they don’t feel they can breathe adequately when wearing a mask, because they’re drunk and their emotions are all over the place, because they don’t feel as if they’re in control, etc.)

Don’t capture the situation on your phone

Sure, everyone would love their footage to go viral. Or maybe you could sell it to TMZ. But someone who’s in the middle of a temper tantrum because they don’t want to wear a mask may lash out at anyone and anything, because they don’t have control of their emotions. The last thing you want is to hear, “You videotaping this? Shut off that f**king phone,” as they charge towards you. At best, your phone might get broken. At worst, a part of YOU might be.

The bottom line

The most important thing to remember is that if someone is going off the handle and being unruly, it’s not your responsibility to do anything about it. If the flight crew asks for your help, that’s one thing. But otherwise, stay as far away as you can and let those who have been trained to deescalate their passengers do their job.

Feature Photo: Pixabay

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


1 comment

Quo Vadis January 6, 2022 - 8:51 pm

Good advice. Guess it beats having ‘Fight Club’ aboard every flight.


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