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‘Air rage’ is complicating travel in North America and Europe – but not so much in Asia

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The videos light up social media and dominate news headlines.

From verbal confrontations to all-out brawls, scenes of airplane passengers behaving badly have become increasingly familiar in Covid-era travel.

While “air rage” may seem to be another inevitability of living through a pandemic, some parts of the world are seeing fewer frustrations unleashed in the skies.  

Where ‘air rage’ is high

Before the pandemic, there were between 100 to 150 reports of unruly passengers in a typical year on U.S. airlines.

In 2021, there were nearly 6,000, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, with some 72% related to mask disputes.

“The issue is mostly a U.S. problem,” said Shem Malmquist, a visiting instructor at Florida Institute of Technology’s College of Aeronautics. “Part of this is absolutely related to the politicization of the pandemic in U.S. politics. That aside, U.S. passengers are considered to be more generally problematic by most cabin crew.”

Europe is also grappling with its share of disruptive passengers. High-profile incidents have been reported on flights departing from Spain, Scotland, Amsterdam and Glasgow.

Australia’s major airlines launched a joint campaign in 2021, following an increase in abusive behavior among flyers. Videos and airport signage have been put up to remind travelers to bring masks and respectful attitudes on board.

The International Air Transport Association held a panel discussion about unruly passengers, immediately followed by another on “cabin crew well-being,” during a two-day conference in Lisbon, Portugal, in December 2021.

Angus Mordant| Bloomberg | Getty Images

Different cultural norms?

In Asia, news of unruly flyers remains scarce.

“I have not heard of any incidents — zip, none,” said Jeffrey C. Lowe, CEO of the Hong-Kong-based aviation services company Asian Sky Group.

“Airline schedules are still greatly reduced,” he said of travel within Asia. Plus, there is “the pre-existing acceptance for masks in Asia before the pandemic … and, last but not least, a different perception here in Asia as to what infringes on our personal freedoms.”

Mask-wearing is an accepted practice in many Asian countries to prevent spreading or getting an illness. In an CNBC Travel story about Japan’s Shibuya Crossing, a 360-degree image shows at least eight people wearing masks near Tokyo’s famous intersection — long before the pandemic began.

Malmquist agrees that the issue is “certainly a large part cultural.” However, he said, “we cannot rule out that the flying is still so restricted in Asia that those who are flying are heavily supervised, with the ratio of cabin crew to passengers quite high.”

Plus, there have been fewer leisure travelers in Asia, he said, noting flyers there have been “almost exclusively business” travelers.

Airlines ‘don’t have major issues’

Korean Airlines indicated mask acceptance is helping to quell in-flight meltdowns.

An airline representative initially told CNBC: “We haven’t observed any outstanding increases or changes of in-flight unruly passengers since Covid-19 partially due to a social background where people wear a facial mask voluntarily.”

Later, the source issued a second statement, stating that the airline has experienced mask-related issues, “but those cases haven’t significantly increased the total number of unruly incidents.” 

Similarly, Doha-based Qatar Airways told CNBC: “We don’t have major issues … Most of our passengers comply to the rules, and there are a small number of them who might be difficult. … The crew tell them nicely to put on a mask and most obliged to it.”

People in the U.S.A. were fighting about wearing masks on a plane, and people in India were fighting for masks to protect themselves.

Trish Riswick

social engagement specialist at Hootsuite

Others airlines aren’t talking.

Thai Airways, EVA Air, Philippines Airlines and Cathay Pacific didn’t respond to CNBC’s questions about unruly passengers on their flights. Without providing additional details, Singapore Airlines said “passengers are largely supportive” of its mask policy.

A Japan Airlines spokesperson said, “Unfortunately, we do not share in-cabin matters with media.” Online media reports show several Japanese airlines have had in-flight dustups over masks.

In 2020, the Japanese budget carrier Peach Aviation made an unplanned domestic stop to boot a passenger from the plane, according to the non-profit website Nippon.com. The man, labeled “Japan’s no-mask crusader,” was arrested several times for refusing to wear a mask when flying and while in public places, according to local reports.

What social media data says

While many airlines may be reluctant to talk, fellow travelers often aren’t. Many in-flight incidents are posted on social media by witnesses, where they can be viewed by millions and picked up by media outlets.

