What To Expect If Another Passenger Is Having An In-Flight Meltdown

Plane meltdowns can catch anyone off guard. An annoying airline seatmate may be frustrating, but a full-on outburst can ignite chaos for everyone. Whether someone argues with a crew member or threatens a passenger, it can cause a stir while flying. In July 2023, a TikTok video captured an upset woman having an outburst on a plane over someone she claimed was "not real," via The New York Post. Before the flight took off, she stood in front of other travelers and declared, "I'm telling you, I'm getting the[expletive] off and there's a reason why I'm getting the [expletive] off and everyone can either believe it or they can not believe it." She continued, "You can sit on this plane and you can die with them or not. I'm not going to." As a result, the flight was delayed for approximately three hours. In addition, passengers had to exit and re-board the plane.

In 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration amassed 1,035 reports of disruptive passengers, per The Washington Post. While most flights will be easy breezy, you may be wondering what to do if a passenger isn't on their best behavior. Every situation is unique and may require a different approach. However, there are some basic guidelines you can follow that apply to many in-flight meltdowns. Should you intervene? Is it okay to film the incident for social media? Here's what to know.

Flight attendants will step in

If a passenger acts out during your flight, try to stay as calm as possible. International president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA Sara Nelson told The Washington Post that fellow passengers should not get involved unless there's a risk of violence. They should alert flight attendants, who have received training on resolving these conflicts. In some cases, a flier may have to switch to a different seat. Yet, Nelson did add, "In extreme incidents, passengers may be directed to help restrain another passenger." If you're uncomfortable with assisting, tell the crew right away. Professor of aviation management at Metropolitan State University of Denver Jeff Price explained, "The only passengers obligated to do anything are those that sit in the exit row, that they open the doors during an emergency." Federal air marshals may also intervene if problems arise.

Security expert Michael Corwin noted that de-escalation techniques are more useful than anything else, per USA Today. Encouraging the disruptive passenger to talk more can help them establish self-control and lessen chances of physical harm. Corwin added, "For some people, they just want to be heard in some fashion, so let them know you are listening to them by paraphrasing back what the person said to you." But dealing with these situations on your own can be challenging, so don't hesitate to get help from the crew.

Filming can be risky

You may be wondering if it's appropriate to film a rowdy passenger. While fliers have posted footage of these outbursts before, there are some important things to know about photo and video regulations. United Airlines' rules state that passengers are permitted to film "provided that the purpose is capturing personal events," per The Denver Post. Taking pictures or video of passengers or crew without their permission is not allowed. Not following these rules can have consequences, such as having to exit the plane.

As it turns out, these regulations are stricter on planes than in airports. Because it's a public arena, airlines typically can't restrict filming in an airport. Planes are a different story, as they are not limited by the First Amendment. Yet, there isn't an actual law that bans recording on a plane. According to media-law attorney Joseph Larsen, it's not likely that someone would land in legal trouble for capturing a quarrel during a flight. He said, "If you see something going on that is a matter of legitimate public interest," record it. As filming for social media is a multifaceted matter, you still may want to think twice before pulling out your phone.