Imprudent Airline Passengers Are More Likely to Be Inexperienced, Male, and Self-Centered, Study Finds

If you have never heard someone say, “I loved that flight! I can’t wait to get back on an airplane!” it’s probably because the experience of many airline passengers is quite different, and often times negative experiences stem from the behavior of other airline passengers. In this regard, the Internet is replete with stories about the rude and sometimes downright horrible behavior of certain airline passengers. Yet, little academic research has sought to identify individual factors that might explain annoying and imprudent airline passenger behavior. A new study, however, by Florida International University associate professor Ryan C. Meldrum attempts to shed light on this issue.

Appearing in The Social Science Journal, Meldrum’s study is based on data he collected from 750 adults across the United States to determine whether imprudent airline passenger behavior might be explained by certain demographic and personality traits. In the study, participants were first asked how likely they would be to do (or fail to do) certain things while flying on an airplane. These behaviors included not waiting to recline one’s seat back until the plane has reached cruising altitude, passing gas on a plane, not washing one’s hands after using the lavatory, and cursing at another passenger for bumping one’s seat back. Meldrum also collected demographic data from participants and had each participant report how many times they have flown on a plane in the past. Finally, participants were asked to rate themselves on a variety of items measuring impulsivity, self-restraint, and self-centeredness.

“The data demonstrated a fairly consistent pattern of results across each of the behaviors,” said Meldrum. “Three things stood out as clear correlates of imprudent airline passenger behavior: being male, having flown fewer times on an airplane relative to other people, and scoring higher on items measuring self-centeredness.” These results are consistent with studies showing that men are more likely to engage in antisocial and risky behavior than women in general. Likewise, a large body of research links being low in self-control to imprudent and antisocial behavior, and self-centeredness is often seen as one dimension of being low in self-control. This study, however, is the first to link certain aspects of a lack of self-control to patterns of airline passenger behavior.

The finding that more seasoned fliers are less likely to report they would behave imprudently also stood out to Meldrum. “What this suggests is that being a pleasant airline passenger depends, in part, on how many times you have flown; there appears to be a learning curve.” To Meldrum, this suggests that taking steps to educate inexperienced fliers on expectations for flying might reduce the overall number of unpleasant experiences and altercations that happen on planes. Meldrum also admits, though, that other factors, such as alcohol consumption when flying, may contribute to imprudent behavior by airline passengers. “There certainly is more research to be done on this topic,” says Meldrum, “but this study offers initial evidence that there are measurable factors that predispose certain people to be less than pleasant when flying.”

Source: Florida International University