Air Rage

“Mind your own business!”

“I want my money back, now!”

A new-age retreat gone horribly wrong? Nope, those were just some of the heated statements made, loudly, during my American Airlines flight from Newark to Dallas earlier this week.

Just prior to take-off, two men and a woman dressed in robes and headscarves were quickly ushered onto the plane and told to take whatever available seats there were so we could depart. Clearly these passengers had been held up by security.

Two took open seats in the front row. Before they could even buckle their seatbelts, the man sitting in front of me, in the second row, started yelling that he wanted a refund.

“I want a refund! If those seats are free, then I want my money back. It isn’t fair that they get to sit there,” he complained. Loudly. “I paid extra to sit here.”

A flight attendant scurried over to address the problem. “Sir, what’s the matter? Are you in the wrong seat? Is that your seat [pointing to the front row]?”

“No, this is my seat, but I paid extra to sit up here. And if those seats are free, then I want my money back.”

“Sir, I don’t understand.” (And neither did the rest of us.)

“I paid $39 extra to sit in the first two rows. And if they get to sit there without paying extra, then I want my money back.”


Finally understanding the situation, the attendant explained that she couldn’t give him a refund, but that he could take the matter up with a gate agent upon arrival in Dallas.

He persisted. She departed.

A few minutes later she returned to say that rules are once everyone is seated, if there are open seats, passengers can move to them. But she understood his issue and, again, there was nothing she could do about giving his money back. “Just talk to the gate agent when we land.”

A few minutes later, a man sitting behind me suddenly blurted out, “Ma’am, you need to mind your own business. You are way beyond your purview. That is not your job.”

Apparently, the woman sitting across the aisle from this man had told him he needed to turn his cell phone off as we were supposed to have already put all electronic devices away.

Things heated up even more when another passenger sitting behind the woman came to her defense and said that the offending passenger should indeed turn his phone off.

That did it.

The man started yelling, “You are way beyond your boundaries! You need to stop. Now. … You really need to mind your own business. I don’t have to listen to you. … Go ahead, call them over! I beeeeg you to. Please, call them!”

WTF was going on that day? Or the two days a couple weeks ago when three separate incidents of air rage made the news, one over a reclined seat?

I get that air travel is now a stressful endeavor for most people. I too get annoyed when the person in front of me reclines into my “space,” or lack thereof. I’m sick of the ancillary fees that airlines keep throwing at us. And, I admit, I’m one of those folks who get annoyed when other passengers blatantly ignore the directive to shut down electronic devices—not that I think having them on interferes with pilot signals or any other potential “danger.” It’s just I want to get off the ground as quickly as possible, and the longer someone sits there texting their mistress or playing Angry Birds, the longer we’re stuck at the gate.

But I, and most other travelers, accept that flying just isn’t comfortable these days, unless of course you’re lucky enough to be upgraded to first or business class. We just simply deal with the irritations and try to keep the discomfort to ourselves.

Finally, as we backed away and headed toward the runway, everyone quieted down. Once in the air, the staff quickly served beverages, and the cabin seemed to have returned to its expected state of polite, yet reserved, respect. The man in front of me brought up his seat-charge refund one more time with another attendant, who basically told him the same thing as the first attendant, and then all was peaceful again.

I’ve seen road rage in action, but hadn’t witnessed air rage before. (It’s very different from TSA rage, which I’ve both witnessed and, much to my chagrin, participated in, shortly after 9/11.)

Here’s hoping my return to New York on Monday is also a return to friendlier skies.

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4 Responses to Air Rage

  1. David Xia says:

    What an awful experience. I certainly hope I never run into an air-rage infested cabin anytime soon.

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Donna,

    I think that people generally are, for whatever reason, becoming increasingly tetchy about what they see as their ‘rights’ in a shared space. You see it in restaurants, cinemas, supermarkets – you name it. Airplanes are hot spots for it because the perception of how our trip is going to pan out is usually very different to the reality, and there is a lingering sense that air travel remains some kind of wondrous experience (no doubt in large part due to the misleading advertising from the airlines themselves).

    People need to calm down, pull their heads in and be nice to each other in shared spaces. I can dream, can’t I?

  3. Donna says:

    Happy to report: no anger incidents on my flights back to NYC yesterday. But I did end up next to a Chatty Charlie on the first leg. A former rock musician from Boston. At least he provided some interesting gossip on a few folks… 🙂

  4. David Urmann says:

    Some of the most heated confrontations I have seen between staff and customers have occurred in airports. I think customers need to keep in mind most of the staff is just doing the job assigned. It is unfortunate that the airlines maybe dont give them more flexibility to deal with irate customers.

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