What we see unfolding now is quite similar to what took place in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. That is, passengers and flight crews were forced to adapt to significant new realities concerning the air travel experience.

At the core, then, was the fact that strangers were now viewed as a real - or perceived- security threat. And, any “abnormal” behavior was held with immediate suspicion.

While most folks dealt with this in a rational way, the security “profiling”, combined with the ramped-up stress caused by the new environment, led to a surge in air rage cases post-9/11

Today it seems a familiar pattern is unfolding. That is, the increased stress driven by the fear of getting sick or dying from COVID makes other passengers a threat to one’s health and safety. “Abnormal” behavior around health will trigger a few folks.

Given the fact that the norm of “social distancing” is not possible in the air cabin, passengers and flight crews are physically closer to strangers than in almost any other situation today.

As more folks return to the skies, we will see the vast majority of passengers and flight crews deal with this higher stress environment with no issues. Still, a certain number of air rage cases will emerge as they did after 9/11.

Mandatory mask wearing and keeping the middle seat open are particularly interesting attempts to ensure that passengers and flight crew feel more comfortable. That is the key word: “feel”.

As most aviation security measures post-9/11 are really just theater (i.e. taking your shoes off, the federalization of U.S avsec, etc.), the same can be said for masks and middle seats. That is, they exist to make people feel safer, irrespective of whether they truly reduce risk or not.

Still, to get the global economy to return to a level of normalcy, we need travelers to “feel” better about getting on a plane: as they ultimately did post-9/11.