Worst Celebrity Air Rage Incidents
Celebrities are just like the rest of us, even when they travel, right?
After all, nobody likes the hassles of the airport: taking off your shoes, figuring out the latest baggage rules, or shooing away the paparazzi when you’re just trying to buy a magazine or some M&Ms before your flight.
Okay, so perhaps celebrities have it worse—in some ways—when negotiating their way through air travel. On the other hand, famous folks also have a colorful track record of freaking out both in airports and while cruising at 30,000 feet.
Countless news reports detail some celebrity air rage incidents that many of us can relate to: Naomi Campbell went ballistic when her luggage got lost. And Clay Aiken got into a “dispute” with a fellow traveler when his in-flight nap invaded her personal space.
Other incidents get a little more extreme. Actor Alec Baldwin infamouly lost his patience—slamming the bathroom door, pounding on the wall, cursing—when asked to quit playing Words With Friends on his phone. Icelandic singer Björk lashed out at a reporter in a Thai airport just for welcoming her to the country. And a near riot took place at London’s Heathrow after Snoop Dogg and some of his entourage were asked to leave a business-class lounge—and almost took down a duty-free shop with them.
The term “air rage” can be applied to anything from smoking onboard a plane to assaulting the flight crew. Andrew Thomas, a professor of international business at University of Akron, founder of AirRage.org, and author of the book Air Rage: Crisis in the Skies, says that famous people have a higher likelihood of air rage, in large part because they tend to sit closer to the cockpit.
“There is an entitlement factor that goes with folks in the front of the plane, and I would extend that to celebrities as well,” he says. “There is a disproportionate number of air rage incidents that take place in business class—people who are not always used to the answer ‘no.’ ”
The FAA and Department of Homeland Security both monitor air rage incidents on U.S. flights, but they don’t strictly track it on all levels. Security breaches, meanwhile, are reported to the Department of Homeland Security. Technically, the FBI has jurisdiction over airspace, which is why anyone who breaks the rules by “interfering with the flight crew” will often be met by an FBI agent, rather than airport or local police, for questioning upon landing.
An Air Transport Association spokesman says that the airline industry group doesn’t track air rage at all, but that, “anecdotally, the number of unruly incidents, relative to the total number of travelers, is minuscule. Flight attendants do an excellent and commendable job at diffusing the potential for rage onboard.”
Interestingly enough, a striking number of celebrity air rage incidents involve London’s Heathrow Airport. Thomas speculates that the Heathrow problem stems from the fact that it’s the most-traveled international hub—and, perhaps, because of its easy access to the main trigger of in-flight rage: booze. “They really push the duty-free stuff at Heathrow,” he says, “so a lot of people buy their own stuff and carry it on the plane.”
But, for PR reasons, airlines don’t report the vast majority of incidents, unless there’s an extreme case requiring legal action. “The airlines’ unstated policy,” Thomas says, “is to get this passenger the hell out of here—and then let it go.”
British singing sensation Susan Boyle startled passengers in a VIP lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport with erratic behavior, shouting curse words and singing into a mop. One witness told the Sun: “She was singing and dancing around, shouting obscenities at full volume.” However, another onlooker told IrishCentral.com that the story was blown out of context. According to that witness, someone asked Boyle to sing and she complied. But when an irritated flier made a snide comment, she grabbed hold of the mop saying she could sing if she wanted and added, “Oh, excuse me, sir, let me shine your shoes” and used the mop to shine his shoes.
Consequences: A British Airways official stayed with Boyle in a corridor until she boarded the Chicago-bound flight (Boyle was to appear on Oprah in January 2010). British Airways later released a statement: “A customer in the BA lounge on Tuesday was asked to temper their behavior as it was becoming disruptive.”
Billie Joe Armstrong
In September 2011, just before takeoff from San Francisco International Airport, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant asked the Green Day lead singer to pull up his low-sagging pants. According to reports, Armstrong replied: “Don’t you have better things to do than worry about that?” After repeated requests, he became very angry. The flight attendant said, “Pull your pants up or you’re getting off the plane.”
Consequences: Armstrong and his traveling companion were thrown off the Burbank-bound flight. He then Tweeted, “Just got kicked off a southwest flight because my pants sagged too low!” The airline apologized and put him on the next flight out.
