Reclining seats, annoying passengers

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

I’m not an airline seat recliner. I rarely tilt my seat back on an airplane, mostly because I know how much I dislike it when the person in front of me pushes their seat back — and into my lap. But many fliers do, and recent disruptions on flights due to flagrant reclining have prompted unscheduled landings, and much debate. Today, representatives of two groups write about this contentious trend, while an Atlanta pastor writes personally, about the virtue of patience.

Note: There are three columns today. Commenting is open.

Flying the unruly skies

By Michael Cintron

Incidents of unruly behavior in flight are making news yet again. Before we start asking to ban seats that recline or go full pitchforks and torches on the airlines, a little perspective is needed.

Unruly behavior on an airliner is dangerous, costly and unacceptable. It is also a difficult matter not fully understood since it not only involves passengers, but in rare instances, members of the flight crew. Airlines, rightly so, are adopting a zero tolerance approach for dealing with those who pose a danger to themselves, other passengers or the safety of the flight. Fortunately, they are a small minority but the upward trend in incidents is worth noting.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association that represents 240 airlines around the world, states that between 2007 and 2013 there were over 28,000 reported incidents of unruly passengers aboard flights. IATA and its member airlines have established guidelines and training to deal with unruly airline passenger behavior but the industry is also seeking changes to international protocols that would give more power to airlines and governments to handle unruly passengers, including the ability to prosecute and recover the costs associated with an incident. The aviation body of the U.N., the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), has adopted enhanced enforcement measures against unruly passengers that will take effect once the new protocols are ratified. IAPA strongly supports these efforts.

However, punishing unruly behavior is only part of the solution.

Recognizing and stopping the potential for disruptive and dangerous behavior is paramount. There are many contributing factors. Though often cited are the levels of discomfort in a typical economy class cabin, don’t forget that incidents occur in premium cabins as well.

There is more at play than just discomfort. Consider the airport environment, which can be tense. Think about the hurdles a typical traveler must cross just to get situated into an airline seat. From road traffic to long check-in lines, to anxiety-inducing security checkpoints – they all combine to raise stress levels. Add a few emotionally trying events to a person’s day, including long delays and cancellations, and you just might have a fuse waiting for a spark.

Except for the small space they occupy, passengers are in control of very little during a flight. This makes some nervous and frustrated and, unfortunately, a few choose artificial means like drugs or alcohol to ease this discomfort. Airline employees need to continue to refine their training to be ever-cognizant of the potential for unruly behavior.

In addition to training and awareness, we strongly encourage airlines to periodically revisit their beverage service policies involving alcohol, especially on long flights. Airlines must also adapt procedures that make it more clear to passengers that unruly behavior will lead to prosecution and that ignoring crew member instructions falls under that definition, regardless of the circumstances leading up to it. Just as the use of personal electronic devices, there must be clear guidelines for the use of external devices that could potentially alter the workings of a certified piece of equipment, such as a seat back.

We at IAPA are encouraged that the industry is taking steps to reverse the worldwide increase in disruptive and dangerous behavior by airline passengers. While we support the duties of the flight crew to do all possible to ensure the safety and security of all on board, we must also insist on bringing aboard some common sense and courtesy.

As passengers, we must realize that another person — especially one we may never see again — should never be worth risking so much. Try asking a crew member for help with a seat or space issue before engaging another passenger directly. But keep your emotions in check. Members of the flight crew have full discretion over what is considered a threat.

In dealing with airlines we should expect competency, courtesy and respect. The other half of the bargain is ours to uphold.

Michael Cintron is director of consumer and travel industry affairs for the International Association of Airline Passengers.

On the front lines for flight safety

By Sara Nelson

Imagine boarding your next flight and hearing, “Welcome aboard today’s flight from New York to Denver. Unfortunately, we will be making a brief stop in Chicago to remove a couple of disruptive passengers. But once they are detained, we will be en route to our final destination.” No one wants to hear that. Flight Attendants would much prefer to deliver the announcement, “sit back, relax and enjoy this flight.”

