It's Not the Legroom: What Really Makes Airplane Passengers Feel Ragey

It's Not the Legroom: What Really Makes Airplane Passengers Feel Ragey

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Erin Quinlan
May 23, 2016
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Want to enjoy a stress-free flight? Consider boarding blindfolded. A new study finds that air rage incidents are more common on planes that require economy passengers to schlep through first class before buckling up.

Researchers at Harvard Business School and the University of Toronto teamed with an unnamed airline to look at data from thousands of reported on board rage occurrences. Even when the scientists controlled for factors such as legroom and flight time, first-class cabins were found to be a "novel predictor" of rage incidents — because they force haves and have-nots to lay eyes on each other for several minutes during the boarding process.

"Psychology [research] tells us that when people feel a sense of deprivation and inequality, they are more likely to act out," lead study author Katherine A. DeCelles explained to CNN. All told, economy-class passengers were four times more likely to experience air rage when compelled to march past titans of industry sipping scotch and spritzing on Ferragamo facial mist. For flyers in first class, watching the riffraff drag their busted bargain luggage to the back ratcheted up incidents of air rage by a factor of nearly 12.

Class differences come up in our approaches to rage, as well. High rollers experienced more outbursts of drunken anger, the analysis revealed, while sardine-packed penny-pinchers were more prone to weepy hysteria.

The takeaway? Don’t leave home without some coping strategies—whatever the cost of your ticket.

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