10,854 Cases of People on Planes Acting Like Humongous Jerks

An airline industry organization reports that incidents of passenger misbehavior are becoming more prevalent. James Boast/Getty Images

Have you ever fantasized about yelling at the armrest-monopolizing stranger next to you on an airplane? Or perhaps you've had the urge to leave your seat to go tamper with the smoke detector in the lavatory while the fasten seatbelt light was on? Or maybe you've been this close to shoving that really tall guy blocking the overhead compartment holding your carry-on bag.

Most of us have experienced a touch of air rage — that urge to blow off some steam that builds up in the crowded and cramped fuselage of a commercial passenger airplane. But the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports 2015 was a good (bad) year for expressing those urges.

According to the IATA, instances of air passengers losing their composure increased in 2015: 10,854 cases of people acting like humongous jerks were reported to the international agency last year, up from 9,316 cases the year before — that's a 16 percent increase in one year alone. Rude and disruptive behaviors included verbally or physically assaulting another passenger or crew member, refusing to follow lawful crew member instructions, or causing damage to the airplane itself. According to the data collected by the IATA, unruly passengers were a problem on one in 1,205 flights last year, making air rage one of the top three safety concerns for the cabin crew. In fact, the amount of air rage incidents in 2015 alone was more than 20 percent of the previous eight years combined. 

Air rage is on the rise, according to the International Air Transport Association.

But what causes these heightened emotions on flights, and what can be done about it? There are a lot of ideas out there. For instance, a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows incidents of air rage more likely on flights where passengers are boarded from the front of the plane and everyone has to walk through the first-class cabin to get to their economy-class seat. Another hypothesis is that emotional outbursts on planes have something to do with busy airports, more crowded planes, flight cancellations and delays — incidents of air rage seem to be more common especially in delay-prone Chinese airports. But the IATA is focusing its strategy on managing passengers' alcohol consumption.

Alcohol was a contributing factor in 23 percent of last year's reported cases of unruly passenger behavior. An initiative by Monarch Airlines in London's Gatwick airport suggests that disruptive on-board behavior could be cut in half by making it more difficult for passengers to binge drink before they even board the plane.

Six countries -- Bahrain, Congo, Dominican Republic, Gabon, Guyana and Jordan -- have signed the 2014 Montreal Protocol, a treaty that would make it simpler for airlines to legally deal with unruly passengers on international flights, but the IATA says more signatures are necessary in order for the treaty to provide a helpful solution to the problem.