“When a grown man cannot purchase a beer on a five-hour flight from Boston to LA, then the airlines are completely losing their minds,” Puddle of Mud lead singer Wes Scantlin told TMZ. He insisted that he was completely sober and had only wanted to purchase a beer after a two-hour nap on a JetBlue flight he took in September 2012. Officials, however, claim that the rocker was so drunkenly combative and argumentative that his unruly behavior created a public disturbance. When he was denied the drink, Scantlin and a flight attendant got into a verbal altercation and caused the plane to make an emergency landing in Austin, TX.
Consequences: Scantlin was booted off the flight, arrested, and charged with public intoxication. The other passengers each received a letter of apology and a $50 voucher for being grounded for more than an hour in Austin. However, the judge since dropped the charges due to insufficient evidence.
Beware the pop diva made to fly coach. According to reports, Mexican singing sensation Paulina Rubio allegedly went into a rage at a Miami airport in October 2012 and beat her former male assistant, Felipe Restrepo Betancur—even pelting him with objects. Rubio was ruffled because Betancur had to book her into coach, the only available option after they missed their original flight. Betancur claimed that his boss was so infuriated that the kicking, punching, and slapping continued even as they boarded the plane. In fact, Betancur suffered contusions and abrasions on his arms and shins.
Consequences: Betancur is suing Rubio for $250,000 for the emotional damages and injuries he suffered.
Who knew that being deprived of the Scrabble-esque online game Words With Friends could cause distress? We all found out in December 2011 in a now-infamous Alec Baldwin incident. As he waited for a delayed American Airlines flight from LAX to New York to depart, Baldwin was asked to turn off his phone after the announcement that the door was closed and the flight was about to pull away, the airline asserts. The actor stood up, slammed the bathroom door, pounded on the wall, used offensive language, and alarmed the cockpit crew.
Consequences: The actor was removed from the flight but boarded another one a few hours later. Baldwin also took to Twitter to assert his side of the story: “Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving.” A few days later, Baldwin lampooned the episode on Saturday Night Live, while American Airlines asserted its side of the story on Facebook.
Perhaps Jackass star Bam Margera should reserve his jackass moments for television. In August 2012, he created a bit of a stir, becoming loud and disruptive and swearing at fellow passengers while waiting to board his plane at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Officials said he smelled of booze. But Margera insisted that he wasn’t drunk; the alcohol scent lingered because of a bender the night before. Yet he did admit that his behavior was loud and obnoxious.
Consequences: Officials led Margera away in handcuffs. He was detained at an airport holding cell and eventually booked on a later flight.
When a Southwest flight attendant noticed actress and singer Leisha Hailey kissing girlfriend Camila Grey, she approached the couple and allegedly scolded them, saying they “needed to be aware that Southwest Airlines was a family-oriented airline.” Hailey and Grey became upset and unleashed some profane words. They were then escorted off the airplane. In a statement, they later explained: “We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves, it was one modest kiss. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple.”
Consequences: Hailey and Grey suggested a Southwest boycott. The airline agreed to work directly with the couple to make amends and apologized for “falling short of their expectation.” Also, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) contacted Southwest (which, awkwardly, is the official airline of GLAAD) to make amends.
Not someone usually considered a menace, the American Idol star got into a fracas on a 2007 flight to Tulsa. The singer admits that, while he was napping on the plane, his foot apparently ended up on the armrest of the female passenger in front of him. She took umbrage, and an argument ensued, which involved her reportedly giving the crooner a minor shove.
Consequences: FBI agents questioned everyone at the Tulsa airport but no charges were filed.
Who doesn’t get annoyed at other people’s kids on planes? In 2006, the X-Files actress was flying from Sri Lanka to Heathrow when she allegedly berated a fellow passenger for not minding his child well enough.
Consequences: An eyewitness said that a flight attendant had Anderson moved to another seat, and that the actress then covered herself with a blanket for a good cry. When asked about the incident by British Vogue later that year, Anderson only replied that she had since stopped drinking.
It can be heartbreaking to keep one’s pet shut up in a little cage during a flight—and it seems the tennis star apparently just couldn’t bear it. On a 2000 flight from Dallas to Miami, Kournikova allegedly repeatedly took her miniature pinscher out of his carrier. Even after being told by flight attendants and the captain himself that this was against regulations, she reportedly became loud and abusive. Kournikova denied the allegations.
Consequences: After perhaps enjoying the window view together, Kournikova and her dog were met at the Miami gate by police, but no charges were filed.
No one could judge Naomi Campbell for being irked when British Airways lost one of her bags at Heathrow in April 2008. But the supermodel went from catwalk to catfight when she allegedly started kicking and even spitting at Heathrow police officers too.
