A short history of people behaving badly on airplanes

A short history of people behaving badly on airplanes
A Bay Area man was convicted of choking and assaulting a fellow passenger on a San Francisco-bound Southwest Airlines flight that was forced to make an emergency return to Los Angeles last year. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
There seems to be no shortage of airline passengers behaving badly despite a continuing decline in the number of commercial flight disruptions in recent years.

Thank social media for shaming passengers into minding their manners and persuading flight attendants to avoid embarrassing confrontations.


We've collected a few of the most outrageous incidents below:

The guy accused of choking a woman over a reclined seat

October 2015 — A dispute over a passenger reclining a seat lead to an altercation on a Southwest flight that forced an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

Said one passenger: "The woman was saying he grabbed her neck. 'He choked me, he choked me! He hit me in the head!'"

The "rapidly escalating situation" forced the pilot to declare an emergency and return to LAX, where law enforcement was waiting. Lawrence Wells was charged with assault.

The time 5 women fought over loud 'boom box' music

March 2016 — Five women got into a brawl when some intoxicated music lovers blasted a "boom box" aboard a L.A.-bound Spirit flight despite protests from passengers.

The situation escalated when one of the women posed a challenging question: "What are you going to do?"

The woman who left kicking and screaming

February 2015 — A belligerent woman on an L.A.-bound Delta flight was accused of assaulting flight crew members — and then a police officer.

Lisa Piasecki was kicking and screaming when airport police and FBI investigators pulled her off the plane. She was taken into custody on suspicion of battery on a police officer and being drunk in public.

The time Paris Hilton's brother attacked flight attendants

July 2014 — The younger brother of socialite Paris Hilton threatened to kill a flight attendant and tried to punch another after smoking marijuana on a LAX-bound British Airways flight.

During a belligerent tirade, Conrad Hilton called passengers peasants and told a flight attendant: "I could get you all fired in five minutes. I know your boss. My father will pay this out, he has done it before. Dad paid $300,000 last time."


He subsequently agreed to plead guilty.

Marilyn Hartman is shown in four booking photos taken in 2014 in San Mateo County.
Marilyn Hartman is shown in four booking photos taken in 2014 in San Mateo County. (San Mateo County Sheriff's Office)

The stowaway who just won't stop

February 2015 — A woman who has been banned from airports in Los Angeles and San Francisco after repeatedly trying to stow away on planes was arrested again in Florida.

After landing in Jacksonville, Marilyn Hartman hopped a shuttle to the Omni hotel and proceeded to check in to a villa reserved for a participant in "The Biggest Loser" program.

The serial scofflaw has tried to board flights without a ticket at least half a dozen times at San Francisco International Airport alone, officials say.

The kid who hid in a jet wheel well and survived

April 2015 — A Bay Area teenager somehow managed to survive a perilous 5 1/2-hour flight across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii in the wheel well of a jet, where he was subjected to deadly thin air and freezing temperatures that should have killed him.

Yahye Abdi said he did it to get away from his stepmother. He hoped to reunite with his mother, who lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.

The flight attendant who refused to serve a Muslim

May 2015 — A flight attendant refused to give a Muslim American woman wearing a hijab an unopened Diet Coke because it could be used "as a weapon."

United apologized to Tahera Ahmad and said the flight attendant "will no longer serve" airline customers. 

The pilot charged with flying drunk

June 2014 — An Alaska Airlines pilot was charged this year with piloting a jet full of passengers while under the influence of alcohol during a June 2014 flight.

David Hans Arntson, who had worked for Alaska Airlines since 1982, was removed from "safety sensitive duties" that day, according to the airline. He later retired from the airline. He appeared in federal court in January.

The time you clipped your toenails on the plane

June 2015 — An animated video from a travel website makes fun of badly behaving airline passengers who overstuff overhead bins, kick seat backs and let pets out of their carriers.

Another site, Passenger Shaming, calls out boorish behavior with photos and videos.

There still may be hope — thanks to social media

The number of airline passengers reported for disrupting commercial flights continues to drop, but the decline may have more to do with social media than any improvement in fliers' manners.

In 2015, the incidents of "unruly passengers" reported to the Federal Aviation Administration fell to 82, from 145 in 2014, a 43% drop.