Enough is enough: Japanese airlines clamp down on abusive travelers

Japan’s two largest commercial airlines are toughening their stances against travelers who verbally or physically abuse airline staff.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways updated their websites Friday with “customer harassment” policies, in the wake of rising instances of front-line worker abuse occurring across industries in Japan.

Using similarly worded language, the two airlines cited nine behaviors that constitute “harassment” under the policies, including:

  1. Abusive language, aggressive tone, insults, discrimination, slander
  2. Threatening words or actions
  3. Excessive or unreasonable demands
  4. Assault
  5. Deeds which disrupt business operations (prolonged detention, excessive repetition of requests or complaints)
  6. Unpermitted entry to workplace
  7. Deeds which deceive its employees
  8. Slander against the company or its employees on social media and the internet
  9. Sexual harassment

ANA’s customer harassment policy also includes voyeurism, stalking and indecent behavior — a jarring reminder of the situations that airline employees can face in an industry that often sees travelers behaving at their worst.  

The policies are meant to address a lack of clear standards which has made it difficult for employees to handle customer interactions, ANA’s Yoshiko Miyashita, vice president of CS promotion, customer experience management told Nikkei Asia.

“This has placed a significant burden on our employees, leading to cases where some have been forced to take leave,” she said.

Japan Airlines’ policy also mandates airline staff to undergo harassment training — employees will be provided manuals detailing how to quickly and appropriately respond to “malicious” behavior.

We have also established aftercare support for our staff’s physical and mental health,” according to the airline.

Both airlines’ policies state that travelers who harass employers will be issued a warning, after which consequences can include denial of boarding and police involvement.  

Et tu, Japan?

In the United States, air rage incidents skyrocketed from around 10 times per month before the pandemic to around 500 per month in 2021 — the majority of which involved face mask compliance, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Incidents have precipitously dropped since then, but “recent increases show there remains more work to do,” according to the FAA’s website.

Viral “air rage” incidents haven’t occurred on Asian airlines at the same rate as their Western counterparts, where a continuous stream of inflight meltdowns continue to take place, albeit over crying babies and in-flight rules to a husband’s wandering eye.

But that doesn’t mean that Asia-based carriers are immune from these passengers either — even in Japan, which has been called the most polite country in the world and one defined by the “Four Ps”: politeness, patience, punctuality and precision.

On June 5, a Japanese passenger caused a 40-minute delay on an Eva Air flight departing from the city of Fukuoka after she berated China Airlines’ staff members for not speaking her native language.

In January, an ANA flight returned to Tokyo after an intoxicated passenger bit a flight attendant, according to The Japan Times. The passenger, however, was reportedly a middle-aged American man.

Amid rising instances of customer harassment in Japan, municipalities and companies are taking stricter measures to protect their employees.

Some city and prefectural governments are removing employees’ names and photos from their name tags to prevent photographs and personal information of staff members from being leaked online, according to local media.

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