Spirit Airlines in-flight brawl: Is civility dead?

Five women got involved in a physical altercation on a flight from Baltimore to Los Angeles when two of them refused to turn down the music they blasted from a portable speaker. 

Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
An air hostess serves drinks, as migrants Madina Ido, 22, left, holding her two and a half year old son Argesh, accompanied by her sister in law, Nariman, 17, right, and their uncle, Ali Qolo Ido, 54, on the seat behind them, fly on an airplane from the eastern Greek island of Samos, on the Aegean Sea, to Athens, Friday, March 4, 2016.

When you’re thousands of feet up in the air, restraint and civility are in everyone’s best interest.

But such virtues were absent on a Baltimore-to-Los Angeles Spirit Airlines flight Wednesday morning, during which five women got into a physical altercation over music being played too loudly.

Authorities told The Los Angeles Times that the fight was prompted by two intoxicated women blasting music from a “boom box” on Spirit Flight 141. Even when other passengers complained, they persisted, holding the music player in the air.

According to Spirit Airlines spokesman Paul Berry, the women refused requests from several others to turn down the music. They reportedly said, “What are you going to do?”

“Then to provoke the other customer they were holding up their boom box in the air, waving it around,” Mr. Berry told the Los Angeles Times.

Then, a second group of passengers approached the two women, and the fight started. In cell phone footages of the incident, a cluster of women can be seen standing up in the plane and hitting one another.

After the flight landed, LAX police came onboard to investigate before allowing any passengers to leave, Officer Rob Pedregon said. He called the brawl a “mutual combat situation” and pulled those involved off the plane. None of them have been charged by the FBI, according to spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

Fights, aggressive confrontations, and lewd behavior on airplanes are not rare occasions these days. Scuffles have been provoked by reclining chairs and even crying babies. In 2013, a man on a Delta flight to Atlanta slapped a 19-month-old toddler sitting next to him and used racially discriminatory expletives at the mother. He eventually pleaded guilty to simple assault and was sentenced to eight months in prison.

And last year, two United Airlines passengers caused an emergency landing when one of them used to device to stop the seat in front of him from reclining, and the other, in that seat ahead, splashed a cup of water on him.

According to etiquette expert Anna Post, the great-great-granddaughter of the famous Emily Post, people are not necessarily any ruder than they were decades ago – except when flying, thanks to the stresses that come with air travel.

"A lot of rudeness and incivility comes from stress, and there's so many ways to be stressed when flying these days,” Ms. Post told USA Today.

Between strict checked-bag policies, long security lines, invasive screenings, and delayed flights, passengers are already in a bad mood when they board their planes.

"Then you have potentially inconsiderate seatmates around you," she said. "You've got someone eating a hot tuna fish sandwich you have to smell, and somebody sneezing without covering their mouth, and there's a baby crying, and you've got a person reclining into you. ... You literally feel pushed from all sides.''

It also doesn’t help that the size and leg room of economy-class seats have been steadily shrinking in recent decades. Thanks to deregulation policies, the average measure of legroom, according to Fortune, has dropped from 35 inches in the 1970s to about 31 inches now.

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