The last few years have been rough for airline passengers.
During the height of the pandemic, air travelers saw an outbreak of bad behavior. The internet was filled with videos of unruly passengers slugging flight attendants, trying to break into the cockpit, and assaulting fellow travelers.
These types of incidents led the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to impose $8.4 million in fines last year on disruptive passengers. Fortunately, the number of federal complaints appears to have peaked, dropping from nearly 6,000 in 2021 to 1,820 in 2023, as of Nov. 12.
However, the potential for problems may increase as the number of airline passengers grows and approaches pre-pandemic levels. The best way to avoid problems? Follow the rules and directions from airline staff. And if there’s an issue with a fellow passenger, let your flight attendant know.
“I’ve interviewed thousands of experts over the 30 years I’ve been doing this. They tell me it is better to call a flight attendant over sooner than it is to get in a situation that will lead to an escalation,” says Christopher Elliott, a syndicated travel columnist and consumer advocate.
But many problems fall into a gray area of annoying behavior that really isn’t regulated by airlines.
“The bad news is you don’t have the right to sit next to a pleasant passenger. You don’t have the right to be treated with respect. None of that is written into the airline’s contract,” Elliott says. “There’s not a general law that requires passengers to be nice to each other.”
Still, travelers shouldn’t suffer in silence either. Here’s what to do when you encounter specific problems.
Verbally rude fellow passengers
If someone treats you rudely, it’s tempting to respond in kind. But try to let cooler heads prevail, says Ben Mutzabaugh, senior aviation editor for The Points Guy, a travel website. “Unless you’re being threatened or taken advantage of, consider taking a deep breath and trying to let it go. Little good will come from a confrontation in an airport or airplane.” Instead, put on noise-canceling headphones, try to forget about it and don’t let it ruin your flight.