A CANADIAN man was sentenced to a year in prison in Belfast on Monday for abusing passengers and staff on a transatlantic flight. Michael Roy Shick had consumed alcohol and antidepressants before the incident, which ended with him spitting in a stewardess’s face.

The mere mention of antidepressants would normally secure an acquittal for a public order offence. But different standards apply in the air, resulting in very different behaviour.

Last year the UK civil aviation authority reported 2,219 incidents of air rage out of 238 million passenger movements. Only 58 were described as “serious” while another two were described as “Naomi Campbell”. In the United States, airlines reported approximately 7,000 incidents out of 770 million passenger movements. Both sets of figures indicate that fewer than one in every 100,000 passengers will misbehave on an aircraft despite the many frustrations of flying and the heavy promotion of alcohol on board.

This can mean only one thing. It is a deeply shocking conclusion that will outrage much of society but we must face the uncomfortable truth: everyone is perfectly capable of behaving themselves. None of the conventional excuses for public rudeness and aggression stand up. Stress, tiredness, irritation and spilling someone else’s drink are all commonplace in the air. Yet the risk of being sworn at, punched or stabbed is effectively zero.

The rise of the budget airline has only confirmed this observation. Over the past decade, millions of extremely vulgar people have managed to drink heavily for several hours in the close company of complete strangers without making a scene. Even more remarkably, hundreds of thousands of their appalling children have managed to sit still in relative silence without starting a fire or breaking a window. All of this is policed by young women armed only with frosty expressions. And peanuts.

Clearly, everything we think we know about anti-social behaviour is wrong. So how can these lessons from the air be applied on the ground?

We could redesign bars and nightclubs to resemble aircraft cabins, with forward-facing seats and tiny toilets. Restaurants could offer a simple choice of chicken or fish, while the Garda could set up an all-female frosty response squad. But this would miss the point. People are on their best behaviour in the air despite these things rather than because of them. It is the promise of swift and serious consequences that maintains the peace. There are no friendly cautions for an air-rage incident. The cabin crew will not take two hours to arrive on the scene and members of the public will not quietly look the other way. A package holiday is too clearly a luxury for social and economic excuses to apply. The loss of that ruined holiday and the humiliation of being escorted off the plane are punishments of a type that the courts no longer dare to impose.

Under the 2006 Criminal Justice Act, failure to observe a behaviour warning may result in an application to a District Court for a three-month behaviour order. Gardaí regard this expectation as so hopeless that the powers have never been used.

But in an aircraft cabin, the last public place in the western world where people are expected to behave, 99.999 per cent of us still somehow manage to do so.


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PSNI officer tackled ‘air rage’ passenger — (Belfast Telegraph)

A man who allegedly caused havoc on board a flight from New York to Belfast during a frightening air rage incident was apprehended mid-flight by the chairman of the PSNI’s Police Federation, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The man was handcuffed after being tackled by Terry Spence, a serving PSNI officer, who intervened when the man allegedly became aggressive and violent towards passengers and staff during a drunken rampage.

Passengers on-board the Continental Airlines flight from Newark airport were left terrified when the man reportedly began screaming obscenities and was threatening to get off the plane, while it was flying 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

Mr Spence, who was off-duty and flying home from holiday at the time, restrained the man, believed to be from west Belfast, when cabin crew were unable to calm him down.

The man was arrested by airport police when the flight arrived at Belfast International Airport last Friday and charged with assault and being drunk and disorderly on board an aircraft.

Eye-witnesses said the man was “very drunk and aggressive” and began verbally abusing and threatening passengers, as well as threatening to get off the plane.

“After about five hours of hell into the flight this man jumped up suddenly and again threatened to get off the plane.

“He began throwing things at other passengers who were shocked at his ongoing, worsening behaviour. At this point another man who identified himself as a policeman (Mr Spence) leapt from his seat, grabbed his arm and forced him to sit down,” a passenger told the Belfast Telegraph.

The passenger added: “All hell broke loose and a struggle then ensued as the policeman tried to prevent him throwing things.

“The policeman then said he was arresting this man. After another struggle the man tried several times to punch the policeman.

“A steward came to help the policeman with some handcuffs.

“Everyone sighed with relief as we knew that we were now safe and that he wouldn’t be able to torment us and open the doors of the plane.

“This man continued to shout abuse right up until the aircraft landed and he was taken away by the police who entered the plane.”

Mr Spence was unavailable to speak about the incident, but a spokesman for the Police Federation — the union that represents rank and file officers — said: “Police officers would always intervene and are expected to, during a threatening situation whether they are on or off duty.

“Terry Spence is the chairman of the Federation but he is first and foremost a police officer.”

A spokesman for Belfast International Airport Police said: “We can confirm there was an incident on an inbound flight last Friday.

“A man was arrested after the plane landed and has since been charged with assault and being drunk and disorderly.”

Continental Airlines said the incident occurred on flight CO94 that departed from Newark airport last Thursday, March 25, and arrived into Belfast on Friday morning, March 26.

A spokesman added: “A customer was exhibiting unacceptable behaviour on board and the crew requested that police meet the flight on arrival in Belfast.”

Other fliers who went berserk

A man claiming to be a loyalist paramilitary during a drunken air-rage incident on board a flight to Belfast got a suspended jail sentence last year.

William George Moffitt (46) ignored cabin crew requests to calm down, and said he was in the RUC. Moffitt, Kilfennan, Londonderry; was arrested at George Best Belfast City Airport in February 2009. He pleaded guilty to behaving in a threatening manner on a plane.

A Canadian children’s entertainer who caused havoc on board a flight from Vancouver to Northern Ireland was jailed for 12 months. Michael Roy Shick (40) of Harwood Street, Vancouver; admitted six charges, including three of assault, arising from an air rage incident on March 11, 2008. He had smuggled his own alcohol onto the plane and was drunk, disorderly and abusive for most of the journey.

When two female cabin crew members attempted to calm him down he pushed one of them and continued to shout abuse at passengers and staff. He also spat in the mouth and face of a female flight attendant. Shick admitted acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, being drunk on an aircraft and criminal damage to an aircraft seat. He was handcuffed to his seat and a blanket put over his head by flight attendants and passengers in a bid to subdue him.

Portadown man Aiden Simon Mackle (44) was jailed for 116 days by a US court for threatening to blow up an airliner bound for Dublin. The District Court in Bangor, Maine; jailed him for a March 2008 incident for interference with a flight crew and assault. Mackle was unruly and claimed he was associated with Osama bin Laden. He was returning home after a trip to California. Court documents stated Mackle was drinking on the plane and smoking in the toilets. He also punched an off-duty Delta employee and claimed he was a terrorist.

Belfast Telegraph