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Skies see fewer ‘unruly’ passengers

Three flights were diverted in the span of nine days recently because of passenger squabbles over reclining seats, prompting the question, Has shrinking legroom pushed fliers to their breaking point?

But if more passengers are having meltdowns over airline service, federal statistics do not show it.

The number of "unruly passengers" cited with interfering with the duties of a crew member has declined over the last decade, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Such passengers can face criminal charges with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison or fines of up to $25,000, depending on the severity of the incident.

In 2004, 330 passengers were charged with being unruly and interfering with the duties of a crew member, compared with 167 passengers in 2013, according to the FAA. In the first half of 2014, only 59 passengers were charged with interfering with a crew, putting 2014 on pace for the least number of unruly-passenger cases in nearly 20 years.

Airlines spend less on in-flight food

United Airlines and Virgin America recently announced new menu items, including turkey and Swiss cheese on a cranberry baguette, chicken and mozzarella on tomato focaccia, and a soy-and-ginger-marinated salmon salad.

But the nation’s airlines still spend much less on passenger food than they did before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to a decade of financial hardship for the industry.

In 2001 the major airlines spent an average of $4.79 per passenger on food, compared with $3.62 per passenger in 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Over the last few years, airlines have stopped offering free meals to most economy-class passengers and reduced the quality of the meals served to premium-class fliers, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

"You’ll have a better meal at Denny’s than you’ll have at most airlines," Harteveldt said.

Not so, said United Airlines spokesman Rahsaan Johnson. He ranked the quality and selection of food on United higher today than in 2001.

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

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