Over the past few weeks, three flights were diverted due to passenger conflicts in the cabin. These issues help shine a light on what every flight attendant deals with on a regular basis. We must be prepared and vigilant in the event we are faced with conflicts in the cabin, or worse.

This is the reality of traveling in today’s post-9/11 world. Ever since the tragic events of that fateful day, flight attendants go to work with an even greater sense of responsibility. Aviation security at tens of thousands of feet in the air in a metal tube leaves no room for error.

Every day, roughly 30,000 flights take off and land safely, with virtually no disruption. That impeccable record is why U.S. airlines rank as the safest aviation system in the world. It is a testament to our nation’s flight attendants. We are aviation’s first responders and also its last line of defense. However, as our industry continues to try to find a new normal, the traveling experience becomes increasingly stressful.

Today’s aircraft cabin has become ripe for conflict, with the bare minimum flight attendant staffing on hand to manage it. Since 9/11, Flight Attendants have been successful in coping and adapting to the new reality of air travel. We are more vigilant than ever, more focused on any potential situation that could threaten the safety of the cabin. Through training and countless hours of in-flight experience, today’s flight attendant is extremely adept at de-escalating conflict before situations get out of hand and threaten the safety of a flight.

The recent flight diversions highlight the evolution of our profession and the seriousness of cabin safety. On every flight, we work together to keep our skies safe. We do this as part of our solemn vow to “Never Forget” the sacrifice of our crewmember heroes of Sept. 11, 2001. Our work each day is a tribute to their memory.

Today’s message is simple: listen to your Flight Attendants. The safety and security of our flights is our highest priority as we look after each other and the passengers in our care. Never Forget.

Sara Nelson is international president for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

 Let kindness trump frustration

By Joanna M. Adams

During a heavy downpour last week, I found myself caught for an hour in a traffic jam of historic proportions.

Thirty minutes into it, I became really worked up; so much so, that when the driver in front of me allowed a car that had just pulled up to cross into our lane, I found myself smacking the steering wheel with the heel of my hand and muttering a few decidedly non-ministerial words.

Anger and frustration had literally gotten the best of me. Even worse, my anger was directed at someone who had shown kindness to a stranger – certainly the least ministerial aspect of my attitude!

Anger shoulders itself into our all-too-human hearts with great regularity, doesn’t it? At least three times in recent weeks, flights have been diverted from their destinations because passengers got into terrible rows with one another over a few inches of valuable cabin space.

I will confess I do not think loving thoughts when someone else’s head descends upon my tray table, but life is full of maddening matters. Not letting them get the best of us is a spiritual discipline of the highest order.

I do not mean to imply that anger is always unjustified. I think of words attributed to St. Augustine, “Hope has two daughters,” he said. “Their names are Anger and Courage; Anger at what is and ought not to be and courage to make what ought to be come to be.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

So, if we react with indifference to the unspeakable brutalities currently being perpetrated by ISIS, if we wink at the epidemic of unethical and illegal behaviors on the part of too many public officials, if we are dispassionate about the ongoing issues surrounding race in America, then we might be getting close to relinquishing our membership in the human race.

Getting mad about things that ought not to be is the first step toward changing them.

The Christian scriptures contain an excellent gem of good advice: “Be angry, but do not sin” — the implication being that it is possible, even necessary, to be “good and mad” at the same time. The key is to be constructive rather than destructive with anger.

If you have been a victim of someone else, turn your justified anger about it into passion for preventing the same thing from happening to someone else. These are moral matters of the highest order.

However, when it comes to responding to daily irritations of life, I offer this advice: Count to 10 before you react. Take a deep breath; exhale irritation and inhale calm. You won’t be sorry. Pray for patience.

Repeat to yourself this non-Biblical but beautiful beatitude, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape.”

Joanna M. Adams, a retired Atlanta pastor, writes for the Higher Ground Group blog at

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