By Chartered Occupational Psychologist Hannah Vallance

Cabin Crew Wings Team


Following on from our article from last month, Step Twelve – Staying Healthy as Cabin Crew, this month we’re focusing on how to manage conflict effectively with your passengers. 

In your role as Cabin Crew, it’s inevitable that you’ll experience conflict and difficulties getting along with people to one degree or another – whether this is while you’re working with crew members who you don’t naturally get along with, or dealing with difficult passengers.


Keep calm and carry on!

One of the most important things to learn when dealing with conflict is to stay calm. This is often more difficult than it sounds! But try not to let your agitation get the upper hand.

Remember when you’re working as Cabin Crew that you’re essentially the ‘face’ of the airline – and it’s part of your responsibilities to remain professional at all times, whether you’re dealing with customers or colleagues. 

Sometimes things can get a little heated with passengers, particularly in situations where alcohol is involved, or when you’re dealing with passengers who are stressed (perhaps they’re travelling with young children, or travelling under difficult circumstances) or are nervous fliers.


Difficult passengers

Flying can, unfortunately, bring out the worst in some people. Not everyone finds travel enjoyable, and some people simply have unreasonable expectations.

The most common type of conflict you’ll have to deal with are customer complaints – which will often be the result of things completely out of control. This might include delayed flights, mid-flight diversions, or simply someone not liking the in-flight menu!

It’s important to remember that when a customer is cross and upset, and seems to be taking it out on you, that it’s not personal – they’re just taking out their frustration on a representative of the airline because you’re there in that moment! However it can be upsetting, particularly if it’s your first experience of dealing with a difficult customer.

Remember to:

  • Stay calm – we’ve already covered this but it’s so important. People react to the behaviour of others instinctively, so if you remain calm it’s less likely that the situation will escalate.
  • Really pay attention and listen to the passenger’s complaint, and reassure them that you understand and sympathise with their frustration. 
  • Try to think of something you CAN do to help. For example, if someone is upset because of a delay which means a missed connection, you can’t do anything to prevent this, but you can advise them of who to talk to the they arrive to re-book their flight or apply for compensation.
  • If you feel yourself getting agitated take a breath and pause before you reply. Don’t react in the heat of the moment and put your career at risk!


If a passenger begins to get really aggressive or threatening however, this is NOT acceptable.

You are within your rights to calmly and professionally warn the passenger that threatening or aggressive behaviour is not allowed on board, outlining the consequences of their actions if they carry on disrupting the cabin. 

If they don’t listen, call for a senior crew member who can notify the cockpit if necessary.

Pilots may request for passengers to be be ‘offloaded’ if the aircraft has not yet departed, or  the police may be called to meet the plane upon landing. In extreme cases, the flight may be diverted.

Nervous passengers

This is an area where difficulties may arise too, as nervous passengers may essentially be on a ‘hair-trigger’, and act in a way that is completely out of character for them. This can manifest as difficult or aggressive behaviour.

So, what can you do with a nervous passenger to help them?

  • Talk to them. Acknowledge their fear of flying and reassure them that you’ll be there and keep an eye on them during the flight.
  • Distract them. Ask them easy questions about themselves, or where they’re going.
  • If you’re on a long-haul flight point out the in-flight entertainment, and how this can help break the flight into ‘blocks’ for them.
  • Tell them how stringent the safety checks you and your fellow crew-members complete are and explain that you’re there first and foremost to keep the passengers safe!


This leads on to another issue, as many nervous fliers try to get rid of the fear by drinking alcohol either before or during the flight – which can again lead to problems!


Intoxicated passengers

This is one of the major headaches faced by Cabin Crew on flights – passengers who become unruly due to over-indulging in alcohol!

Sometimes this problem solves itself, with over-excited holiday-makers peaking too soon after drinking prior to boarding, and falling asleep before the plane has left the ground! On other occasions however, it can lead to difficult and even dangerous situations.

You are within your rights to refuse to serve any more alcohol to passengers who are drunk. You can remind passengers that it’s a criminal offence to be drunk and disorderly on board an aircraft, and it’s also prohibited to bring alcohol on board to drink – the is why the duty-free shops generally seal up the bags when passengers purchase alcohol!

Dealing with difficult passenger is part and parcel of working with the general public, and something you’ll have to get used to as Cabin Crew. 

If you’re a person who hates arguments or conflicts this can be a HUGE challenge, however it’s something you’ll have to learn to deal with. However, it WILL get easier with time, and you will soon be able to deal with these passengers professionally and with ease. Remember that the first few times will be the hardest, and treat it as an experience to learn from, and to build your character.


Next steps

It’s not just conflict with difficult passengers you’ll have to deal with as Cabin Crew – in your career you’ll also come across colleagues that you don’t really ‘mesh’ well with, or who simply rub you up the wrong way!

Join us next time to find out our tips on keeping on good terms with your fellow crew-members – even if you don’t see eye to eye!

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