Turbulent times ahead for air rage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 July, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 July, 1998, 12:00am

Aircraft cabin crews will not be surprised. Neither, probably, will frequent fliers. But for those of us who only irregularly use air-transport and tend to put up with its discomforts as part of the usually rather high cost of getting in or out of Hong Kong, it came as a shock.

Apparently, air rage is taking over from road rage as the hip lunacy of the moment. To quote China Daily, 'Airline passengers have defecated on food carts, been aggressive with the crew and even sexually assaulted their seats.' No, really. It is not just a figment of some reporter's feverish imagination. It is from a report by the International Cabin Crew Association, which showed a 400 per cent rise in incidents since 1995.

Not that we would ever succumb to the temptation ourselves. But you can understand that after hours of sitting there with hot, swollen feet, a stiff neck, sore eyes and all the other ills to which the air passenger is prone, one of your neighbours might want to shout at a stewardess when she runs the food trolley into his arm.

She might also reap abuse for blocking his escape with the infernal thing, just as he has decided to shift his large behind out of his tiny seat and head for the toilet.

But blocking his passage with the food trolley cannot possibly be an excuse for unblocking his passage on the food trolley, can it? Oh, we know how hard it must be sometimes. Any passenger who has spent 13 hours on a plane next to someone else's screaming baby, or put up with Little Miss and Week Ending chasing up and down the aisles shouting for the last 3,000 kilometres might be a bit peevish.

But somehow we cannot quite see how that excuses the fellow who, again we quote the China Daily synopsis, 'removed his pants and 'simulated having sex with the back of his seat.' ' We have noted the reports which blame the poor air quality on long-haul flights. We quite agree the airlines should do something about this. Apart from opening portholes and getting unruly passengers sucked out, they could perhaps put a richer admixture of fresh air into their recycled flow.

We accept there are grounds for giving us cattle-class passengers a little more space and allowing us more room for our feet.

But even if airlines started standing-room only sardine-class flights for back-packers, journalists and other impoverished passengers, we would not support taking revenge on hostesses with a well-aimed pinch to the bottom.

Earlier this month, various industry associations got together and suggested airlines should prosecute all offenders, blacklist them, and carry restraint equipment such as handcuffs.

All this is right and just. If every passenger turns into a Liam Gallagher as soon as he goes on board and starts to drink, swear, abuse other passengers and refuse to wear his seat belt, air travel will soon become unfashionable.

But maybe there is also another way of dealing with it. Such as being unexpectedly polite and tolerant. We offer this exemplary tale for the edification of airline staff. Sadly we do not know which airline was involved, but the cabin crew deserve a Grand Bauhinia Medal for tolerance.

This is the story of a unicycle enthusiast who wanted to take his machine on a flight. Ground staff refused to allow him to check it as normal luggage, and the quota for paid-for bicycles was full. So he mounted his unicyle, pedalled to the wheelchair entrance and declared it as a medical device.

'Guess what,' said our source for this amazing story. 'A flight attendant accompanied him to the seat, while he rode down the aisle behind her. She took his machine, stored it in a closet and brought it back to his seat on arrival. Then he was asked if he needed assistance to remount.'