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?

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

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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17 thoughts on “Are tasers the next weapon in the airline war against their customers?

  1. comet

    Getting tasered might actually help relieve the pain associated with flying on a 787 Dreamliner.

    It’s a bit like electro shock therapy. After the initial shock, the mind becomes numb, and the muscles relax, making it easier to fit into the 787’s tight seating.

    It helps you just flop into the confined seat, and puts your mind in a state where you don’t worry about it any more.

    1. Dan Dair

      I bow to your superior experience of these matters……

    2. nobeljnet

      Sounds like if it is a dual aisled Boeing, don’t be going?

  2. Dan Dair

    I suppose that it’s a genuine improvement upon the concept of an air marshal with a gun & live rounds on a pressurised airliner.?

  3. Rais

    Perhaps the next logical step in cramming more of us into a plane might not involve seating or toilets at all Ben? If they used hooks fixed in the ceiling and hung us by our feet from them they could fit twice as many “guests” into the aircraft and the effect of gravity should reduce the need for toilets. Use of the taser to relax the “guest” could be available at a nominal extra charge. Think of the savings on food and drinks.

    1. Dan Dair

      Although this is not my blog page, I’ll thank you to keep such wild speculations under control in the future.!

      For all I know Michael O’Leary reads these pages & any ‘out-there’ thinking that floats-his-particular-boat (probably mixing my metaphors there.?) is almost certainly a bad thing.
      And as we all know to our general discomfort,
      what Mr O’Leary does today, the rest of the aviation world will catch-up with sooner or later.???

      1. Rais

        As long as there’s competition on the route Dan I think we’re likely to get something relatively acceptable at a reasonable price. I recently had an experience of what we’d be likely to get when there’s no competition. I went to the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean on the only available service, Virgin Australia. The flight to Cocos takes off at about 6:00 AM so you’d expect a basic breakfast. Nope. The snack after take off for this four hour flight is a cup of tea or coffee and a couple of biscuitty cakey things. The return flight a few days later in the evening, taking off at dinner time, had a similar snack but my in-laws had cooked something for me to eat at the airport after check-in. Because Cocos is outside Australia’s Customs system for some purposes the flight uses Perth International Airport terminal but on arrival in Perth there was no air bridge. I got down the aircraft stairs OK but then found I had to climb three storeys of stairs to get into the airport. Somehow I think the “experience” would have been better on a route that had competition.

        1. Rais

          By the way I forgot to mention that the return fare Perth to Cocos is never less than the cheapest Perth to Europe tickets. That’s for a distance about equal to Perth-Sydney with no proper food service. Of course there can never be competition on these small routes but it demonstrates the price and service benefits of the competion on more popular interstate and international routes.

  4. comet

    The 787 Dreamliner really turned out to be a shocking aircraft.

    It has two showstoppers:
    1) The squishiest seats of any airliner in the sky today.
    2) Those electronically shaded windows, which we now know flight attendants are happy to press the central control button to switch all windows to black.

    Wouldn’t it make you feel good to have control over that central button? Knowing you can make lots of people angry with just one press!

    Maybe 787 Dreamliner carriers could offer tasering as a value added service to all customers upon entry.

    1. J_sh

      I think in regards to #1 you will find that the 3-4-3 B777 as per Air Canada beats it by a country quarter inch, and of course JAL has the configuration Boeing had in mind when they tagged the B787 as Dreamliner.

      There was a delightful review of Air Canada’s reconfiguration of their B777 fleet from 3-3-3, which VA is staying with, to 3-4-3 after they discovered the benefits of configuring their B787s as 3-3-3 Nightmareliners instead of 2-4-2 Dreamliners in another forum by a writer whose PE trip was paid for by Air Canada to produce an advertorial. It reads
      “Since deliveries of its new Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 aircraft began, Air Canada has spent millions adapting its larger and older Boeing 777 fleet to delivery a similar flight experience.”

    2. Dan Dair

      I still wonder if it’s possible to toast marshmallows on the firebox,
      (possibly whilst singing campfire songs in an effort to keep the spirits up)
      in the event of a battery fire.?

      (I also wonder whether the B787 is delivered from new, with a big pack of marshmallows stored in the galley-area, for just such an occasion. I wonder if the bag even has the words to campfire songs helpfully printed on it.???)

      (feel free to call me Robin; the boy wonder.!!!)
      (*Batman & Robin reference)
      (*other superheroes are available)

  5. Giant Bird

    Reducing the number of toilets on aircraft creates another issue for passenger disruption when one or more are out of service. If you have cut the number of toilets down to the bare minimum or less, passengers are going to be less understanding and patient when the few left are out of service. Particularly if they go to the toilet early in the flight and realise the aircraft took off with a toilet out of service, or it becomes unpleasant to use during a flight and the crew are slow or reluctant to do a through clean up. Imagine the situation where they cannot fix a toilet in the turn around time and them another one goes out of service early in the flight, and there were barely enough in the first place. Passenger temperatures will rise as they have a reasonable expectation that some of the extra revenue from the additional seats is being spent on making sure that the remaining fewer number of toilets are always available. On some flights often none of the toilets are accessible for long periods of time, due to extended periods of turbulence and then drink carts, meal carts and duty free carts blocking the aisles. The airlines seem to be trying very hard to stir up the passengers. Eventually they may succeed in a way that may be a major safety incident.

    1. comet

      The airline craze of reducing the number of toilets will result in injury.

      When there are extended queues to access a toilet, passengers are more likely to ignore the ‘seatbelt on’ warning light.

      Also, the greater the toilet queue the more people will be injured if the aircraft hits clear air turbulence. Has anyone thought about that?

    2. J_sh

      Some airlines will turn on the sit down and buckle up signs at the slightest hint of bumpity bump with no real turbulence, then leave it on for 15 or 20 mins afterwards teven though the bumps lasted seconds. Air Canada is one. Presumably this is because of fear of law suits in case of injuries in real turbulence.

      1. JW (aka James Wilson)

        Possibly so, but it’s sometimes extremely difficult to predict if or when the “slightest hint of bumpity bump” will turn into something far worse. I never cease to be amazed at the numpties who ignore seat belt signs and warnings to sit down and belt up, all because they think they know better.

  6. Tango

    I think we need to separate out discomfort (and distress per a bathroom issue) and the nut cases.

    At least on this side of the Pacific, the issue has been drunk passengers for the most part or people with mental issues.

    In either case, there have been some fairly violent confrontations. A Taser might well be the best choice.

    The Nepalese’s unable to convey their distress may be a factor, but irritated is not the same as violent.

    For a lot of the irration and distress issue, its well past time there is legaiaion.

    Some of the worst have been holding people on aircraft with no food, overflowing toilets.

    At that point the Passenger rather than sitting and being stupide need to get a delegation that gets the crews attention.

    Either you are going to get us off this thing or we are going to pop doors and activate slides and get ourselves off.

    Said action should have legal protection. People being held against their will is known as kidnapping.

    I don’t have much sympathy for someone that does not look into the food situation and then are surprised at no meal.

    My wife makes a sandwich for her flights. I eat before I go or I know I have a stop over and eat there.

    1. Rais

      In my case on the Cocos flight I did have food with me. Never assume anything about food on a flight. But my point remains if there’s competition on the route there’ll usually be more of an attempt to feed the passengers and make them as comfortable as the seating space permits.

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