What Can Airline Passengers Do About Bad Behavior?
On Friday, CNN reported that a JetBlue passenger en route from Anchorage to Portland, Ore., stood up and urinated on passengers sitting in front of him and others around him. When the plane landed, he was arrested by Portland police, charged with criminal mischief and offensive littering, two misdemeanors, and later released.
In the annals of bad flights, this one certainly ranks among the most disgusting, but it is not a total outlier. Days later, an American Airlines flight from Miami to Chicago was diverted, according to the ABC affiliate in Chicago, because of a passenger’s “erratic” behavior that witnesses said involved kicking a seat, kissing a flight attendant and then punching her in the face. What — if anything — can travelers do about this kind of behavior? We asked Gary Leff, co-founder of Milepoint.com, a frequent flier discussion site, to weigh in. The following are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Leff.
Q: Do fliers have any recourse when exposed to such bad behavior in the air?
A. They wouldn’t have any more recourse, really, if it happened at a sports stadium. People behave badly all the time, and as gross as this is, it’s a relatively minor thing to pursue recourse over. Anyone doing this is probably relatively judgment-proof anyway, so no, you don’t have much recourse.
If you sense something is not right with your seatmate, what can you do?
It depends on how “not right” it is. The only thing you can do is inform the crew. If it’s reasonably minor, your hope is that there’s a free seat somewhere on plane and they can move you to it. If the plane is full, you can fly in your seat or hope to divert, but the crew will divert only in really serious situations. That’s up to the pilot’s judgment. In any place where it’s not completely full, consult with the crew to change seats. The first incident happened within 30 minutes of landing so there wasn’t going to be somewhere to divert quickly. They were almost there. If it happened early in the flight they could have wound up diverting the flight.
How common are indignities of this caliber in-flight?
This is very uncommon. There’s no question people behave badly on planes because there are lots of people in a confined space and there are people who behave badly everywhere. So we do see altercations everywhere in the sky, whether it’s the guy who brings the [Knee] Defender on and gets in a fight with person in front of him because he can’t recline his seat. But I’ve also seen bad behavior in premium cabins; it’s not just a function of economy travel.
If you are urinated on or in some way your property is damaged by another traveler, can you seek compensation from the airline or were you just unlucky?
You were probably just unlucky. As long as it’s not a member of the crew, the airline doesn’t owe you anything. They are not actually at fault. They might offer a good-will gesture because you had a bad experience on their airline and they want to win back your business. You are more likely to get one based on your frequency of travel because they are interested in preserving the relationship. But you’re not likely to have a successful lawsuit against an airline for being urinated on.