Disruptive Passengers – Ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey for allEntry posted on Friday, May 31st, 2019 at 10:52 pm by admin
Unruly and Disruptive Passengers: A significant issue
Hardly a week goes by without the media reporting yet another high-profile unruly passenger incident onboard a flight. While it’s true that only a tiny minority of the 4.3 billion passengers that travel by air each year become unruly, they have a disproportionate impact. Their behavior threatens safety, disturbs other passengers and the crew and causes major operational disruption and costs. So, what’s the latest data on the extent of the issue and how is the industry responding?
How big is the issue?
IATA’s latest statistics (2017) show that the problem is becoming more prevalent with 1 disruptive incident reported for every 1,053 flights (2016: 1 incident for every 1,434 flights). Most incidents (86%) can be classified as Level 1 that are mainly verbal in nature. These include failure to follow crew instructions. 10% of incidents are physical in nature or Level 2, including assault and damage to the aircraft and safety equipment. 2017 also saw a concerning increase in the severity of incidents with 3% being classified as “life threatening” or Level 3, up 2% on 2016 levels. The top 3 reported issues relate to non-compliance with safety regulations (49%), alcohol or other intoxication (27%) and non-compliance with smoking regulations (24%).
It’s important to note that IATA’s unique global data is comprised of safety reports submitted by only 113 airlines, so it’s likely these statistics significantly underestimate the extent of the issue. Together with data from individual civil aviation authorities and feedback from member airlines, it’s clear that disruptive passenger incidents are a significant issue that needs to be addressed.
Recognizing the importance that the Board of Governors and the wider membership attach to this issue, a comprehensive approach to tackle increasing unruly behavior on flights was agreed in a resolution at the AGM in Doha in 2014. This focused on putting in place a more effective deterrent as well as proactive work to prevent incidents from happening and managing them more effectively when they do occur.
The deterrent problem
Assault a member of staff in a shopping mall or a restaurant and the likelihood is you will be arrested and face prosecution. Do it on an aircraft and there is a good chance that you won’t. The reason is that under existing international law (the Tokyo Convention 1963), authorities in states in which the aircraft is registered have jurisdiction over offenses committed onboard. This means, for example, that if an unruly passenger assaults a crew member on a British registered aircraft and is subsequently delivered to the local authorities upon landing in Thailand, they are often powerless to act. UK police are 9,500km and several time zones away, so in most cases unruly passengers are simply released, without facing any punishment for their misbehaviour. Indeed, in a survey of IATA member airline legal departments, over 60% of respondents highlighted that these jurisdictional issues were the main reason for lack of prosecutions globally.
In 2014, after significant advocacy by the industry, states recognized the need to close this gap in international law and agreed the Montreal Protocol 2014 or MP14. MP14 gives the state of scheduled landing the necessary jurisdiction that allows them to deal with unruly passengers under their own laws. Improving uniformity and certainty is a critical first step in enhancing the international deterrent. As with all international laws, it takes time for domestic legislation to be amended to reflect treaty obligations. The process can be characterized as a marathon and not a sprint. Currently, 17 of the 22 states required to bring MP14 in to force have ratified with Malaysia, Turkey and Uruguay expected to deposit in the coming days. The treaty is likely to enter in to force later this year. IATA has an ongoing advocacy campaign with governments to promote ratification, led by local office teams in coordination with regional partner associations.
Expected to ratify in near future:
• Brazil, France, Kenya, Oman, Netherlands, Spain, and UAE
The second step in efforts to enhance the deterrent is to advocate for better enforcement action in disruptive passenger incidents. Members tell IATA that even where jurisdiction is not an issue, police are sometimes reluctant to take formal action, particularly where it would tie up public resources or use considerable time. The lack of a response from authorities after an incident impairs deterrence. This can be addressed if police have the power to issue administrative infringement notices “on the spot” in the same way as for a motoring speeding offense. The deterrence element is reintroduced if a person receives a fine for his or her conduct (specific deterrence) and these fines can be generally publicized (general deterrence) by government, airports and airlines.
