How bad can passengers be? This bad

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By | January 21st, 2016

Have you ever wanted a do-over? You know, the opportunity to re-live a situation?

Last week, the managing director of an IT firm was on a British Airways flight from London to Houston. Sounds pretty normal, right? Well, normalcy ended for him in a shocking way.

Let’s check off the list of witness accusations against the passenger. Please let me know if any of these seem like normal flight behavior to you:

✓ Became heavily intoxicated during the flight.
✓ Acted aggressively toward flight attendants.
✓ Yelled at a 14-year-old passenger traveling with her family.
✓ Fell down on other passengers.
✓ Hit his wife with the back of his fist after the crew woke her to help deal with him.
✓ Urinated on the plane’s seats and floor.

Darren Halliwell, a British citizen, was arrested in Boston when the flight diverted there to deal with the wreckage of his alleged actions.

He was arraigned last week and charged with assault and battery of a household member, interfering with aircraft operations and disorderly conduct. Bail was set at $5,000, and the conditions included surrendering his passport, staying away from Boston’s Logan Airport, remaining drug and alcohol free and reporting weekly to probation officers. His next court appearance is set for July 29.

I don’t think there’s going to be much discussion about the right or wrong of his alleged actions. This behavior is not only unacceptable and wrong on a flight, it’s unacceptable and wrong in civilized society.


There are plenty of instances of travelers behaving poorly on flights. Passengers have been known to argue over a reclined seat, fight, get drunk and annoy fellow flyers, watch adult videos and more. One flight attendant blog shares stories of bad behavior and even has a section dedicated to passenger shaming.

Related story:   Ridiculous or not? When flight attendants attack

Then there is the arguable coup de grâce of bad passenger behavior: Gerard Finneran. His actions in first class on a 1995 United Airlines flight will likely (and hopefully) never be duplicated. I can’t, in good conscience recap his behavior. Nor can I tell the story as well as others. But if you’re bold and want to know what happened, click here.

So why do passengers sometimes get out of control? One issue passengers deal with is that flight comfort has severely diminished since the Golden Age of Flight. In the 1950s and ’60s, it wasn’t all glamour, what with high airfares, smoking, more crashes, hijackings and turbulence. But there was white-glove style, lots of room, people dressed up to fly, no security hassles and good food.

Today, flying is all about getting from A to Z. Comfort is out the window. Airlines are creating more revenue by charging for seat assignments, checked baggage, food and flight changes. Whether the Hollywoodesque traveling of the ’50s and ’60s ever really existed is debatable; that it does not exist today isn’t.

Another issue is passenger etiquette. Every day passengers board before it’s their turn, hog the armrests, stick their bare feet all over the place or try to carry on four “personal items.”



  • sirwired

    It boggles my mind that anybody would consider blaming the airlines for behavior completely over-the-top.

    Cranky? Yeah, I can see that being successfully blamed on poor service and an uncomfortable seat.

    But completely losing your *bleep!*… those folks have nobody to blame but themselves.

  • KennyG

    “So why do passengers sometimes get out of control? One issue passengers deal with is that flight comfort has severely diminished since the Golden Age of Flight.”.. Unfortunately blaming a passengers over the top bad behavior on anything but the passengers themselves reeks of support of a lack of personal responsibility and our society that seems to have bred a newfound sense of entitlement into people. That being said, I do agree 100% with the suggestions made by the author as to how one should behave.

  • Scott Fagen

    I agree. If the reduction in amenities was the cause, then there would be mayhem on every crowded bus, train, or ferry. You get almost no service and during rush hour on intra-city mass transit it’s almost always packed, and yet people manage to live and let live…every day.

  • LostInMidwest

    I am not picking sides, but one thing is no-brainer to me : if you treat humans like animals, they will tend to behave like animals. Nobody ever won a war by being polite while confronting a brute force.

    When humans behave like animals, there are two main choices to make them stop: get a shepherd with a really big stick or start treating them like humans. All others are doomed to fail. IMO.

  • Barthel

    Stop serving alcohol on the planes. If the passenger is drunk before boarding, at least he won’t become more intoxicated if there is no alcohol available. Have handcuffs and leg irons available. These could be useful in restraining a violent or extremely disruptive passenger. I’m sure there would be other passengers on board who would be glad to assist in restraint the culprit.

