Why people get so angry on planes
Even if you don’t fly frequently, you’ve almost certainly come across a rude or aggressive fellow passenger at some point. Perhaps the flight was delayed, the overhead bin space was taken or they had a small spat with airline staff. Whatever it was, something is clearly wrong.
Extreme cases of disgruntled behavior are known as “air rage,” or the tendency to get over-aggressive on planes. The issue is especially troubling to flight attendants, who say it puts the entire cabin at risk.
But while you may think someone is only angry about the plane’s lack of legroom, “air rage” is actually much more complicated than that.
According to experts, some passengers experience high levels of anger in the air because, during a flight, they’re made painfully aware of how little they can control as human beings on this Earth.
That’s pretty intense.
“Anger goes up when you feel a lack of control,” explains Dr. Martin Seif, a psychologist who specializes in flight anxiety. “We’re never truly in control, but there’s an intense awareness of that when you’re flying.”
When you get news of a delay or are told there’s no room for your carry-on in the overhead bin, for example, you’re smacked straight-on with the fact that you have absolutely zero power over the air travel experience, Seif says. And while not everyone responds to a lack of control in the same way, many respond with anger.
It doesn’t help that flying is a confluence of many other anger triggers, from squishy seats to smelly neighbors. Seif says the realization about your lack of control — coupled with that perhaps annoying neighbor next to you — can combine to make feelings of aggression especially intense.
While many people seek to quell the anger with alcohol, drinking can ramp up emotions even more.
Instead, Seif recommends taking flight annoyances as an opportunity to practice your inner zen. He recommends the “bug on the windshield” analogy for letting frustrations float past: Imagine a bug flies onto your car windshield, creating an annoying black speck. You can either 1) use your wiper to smear it around, thus blocking your view and making it harder to drive, or 2) ignore the small spot on your windshield and choose to focus on something else, which will help you drive just fine.
This is a fancy — yet poignant! — way of saying that focusing on your in-flight movie instead of the terrible flight delay is going to help you keep calm and carry on.