Globally, Twitter users mentioned “air rage” and unruly passenger incidents more than 117,000 times during the pandemic, according to the social media management company Hootsuite.

Yet only 1,860 — fewer than 2% — came from users in Asia, according to the data.  

Additionally, many posts in Asia pertained to passenger incidents that occurred outside of the region, said Trish Riswick, a social engagement specialist at Hootsuite. 

Regarding users in Asia, she said: “There appears to be a lot of conversation about American or European airlines or passengers being unruly or refusing to wear masks.”

Riswick said her research picked up several conversations about rule-breaking incidents from flights departing from Japan and India.

However, most conversations about problematic flyers during the pandemic came from the United States (56,000+ mentions), followed by Canada and the United Kingdom, according to Hootsuite. The data showed that the most mentions in Asia came from users in India, Japan and Indonesia.

There have been economic protests in Asia during the pandemic — like this rally against South Korea’s labor policy in October 2021 — but far fewer anti-mask marches than in other parts of the world.

Nurphoto | Getty Images

In conducting the research, the word “fight” was problematic, said Riswick, because the way the term was used varied from continent to continent.

“People in the U.S.A. were fighting about wearing masks on a plane, and people in India were fighting for masks to protect themselves,” she said.

One limitation of Hootsuite’s data is language; this research picked up conversations in English only, she said.  

Still, Asia-based Twitter discussions about problematic flyers fell by 55% during the pandemic, while globally these conversations more than tripled, according to the data.

After concluding the research, Riswick said what she finds most surprising is how outrageous some of the incidents are — especially those that involve flight crews.

“My heart goes out to those who are just trying to do their jobs,” she said.

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‘Minions: The Rise of Gru’ tops $108 million as parents flock back to cinemas, kids in tow

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“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is the sequel to the 2015 film, “Minions,” and spin-off/prequel to the main “Despicable Me” film series.

Universal

Families have gone bananas for “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Over the weekend, the Universal and Illumination animated feature tallied more than $108 million in ticket sales.

The fifth film in the Despicable Me franchise generated an additional $93.7 million from international markets, bringing its estimated opening weekend haul to $202 million globally.

“With the incredible success of ‘Minions,’ the notion that family audiences were avoiding movie theaters due to Covid concerns can be shelved,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore.

Box office analysts had wondered if this segment of moviegoers was still avoiding cinemas after Disney and Pixar’s “Lightyear” took in just $51 million during its domestic debut last month, below expectations of $70 million and $85 million.

It was unclear if tough box office competition led to “Lightyear’s” less than stellar debut or if consumers were confused about the film’s release. After all, there has not been a theatrical release of a Pixar film since 2020′s “Onward.” The last three from the animation studio, “Soul,” “Luca” and “Turning Red,” were all released on streaming service Disney+.

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” represented 54% of all domestic moviegoers over the weekend, with 68% of ticket holders being part of family groups, according to data from EntTelligence.

“What this weekend has showcased is a triumphant return to cinemas by families, laying to rest any lingering and outdated pandemic narrative that parents and kids only want to watch movies at home,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “When the right content is out there, people will show up.”

The film is expected to add another $20 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada on Monday, bringing its holiday weekend total to $128 million.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal is the distributor of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

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American Airlines scheduling glitch allows pilots to drop thousands of July flights

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An American Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner approaches for a landing at the Miami International Airport on December 10, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

A glitch in a scheduling platform allowed American Airlines pilots to drop thousands of July assignments overnight Saturday, their union said, a headache for the airline as it tries to minimize flight disruptions during a booming travel season.

American said it didn’t expect the problem to affect its operation, including during the busy July Fourth holiday weekend. The union and airline are now discussing additional pay for pilots whose dropped trips the airline reinstated, the Allied Pilots Association said.

“As a result of this technical glitch, certain trip trading transactions were able to be processed when it shouldn’t have been permitted,” the airline said in a statement. “We already have restored the vast majority of the affected trips and do not anticipate any operational impact because of this issue.”

More than 12,000 July flights lacked either a captain, first officer, or both, after pilots dropped assignments, the Allied Pilots Association said Saturday. APA said the airline reinstated about 80% of the trips.

Pilots can routinely drop or pick up trips, but time off in the summer or holidays is hard to come by for airline employees as schedules peak to cater to strong demand.

