Best to Back Off from Conflicts Aloft.

In the past few months, there have been several stories in the national media about unpleasant confrontations between airline crews and passengers. Some have been ugly.

Two nights ago, the PBS News Hour had an interesting and, I think, a related story … an interview with the author of a recently published book, in which he offers a fascinating theory. He suggests that in some areas of human conflict—an argument between neighbors for example—perhaps it would be better if, instead of the police, some other office or agency were called to deal with the situation. The premise is that when a cop tells someone to do something or to stop doing something, there is an instant problem if that person refuses to comply. And, of course, the police officer feels compelled to enforce his or her commend and violence or worse is very often the result.

I was thinking about that yesterday morning while reading a story in the Washington Post about an ugly confrontation aboard an American Airlines flight. The short version of the story is that a male passenger demanded another beer from a flight attendant and was refused because apparently he already had had several. At any rate, the thirsty passenger raised hell, becoming loud and abusive and eventually getting into a fist fight with another passenger who tried to intervene.

I know that the FAA says instructions from a flight attendant must be obeyed and clearly that makes complete sense in the case of an emergency of some kind. But my question is, wouldn’t it have been better for all concerned if the flight attendant had just given the guy his damn beer? Wouldn’t that have been preferable to provoking a serious confrontation at 30,000 feet?

Yes, it goes against the grain to let some loud-mouthed jerk get away with bad behavior, but it seems to me that the potentially serious trouble didn’t really occur until the flight attendant wouldn’t or couldn’t give in once his authority had been challenged.