It is reported that British Airways may well be on the way to making its passengers pay for the food on its flights. Plenty of the so-called budget airlines already do.
We blame air rage on long flight delays, shrinking seats and a general decline in civility. With airlines squeezing more passengers onto flights, air rage incidents appear to be on the rise. But the first empirical research study into the phenomenon pegs another culprit—class inequality.
A study by Katy DeCelles of the University of Toronto and Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School now suggests that awareness of deprivations and extreme inequality in service provision among passengers, including first-class travellers, may be a great predictor of “air rage”. Lack of leg room, long delays, bad food – they may be contributors or triggers for such but those issues wouldn’t matter much if everyone is subject to similar conditions rather than having an elite few being exempted, the report explained. On average, air-rage incidents occur in economy class just 0.14 times per 1,000 flights when there is no first-class cabin, but 1.58 times per 1,000 flights when there is first-class service. Disruptive behaviour from passengers in both classes was nearly four times as likely in divided aircraft than on planes that only had one type of seating. The authors calculate it would take a flight delay of about 9 1/2 hours to produce the same effect. Loading from the front doubled the odds of air rage over boarding from the middle. That effect was particularly pronounced among the occupants of those big, cushy seats. Getting on at the front of planes divided by class seemed to make first-class air rage nearly 12 times more likely.
DeCelles said other studies had shown how being acutely aware of your own class privilege and superiority could make you more anti-social and unsympathetic to other people’s hardships. The study has implications for conflict resolution for places where differences in class or status are apparent – such as VIP seats in sports stadiums or workplaces where lowly employees have to walk by luxurious executive offices to get to their cubicles. The new advice for rich people is to don’t rub it in. Katy DeCelles, who teaches organizational behaviour at the University of Toronto explains the others’ special treatment is “Something like that makes you very aware of the fact that you are not being treated as special as someone else.”
Don’t expect the answer to come in the form of more equal treatment. The airline industry is far too dependent on the open wallets of those able to pay for a bit more space or quicker boarding to sacrifice that revenue, said DeCelles.