The Seven Deadly C’s…most frequent causes of air rage (other than mental or physical illness and prescription medication problems) | Causes, Not Just Cases®

As a frequent flier it is no surprise to me that the International Air Transport Association reported that the number of incidents involving unruly passengers has increased 12-fold in the past four years. However, the statistics do not tell the full story.

Not everyone who boards a plane loses their mind—the airlines must accept some responsibility for their actions in having caused the rise in “unruly” passengers. The statistics don’t explain why such allegations are on the rise. Here are some of the most common culprits I think are to blame for air rage:

  1. Confusion—usually over an airline’s own rules and promises. Thanks to the internet, some passengers know these better than the airline employees who, when convenient, used to be able to make up “rules” as they went along. Now they can’t; it’s all on the internet, easily accessed on your cell phone.
  2. Connections—missed ones, whether it is the weather, airport traffic or that the crew overslept. Blame the spoke-and-hub system for this, but most of us have to connect. In the last few years, I haven’t made a connection at O’Hare. Once, the airline I was flying even tried to claim that the plane’s broken toilet was a weather delay . . . the airlines have a different definition of blue water than those of us who sail. Too often airlines shirk their responsibility to assist their customer and blame “an act of God’ which is an actual excuse in contracts of carriage.
  3. Calling the cops—instead of resolving customer complaints. Most of the time, charges are not filed, but rampant false arrests are being used by airlines to silence complainers. When the charges are dismissed, the abused passengers often call us—with good reason. Malicious prosecutions of misconnected passengers seem to be a growing trend.
  4. Cocktails and carts—excuses for bad airline behavior. When someone complains and the airline staff can smell alcohol, they often allege that the complaining passenger is drunk and have them removed by the police. When the passenger tests sober, it is too late—the flight is gone and the passenger is sitting in the airport police station. By the way, why are there still carts? On most domestic flights, there’s no food. Yet, out comes the cart instead of a drink tray.  A few grumpy attendants use the cart like a Sherman tank and refuse to move it for passengers who “gotta go.” Stay tuned for a shoving match. The passenger’s going to lose.
  5. Children—airlines and other passengers don’t like them. I assume it is because airline employees and other passengers sprung from the womb fully grown. I never saw a drunken child assault a flight attendant. Children are not our problem; adults are. But, airlines still try to make up rules about seats for kids even though the parents have all read them on the internet. Disagreements follow. Before long a grumpy passenger chimes in and demands the children be relocated.
  6. Cell phones and computers, for now—the FAA is leaving technology policies up to the airlines. Different rules for different airlines mean more, not less, problems are on the horizon. See rule number one: confusion.
  7. Congress—claimed in 2010 to have put into place passenger protections; they did not. To quote the Pirates of the Caribbean, “they are more like guidelines.” But people believed the Congressional press releases. More confusion.

Below are some of my don’ts and the one thing you can do to avoid falling victim to the Seven Deadly C’s.

The Don’ts

  1. Never touch an airline employee—it’s a criminal offense.
  2. Never threaten—it’s a criminal offense.
  3. Never shout or swear—the airlines can claim it is a threat, see number two above.
  4. Never damage an aircraft—it’s a criminal offense.
  5. Never get drunk in public when flying, including at the airport or on the plane—it’s a criminal offense. If you’ve had a drink, before you complain, use a breath mint first so you aren’t falsely accused of being drunk.
  6. Never touch someone else’s child without permission—it’s a criminal offense.


Get out that cell phone and record any disagreement or altercation. The video will be helpful evidence if you need some later. In this New Year, I wish everyone safe and happy travels. For more, watch my interview with ABC News’ 20/20 program, titled “Horrible passengers in airport history.”