Types of Conflict Situations that Can Occur in the Aviation Industry

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Conflict is a fact of life and occurs for a variety of reasons, such as differing perspectives, priorities or solutions to a problem. Typically, there are three types of conflicts which all lead on from each other;

Disagreement

Conflict usually begins with a disagreement. For example, a passenger flying from East Midlands airport with his family with no pre-selected seats has been split up. The family wanted to be seated together but as it was a full flight and most of the boarding had been completed and not much could have been done. The passenger became upset and got into an argument with the cabin crew.

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Another example of a disagreement is of a passenger who was travelling on an EasyJet flight form Luton had arrived too late and the check-in was closed. This meant that the passenger could not get his boarding pass or check their baggage into the flight. The passenger argued that she had informed the airline that she was running late.

Unfortunately, airlines cannot delay flights due to late passengers due to the heavy cost involved. The passenger was annoyed and claimed that she was told that the flight would wait. In the end, her only option was to be transferred onto the next flight which would leave later that day.

Other very common but good examples are when a passenger in the front seat keeps his seat reclined throughout the day time flight restricting the space for the passenger sitting behind or an infant crying or screaming during a night flight disturbing other passengers who are trying to catch a nap.

Verbal Abuse

Normally if the disagreement does not get resolved, the passengers may start verbally abusing staff or they raise their voices which may create a scene.

For example, a Ryanair passenger who did not print his boarding pass prior to departure refused to pay to get one at the airport. The ticket desk staff refused to let him board without a boarding pass. The passenger got extremely agitated and started verbally abusing and insulting not only the check in staff but also the duty manager. As a result, he was banned from flying Ryan Air.

Another example is an American Rapper flying British Airways’ first class from New York’s JFK to London’s Heathrow and carrying five pieces of hand luggage which could not be accommodated in the overhead bins. The rapper became aggressive and was very rude to the staff and the passengers and as a result had to be escorted off the aircraft.

Physical Abuse / Violence

If the passenger does not get their way by being verbally abusive, they may sometimes become physically abusive. For example, an intoxicated passenger on an EasyJet flight had an argument with her husband during the flight and became violent. In a fit of anger, she kicked a fellow passenger and punched a crew member. In addition, she tried to open the emergency door upon landing. She had to be restrained by three crew members and was arrested upon landing.

Another example is of a Jet2 flight from London Stansted to Dalaman in Turkey had to return to Britain under escort by two RAF Typhoon fighter jets, after a passenger grew violent and attempted to open the cabin door. Upon landing she was arrested on suspicion of assault, criminal damage and endangering an aircraft.

There are many causes of conflict but below are some of the most common reasons:

  • Alcohol: This is the most common reason for conflict. Many passengers have alcohol before and during a flight. This could be to get into the holiday mood or relieve stress from a daunting airport experience or it could relax the passenger if they are a nervous flyer. It is also to be noted that the effects of alcohol intensifies due to altitude and even though sometimes the passengers have consumed alcohol within what their feel is their usual limit, the effects may be far more intense causing conflicts with the crew.
  • Smoking restrictions: Smoking is an addictive habit and when in a restricted smoking area, frequent or chain smokers get anxious due to their withdrawal symptoms and sometimes get aggressive.
  • Cancelled or delayed flights: Flight delays and cancellations can cause major upset to the passenger holiday or business plans and may cause a knock-on effect resulting in the passenger missing their connecting flights. The passenger may end up missing an important event or face financial losses. In this situation, they may get upset and become aggressive.
  • Lost Baggage: There is nothing more distressing than a passenger going on a business or pleasure trip and losing their baggage. The situation would become even more worse if they have come off from a long flight and then knowing that their baggage has been left on the other side of the world. This could be a definite reason for conflict.
  • Poor Communication: If for example, the flight is cancelled or delayed or some baggage rules are changed and the information is not communicated to the passengers in a timely manner, it may make the passengers very upset and cause an argument
  • Fatigue: Conflict is more likely to arise if the passenger is fatigued, this is because they are tired, and any small issue may annoy them.
  • Poor customer service: When a passenger pays for a product or service and fails to receive it or it is not up to standard, it can become a cause of conflict.

All the above factors may make the passengers belligerent and they may become verbally or sometime even physically abusive.

Signs of conflict in aviation situations

Normally before a conflict starts, there are usually some tell-tale or warning signs. These usually stem from feelings of fear, panic anger or violence. Some of these warning signs include:

  • Irrational behaviour: If a passenger is behaving irrationally or being unreasonable or illogical in their demands and behaviour, it is a sign of an upcoming conflict;
  • Excessive Alcohol: If the passenger is drinking excessively, he/she may lose their senses albeit temporarily and end up being irrational or abusive verbally or physically.
  • Raised Tone: The passenger may feel that their concerns are not being addressed or resolved as per their expectations making them angry and causing them to raise their voice. This could be intimidating for staff as well as fellow passengers and can be an early sign of an impending conflict.
  • Negative Body Language: Another way which crew or staff may see early signs of conflict would be negative body language. Crossed arms, crossed legs and tight fists may all be an early indication of an approaching conflict.
  • Facial Expressions: Agitated facial expressions, scrunched face, tapping on fingers and shaking leg and perspiration may suggest the passenger is feeling irritated and may cause a conflict.