On Saturday alone, American had more than 3,000 mainline flights scheduled and they were 93% full, according to an internal tally. Flights left unstaffed, however, are an additional strain on any airline.

The glitch occurred during a rocky start to the Fourth of July weekend when thunderstorms and staffing issues caused thousands of U.S. flight delays and hundreds of cancellations.

A similar issue occurred in 2017, when a technology problem let American’s pilots take vacation during the busy December holiday period. The carrier offered pilots 150% pay for pilots that picked up assignments.

American and its pilots’ union, whose relationship has been fraught, are in the middle of contract negotiations and the airline most recently offered nearly 17% raises through 2024.

Union president Capt. Ed Sicher, who started his term Friday, told American’s roughly 15,000 pilots Saturday night that American Airlines CEO Robert Isom said he is committed to paying an “inconvenience premium” to aviators whose trips American put back on their schedules after the glitch.

“To Mr. Isom’s credit, he called me four times today to commit to mitigating the damage from this debacle,” Sicher wrote late Saturday. “We started at a 200% override, although the details of this pay are still the subject of negotiations and there is no guarantee of the details or the amounts.”

American Airlines declined to comment on Sicher’s message to pilots.

American’s pilots have picketed recently against grueling schedules, something they want to be addressed in a new contract. Pilots at Delta and Southwest have picketed in recent weeks for similar reasons.

Sicher also struck an upbeat tone about contract talks with American, particularly about quality-of-life issues.

“Please understand that no firm commitments have yet been made, but I feel that we have, at least for the first time since negotiations began, received positive indications that management is motivated to achieve collaborative solutions to longstanding problems with our current contract that will greatly enhance our ability to trade our trips and consequently enhance our quality of life,” he wrote.

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Trump media company subpoenaed in federal criminal probe of SPAC deal

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Former U.S. President Donald Trump gives the keynote address at the Faith & Freedom Coalition during their annual “Road To Majority Policy Conference” at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center June 17, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Seth Herald | Getty Images

Donald Trump’s media company was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in connection with a criminal probe, according to the company with which the former president’s firm plans to merge.

Digital World Acquisition Corp. said in a filing Friday that Trump Media and Technology Group received a subpoena from the grand jury in Manhattan on Thursday. The Trump company also received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding a civil probe on Monday, DWAC said.

DWAC also said some current and former TMTG employees have also recently received grand jury subpoenas.

The filing came days after DWAC said the government investigations could delay or even prevent its merger with Trump’s newly formed company, which includes Truth Social, a social media app intended to be an alternative to Twitter.

Neither TMTG nor a spokeswoman for Trump immediately responded to CNBC’s requests for comment.

The Justice Department and the SEC, which regulates the stock market, are investigating the deal between DWAC and Trump Media. By merging with DWAC, which is a kind of shell company called a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, Trump’s firm would gain access to potentially billions of dollars on public equities markets.

Trump established Truth Social months after Twitter banned him for his tweets on Jan. 6, 2021, when hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Trump Media’s CEO is former Rep. Devin Nunes, one of the former president’s most ardent loyalists in the Republican Party. Trump is also considering whether to run for president in the 2024 election.

Trump has continued to spread the lie that the election was stolen from him. His alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection is being probed by a House select committee that has accused the former president of being at the center of a multipronged conspiracy to block the peaceful transfer of power to Biden.

Early criticism of the Trump-DWAC deal came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. In calling for an investigation, she wrote to SEC Chair Gary Gensler in November, telling him that DWAC “may have committed securities violations by holding private and undisclosed discussions about the merger as early as May 2021, while omitting this information in [SEC] filing and other public statements.”

DWAC shares are far off their highs, closing Friday at $24.20. The stock had surged above $90 in October, after the deal with Trump’s group was announced.

DWAC on Monday revealed in a securities filing that it learned June 16 that each member of its board of directors received subpoenas from the same federal grand jury.

The grand jury sought documents similar to those the SEC already requested as part of its civil probe, DWAC said. The company itself was served with a subpoena a week ago with similar requests, along with other requests relating to communications, individuals and information involving Rocket One Capital.

DWAC also revealed Monday that a board member, Bruce J. Garelick, had told management that he would quit the board during the previous week. Garelick said his resignation “was not the result of any disagreement with Digital World’s operations, policies or practices,” according to the company filing.

— CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger and Thomas Franck contributed to this story.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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