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unruly passengers

Dec 30, 2016

Are tasers the next weapon in the airline war against their customers?

Will flying in Australia ever become so confrontational that tasers could be used against unruly passengers?

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US National Guard PR executive gets tasered in back by colleagues
US National Guard PR executive gets tasered in back by colleagues in bonding ritual?

The literally shocking news that Korean Air would allow ‘freer use’ of tasers by cabin crew against unruly passengers has prompted some readers to ask if this is a natural consequence of the pain inducing use of ever smaller seats by airlines leading to escalating hostilities between passengers and cabin crew?

It’s a reasonable question but the short (and welcome) answer at least in Australian airliner cabins is ‘No’.

The incident at the heart of the Korean Air decision also occurred in business class, not in the ever tighter confines of most economy cabins. (It should also be acknowledged that Korean Air has some of the most generous economy cabin configurations of all major carriers world wide.)

However it’s also reasonable to associate what seems like increasingly aggressive exchanges between cabin crew and passengers with the decision by many airlines to reduce economy seats and toilets to unusable proportions in both single aisle and twin aisle jets.

A friend who this week flew Malaysia Airlines between Kathmandu and Kuala Lumpur reported a shouting match between Nepalese workers commuting to Malaysia and cabin crew over the reduced availability of toilets on board.

She said the Nepali passengers complaints could not be understood by the cabin crew (who didn’t want to have the benefit of a translation either) and the cabin appeared to have fewer toilets available than before.

Reconfigurations of cabins that have left some Qantas jets with fewer toilets of any size, and for any class of travel, have already caused debate in other forums earlier this year.

But what is one of many amenity related flash points in some cabins on non-Australian carriers is unlikely to get to that level of customer/airline disharmony in this country.

It would struggle to compete with unhappiness about frequent flyer programs, standing room only lounges (occasionally) and what are seen by some customers as forced code-sharing arrangements on airlines they were trying to avoid flying with in the first place.

Resorting to tasers inside a crowded cabin seems like a legal liability nightmare anyhow. Imagine the wires snagging in the hair or clothing or body of uninvolved adults or children, or the wrong person being hit with an electric shock that might cause a cardiac event with potentially serious health consequences including death.

However another friend, flying in a United 787 to the US last month, saw rising levels of anger in the cabin of the tight fit Dramaliner Dreamliner when the crew turned all the photovoltaically dimmed windows down to black contrary to the wishes of many passengers on board, and then couldn’t work out how to restore them to full transparency later in the flight.

Not only that, many passengers couldn’t find their reading lights because the interior was too dark to find the relevant part of a touch screen. United’s rostering of  crew who seemed both clueless and abusive to customers is not something that seems to cause much surprise among those who fly on US carriers.

If we parse the incidents described above, and they are typical of many such complaints, they are evidence that air travel is evolving into an activity that pits overworked and often fatigued cabin crew against increasingly aggravated and abused customers.

The desire to plunge an entire cabin into enforced darkness and hopefully semi comatose inaction in a crowded and potentially unruly 787 must be very strong, and it also causes resentment even in premium class cabin where customers might dare to think that if they were in the window seat they were entitled to enjoy the view, or just the natural light, as and when they wanted for a fare of $10-15K on their way to Europe or the US!

Those are people the airlines need to respect, rather than treat like students on a school outing, if they are to keep the loyalty of high payers.  It’s a respect that ought to be paid to those who choose less costly value options.

Fortunately, Qantas and Virgin Australia understand this better than some other carriers. Apart from the Qantas Y class atrocity being built into its 787s the focus in both carriers seems to be quality of experience at any price point, with Virgin Australia also retaining a spacious classic nine across seating layout in its boutique fleet of 777-300ERs.

This week Australian Business Traveller published a very interesting report based on a workshop Virgin Australia had conducted with some of its Velocity loyalty members in which ‘extra space’ rows in economy class in its 737s had been discussed.

As AusBT reports, no decision on such an initiative has been taken by Virgin Australia at this stage, but we can add that the airline may have realised that to take on Qantas profitably, it needs to be better in different as well as similar ways to its larger and far more profitable competitor.

Tasers and other crowd control measures seem a long way off in a dystopian future that Qantas and Virgin customers in Australia would hope never comes to pass on their services.

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