Resolution techniques used to deal with the early signs of aviation conflict situations

Airline and airport staff have to deal with live, face-to-face customers in a variety of conflicts, from minor disputes to intense, emotionally driven conflicts. They employ a variety of techniques to resolve the conflict. The three common techniques used are:

  • Verbal
  • Physical
  • Referral to a third party

Verbal

Providing a verbal resolution to passengers is the preferred method and can be done by using the following techniques.

Reasoning: People respond to conflicts based on their perceptions of the situation, not necessarily to an objective review of the facts. Reasoning involves combining facts with knowledge. Here the conflicting parties use their general understanding of the problem, as well as facts to derive a conclusion. This process is referred to as reasoning. Most conflicts stem from misunderstanding. Therefore, if the conflicting parties’ reason with each other in order to understand the source of conflict, as well as share their points of view and actively listen to each other, the chances of resolving the conflict become greater.

Reassurance: During a conflict, it is often observed that one or both parties may be in an agitated state of mine. During this time, reassuring them that their problem or concern is being actively looked into and will be resolved to their satisfaction often helps in calming them. Once they are calm, reasoning and rational thinking becomes easier. Reassuring can often restore the confidence in the passenger and hence helps resolve the conflict

Empathy: Empathy is a powerful tool to resolve conflicts. It allows us to understand the world as others see it and is a key component of compassion. Showing empathy, listening and being sensitive to the passenger’s issue makes the passenger feel that you care about them and often dissipates anger helping to resolve conflicts. However, showing empathy does not always mean accepting liability.

Positive Body Language: When people are in the middle of a conflict, the words they use rarely convey the issues at the heart of the problem. But by paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals or “body language,” such as facial expressions, posture, gestures, and tone of voice, you can better understand what the person is really saying. This will allow you to respond in a way that builds trust and gets to the root of the problem.

Therefore, using a calm tone of voice, a reassuring touch, or an interested facial expression can go a long way toward relaxing a tense exchange.

Physical

Sometimes if the passenger becomes violent or physically abusive, he/she has to be to restrained physically to subdue safely without causing them any harm. This is vital to ensure the safety of the fellow passengers and staff and also safeguard property from being damaged. Airport and airline staff are trained to do that. For example, if a passenger becomes violent during a flight, he or she will be restrained to their seat by using quick cuff handcuffs or self-webbing straps but utmost care is taken for the passenger’s well being even after being restrained.

Referral to a third party

The third method of conflict resolution is to refer to a third party. For example, if a conflict occurs between a passenger and a member of the check-in staff, the matter is referred to the Duty Manager who will listen to the problem and aim to provide an amicable solution where possible.

Different types of conflict situation

Different conflicts require different techniques and strategies for resolution. What may work in one situation may not work for another. Therefore, the approach needs to be customized as per the type of conflict. It may also be necessary to employ multiple techniques to resolve a single conflict.

For example, if there is a disagreement between the passenger and the cabin crew regarding a family being split up during seating, the crew may try and pacify the passenger by empathizing with the passenger’s situation and reassure him/her that they would try her best to seat them together. If seats are available the crew would accommodate together and resolve the situation. If the flight is full and there are no seats available, then the crew would reason with them and explain the situation in a calm manner. These techniques would assure the passenger that the crew is on their side and trying their best to resolve the situation and would prevent the situation form escalating.

Another example would be if the requested meal choice is not available for the passenger causing upset. In this situation the crew could reassure the passenger that they would try their best to check to see if he/she can accommodate them by trying to get their meal choice or offering him a better alternative, may be a choice from the business class menu. This would usually calm the passenger down and settle the conflict.

However, these techniques may not always work. For example, if a passenger has had too much alcohol on the flight, the crew might decide to withdraw the service. They may try to reason with the passenger as to why they cannot serve more alcohol, If the passenger cooperates, then the matter is resolved but if the passenger becomes physically abusive or violent and tries to cause damage the property or cause physical harm to the fellow passengers or crew, an alternative technique may need to be employed. The passenger may need to be physically restrained to their seat using the quick cuff hand cuffs or the self-webbing straps to ensure safety of the aircraft and the passengers.

Sometimes, either of these above techniques may not work and a different approach may need to be employed. For example, a passenger may get into an argument with the check in staff due to their late arrival and not being able to board their flight. The staff would try to use reasoning and empathy with them to explain that they cannot check them in due to regulations. But if the passenger gets verbally abusive, they may be referred to the duty manager who would try to calm them down and offer an alternative flight. If the passenger accepts then the issue is resolved. In rare circumstances, if the passenger gets physically abusive, airport security may have to be called in to restrain them and may they may end up being banned from flying with that airline.

During all the above techniques, the staff would use positive body language to calm the tension and help resolve the situation. To conclude, effective techniques of conflict resolution results in improved customer experience, enhanced public perception, lower long-term costs (i.e. legal, stocks, public relations, executive time and energy) and less staff turnover (i.e. the need for firing or replacing employees involved). Therefore, it is vital to ensure that staff are trained to handle conflict and are able to customize their approach depending on the type of conflict.

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Types of Conflict Situations that Can Occur in the Aviation Industry. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/types-of-conflict-situations-that-can-occur-in-the-aviation-industry/
“Types of Conflict Situations that Can Occur in the Aviation Industry.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/types-of-conflict-situations-that-can-occur-in-the-aviation-industry/
Types of Conflict Situations that Can Occur in the Aviation Industry. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/types-of-conflict-situations-that-can-occur-in-the-aviation-industry/> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
Types of Conflict Situations that Can Occur in the Aviation Industry [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/types-of-conflict-situations-that-can-occur-in-the-aviation-industry/
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