Consequences: She pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer and disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 200 hours of community service and fined £2,300. Campbell said she was just reacting after being called a racial epithet.
The copastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church—and wife of mega-preacher Joel Osteen—reportedly took on a few members of a flight crew while preparing to fly to Vail, CO, in 2005. When Osteen allegedly complained about a liquid on her seat and couldn’t get sufficient help from the crew, she allegedly slammed one attendant into a bathroom door and elbowed her in the left breast. The crew sought to have her ejected from the plane, but she left on her own.
Consequences: Osteen denied the charges of assault. The FAA fined her $3,000 for interfering with a crew member, which she paid but denied any wrongdoing. The flight attendant also sued for damages, saying the incident caused anxiety, hemorrhoids, and some loss of faith. Osteen was found not liable.
In 1999, the Lady didn’t just sing the blues to Heathrow airport security personnel after being frisked—she allegedly confronted the officer, touched her, and said, “This is how it feels to be fondled.”
Consequences: She boarded her British Airways flight but was asked to get back off and was detained for five hours by airport police. No charges were filed, and Ross later said the incident “traumatized” her and that she wished she had reacted differently.
The lead singer of the Black Eyed Peas was set to fly with her bandmates from LAX to the U.K. in 2007 but was reportedly too drunk to board. When informed of this by gate agents, she reportedly ranted at the crew and, according to a British tabloid, had to be pulled away by friends.
Consequences: The Virgin flight was delayed an hour while Fergie’s bags were removed. A Virgin spokesperson confirmed that there was such a situation, but declined to give any names.
While flying to Heathrow in 2003, the lead singer of Hole reportedly raised a ruckus and was “verbally abusive” to crew members, supposedly de-boarding with her lipstick smeared across her face. “I guess that’s rock and roll,” one passenger told Reuters afterward.
Consequences: The Virgin pilot reportedly radioed ahead to Heathrow, and police were waiting there to arrest Love.
In November 2009, the former heavyweight champ and ex-con reportedly delivered a near-knock-out punch to a paparazzo who was snapping pics of Tyson and his family near a ticket counter at LAX. According to airport police, both men then issued citizen’s arrests to each other.
Consequences: Tyson says he acted in self-defense. Both he and the photographer were booked on misdemeanor battery charges.
According to British tabloids, singer Amy Winehouse has had two run-ins with crew and her fellow passengers at a cruising altitude. On one 2007 flight to Glasgow, she repeatedly lit up in the plane’s WC. Then, while on a 2009 flight to Gatwick, she allegedly flew into a rage when she thought that a fellow passenger was giving her “the eye” and had to be forcibly removed from him.
Consequences: No charges, but plenty of mockery. According to a British tabloid, during her smoking flight, sources on the plane said that the flight attendant came over the loudspeaker and announced, “Our famous little friend is smoking in the toilet. It’s just that the smoke alarm hasn’t gone off yet.”
In 2000, the congressman from Rhode Island shoved a woman—accidentally, he said—working at LAX’s security checkpoint when she told him that his oversize bag was too big to go inside the X-ray machine. There was no need for too much questioning about it: the whole incident was caught on security cameras.
Consequences: No arrest was made, but the worker later sued Kennedy for assault and battery, claiming the shove caused recurring shoulder inflammation. The L.A. city attorney ordered Kennedy to apologize, and the congressman admitted he acted rudely. The civil suit was settled in 2002.
The R.E.M. guitarist shocked both his fans and everyone else onboard when he went into a rage on a flight from Seattle to Heathrow in 2001. His tantrum reportedly included detonating a container of yogurt with his fist, overturning the breakfast cart, and perhaps dousing the floor in the lavatory.
Consequences: Although Buck said he was unaware of the rampage—waking up from his flight in a Heathrow police jail cell—he was cleared by a London jury, based on his defense of an unfortunate reaction to mixing red wine and a sleeping pill.
In 1996 the South Carolina senator—then 93 years old—got into an altercation with a male flight attendant on a US Airways flight to Charlotte. According to the flight attendant, Thurmond was trying to hang his coat in first class, even though he was flying coach. Thurmond reportedly gave the attendant a solid shove, while the senator said at the time that he only brushed past him. “I would have let him [hang his coat] if he were nicer,” the attendant told ABC reporter Brit Hume.
Consequences: The FAA decided not to investigate, and the US Airways union stood by the fight attendant’s version of the story.