Unruly Passengers Are Becoming A Serious Problem For Airlines

Drunk man taped to seat on planeMezane / RedditIn January 2012, a man on an Iceland Air flight was restrained by the crew after grabbing women, choking other passengers, and screaming the plane was going to crash. He was not prosecuted.

Unruly passengers are becoming more and more of a problem for airlines, according to a new report — and they can cost a lot of money.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has been keeping data on on bad passenger behaviour since 2007, and has seen a dramatic rise in problems since then.

In 2011, the most recent year covered in the report, there was one unruly passenger incident for every 1,200 flights.

That’s a lot, when you consider the fact that there are more than 30,000 commercial flights every day in the United States alone, according to The New York Times.

IATA’s definition of unruly or disruptive behaviour includes using illegal drugs or smoking, ignoring safety instructions, verbal or physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers, making threats, sexual harassment, and “other type of riotous behaviour.”

On top of threatening safety and hurting the airline’s reputation, that kind of behaviour often leads to unscheduled landings to get rid of the problem passenger — at a cost of between $US10,000 and $US200,000, IATA says.

Here’s the chart showing the jump in incidents:

The report takes a stab at guessing why unruly incidents are on the rise: “Perhaps, we could assume that unruly behaviour reflects a broader societal problem where anti-social behaviour is becoming more and more prevalent,” and “in the contained, stressful environment of a commercial aircraft in flight, the type of behaviour which might be tolerable in the street takes on a whole different nature.”

Rather than fixing society or making commercial flight less stressful, IATA recommends closing gaps in the 1963 Tokyo Convention, which covers acts that threaten safety on board.

First, jurisdiction should be extended to address the fact that airlines frequently lease aircraft that are registered in foreign countries, to make prosecution easier.

Second, it wants an extended and clarified immunity rule for airline employees to take necessary actions to contain unruly passengers.

That may not stop passengers like the woman on a June 2013 flight to Asia, who had to be restrained after punching, kicking, and swearing, and throwing drinks at five flight attendants, then continued to swear for the remaining five hours of flight.

But it may stop anyone who follows in her footsteps from walking away scot free like she did, when police couldn’t interview or charge her, because of a lack of jurisdiction.

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