  • Laura616

    I was on a flight years ago from Houston to London and a very similar thing happened. The passenger in this case got very drunk and generally behaved very badly making everyone around him very uncomfortable. The poor guy who was in his row with an empty seat in-between was driven completely insane and I have always regretted not approaching him at the carousel to say I would back him up if he wanted to do anything about it. The crew did nothing other than ply him with more drink.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Not to mention that the Finneran example happened 20 years ago before amenities had been cut to the degree they have now.

  • PolishKnightUSA

    Philosophical quibble: Manners DO cost something, otherwise they would be ubiquitous. Yes? Simply shaming people for lacking manners isn’t going to solve the problem and it also fails to praise those who make a positive contribution (which is rude if you think about it! :-)

    Manners “cost” years of parents and colleagues setting an example and providing a healthy environment for them (the mannered and manners) to flourish along with the individual themselves taking the examples and feedback from others to heart rather than becoming defensive or exploitive. This ties into some who argue that the poor conditions and amenities of coach travel starves away good manners in passengers and crew alike. It’s no excuse for those who are “poor” to have “poor manners” but it is understandable.

    Manners are not the same as law abiding behavior. On the contrary, the badly mannered often argue that what they’re doing isn’t technically illegal which they feel gives them a free pass. Being loudmouthed but not sufficient to stir polite seatmates to page for the FA to tie them down isn’t illegal, but it is rude enough to annoy others for the duration of the flight. In some ways, badly mannered individuals do a rather talented dance of balancing between illegality and annoyance.

    One of the challenges of manners is that they require a driving force whether directed and supported by common culture, upper management or, most notably, the individual themselves wanting to improve for their own sake. Contrary to not “costing anything”, becoming and remaining mannered is as arduous a journey as the effort to launch a jumbo jet.

  • Tom McShane

    Once again I agree with you, Mr. G. (Well, not so much that’d I’d agree that Personal Responsibility comes into play in any part of the discussion)
    I hate flying, yet have never direct so much as a glare–not even a mild one–at my fellow flying inmates.
    It seems to me that we frequently are reading about instances of passenger misbehavior because
    1. There are so many passengers flying. If only a small %age of them act out that is still not zero.
    2. Anytime a air traveler misbehaves in an egregious manner, we hear about it on the internets

  • Skeptic

    When I read about people who seem to be high-functioning in other aspects of their lives doing stuff like this, two possibilities come to mind: 1) they’ve combined booze and prescription meds like Ambien and/or benzos to bad effect, and/or 2) they are some flavor of addict who can only keep things under control when everything is going their way and their enablers are working overtime to provide a buffer.

    Sounds like this guy is going to be spending lots of time in MA over the comping months.

  • Rebecca

    My mom always goes up to families with well behaved small children in restaurants and compliments the kids. She says it’s because it’s so difficult to take a toddler out to eat, and the parents put in the effort to make them behave. She’s mastered the art of not sounding the least bit condescending when she does it. When I asked why, she said because she tried so hard to make me behave and she would get so frustrated when other people were letting their kids run around. She took me outside. And no one ever pays attention to the parents that take their kids outside. Which I totally understand now that I have a toddler. It would be easy to just give in and let her scream and throw food and run around. But I don’t. Not that it always happens, but if it does, one of us eats our food cold and/or leftover because there’s other people eating too!

  • Bill___A

    Fortunately, most people are quite nice. What would help, really, is if airlines would stop letting the rude people be rude. For example, not letting someone carry twice as much carry on luggage as they are supposed to. There is no excuse for the rudeness mentioned in this article, but it is frustrating when you are told there is no room for your bag when you see five people in front of you violating the carry on baggage policies.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Finneran was also in either Business or First, where amenities are radically BETTER than they were in the “Golden Age.”

  • Fishplate

    I always have zip ties in my bag. I should maybe add a roll of duct tape.

  • LonnieC

    Let’s see: flying from London to the US, lands in Boston. gets arrested there and charged. has to post bail and surrender passport. has to stay away from Logan. report weekly to probation officers. so, he can’t get back to Britain?!!?? has to remain in US? Love it! he loses – big time…. But, we have to keep him? why punish us?

  • LonnieC

    I agree that alcohol should be eliminated from airplanes. However, there’s money to be made by the airlines….