For the first time, a new study has revealed that air rage incidents are four times more likely to occur in planes with first class cabins. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds that the chance of passengers “losing it” increases when they have to pass through first class to get to their seats.

According to researchers from the Harvard Business School and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, air rage incidents are considered as a threat to onboard safety. Due to this class inequality, passengers are more likely to disrespect and yell at flight attendants, smoke onboard or refuse to sit down.

However, air rage incidents are not limited to economy passengers. Even first class passengers show the bad behaviour as well. The research team did not rationalise these incidents but previous studies may help explain why these happen.

first class

Cathay Pacific First Class cabin. Credit: Flickr/Richard Moross

People generally experience poorer health and exhibit bad behaviours when they are not treated equally or at least feel like they are being treated unfairly. Even experiencing inequality for a short time can still result in these problems.

Consequently, the frequency of air rage incidents is comparable to what passengers may experience during a nine-hour flight delay. Of course, other factors may also play a part in these instances including alcohol consumption, long flights and crowdedness but, the impact on the disruptive behaviour of the passenger from these three factors are still smaller than class inequality.

This disruptive behaviour is not confined to airplane passengers. Apparently, the same incidence can also be observed in work environments where lower-level employees have to pass by executive offices to get to their cubicles.

The research team says that the study urges airlines to seek ways to decrease air rage incidents. While they do not suggest removing first class cabins, they say reducing the emphasis on plane class inequality such as using dual gates to board planes may help ease the problem.