IATA has worked on an ICAO task force to prepare guidance material and examples in respect of such systems for the reference of the international community. A new regulatory manual (which replaces ICAO Circular 288) on these aspects will be issued in May. These systems are known to save considerable time for police authorities and the courts. When an infringement notice is issued, the person receiving the notice can either pay the fine or contest it if they wish. While not appropriate for all cases, IATA is promoting the use of such a system as one tool for police to have at their disposal.
IATA will be submitting a working paper to the triennial ICAO Assembly that takes place in September 2019, promoting the ratification of MP14 and the use of civil penalties. It is hoped that various states and other international organizations such as ACI and IFALPA will support this paper.
Prevention is better than cure
Enhancing the deterrent is important, but it is a long-term endeavour. In the meantime, preventing disruptive incidents from happening in the first place is a key focus for the industry.
In recent years, airlines have introduced clear policies and procedures for the consistent handling of disruptive passengers across their networks. Training of ground and cabin crew now includes de-escalation techniques, safe service of alcohol and restraint. Extensive guidance materials and latest examples of best practice are contained in the 5th Edition of IATA’s Cabin Operations Best Practice Guide which is freely available to member airlines upon request (please email email@example.com). IATA also provides classroom training on disruptive passengers for ground staff and cabin crew.
Another element of IATA’s effort is to work with other stakeholders to ensure that other parties in the value chain understand they have an important role to play in preventing incidents. For example, ensuring airports, bars, restaurants and duty-free outlets are promoting and selling alcohol responsibly.
IATA actively supports and promotes initiatives such as the UK Industry Code of Conduct on Disruptive Passengers. This brings together airlines, airports, police, retailers and ground handlers that sign up to a range of commitments and actions to prevent and manage disruptive incidents.
Raising passenger awareness
No one knows for sure what is causing the increasing prevalence of disruptive incidents on flights. It could simply reflect societal changes with a wider prevalence of antisocial behavior generally. Flying is often as affordable and accessible as taking a train or coach. However, behaviour which may be considered acceptable on ground-based transportation has a totally different character in the confines of an aircraft traveling at 35,000ft. This speaks to the need for increasing awareness of the types of prohibited conduct onboard aircraft and the personal consequences of being disruptive.
Such public awareness campaigns should ideally be government-led. However, IATA has been involved in a unique high-profile and industry-led campaign called “One Too Many” in the UK. According to UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data, there were 417 cases of disruptive behavior on UK airlines in 2017, a 325% increase in reported incidents in four years, with intoxication highlighted as a key factor. This UK government-endorsed awareness campaign aimed to inform passengers of the consequences of irresponsible drinking when flying from 11 airports during peak summer travel period. Targeting specific age groups, the campaign made use of point of sale and posters in participating airports, duty free and food and beverage outlets. It also included innovative use of Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook as well as traditional media. The campaign generated over 100 articles in traditional media and 5.6 million impressions on social media.
There are signs that this campaign, combined with the UK Code of Practice, is having an impact. 2018 disruption figures were down, with some airports seeing incidents down by 30%. This is an example of best practice for members who may be facing issues with disruptive passengers on specific routes or at specific airports.
IATA is working with member airlines, partner associations and a wide range of other stakeholders to tackle the issue of disruptive passengers.
A key element is improving the deterrent through greater uniformity and the use of a wider range of sanctions. This won’t happen overnight. Nevertheless, it is crucial work and it continues unabated.
In the meantime, there are many things that can be done to deliver improved prevention and management of incidents. IATA is actively working on guidance and best practice and is involved in awareness raising campaigns and multi-stakeholder initiatives like those detailed above.
Finally, to help IATA to maximize the effectiveness of efforts to tackle the problem of disruptive passengers, the support of members is requested as follows:
- Please engage with your Ministry of Transport/CAA and urge them to begin the process of ratification of MP14. IATA can provide template letters to assist.
- If your airline does not already do so, consider participating in IATA’s Global Safety Data Management (GADM) and STEADES. The better information IATA has on the extent of safety issues including disruptive behavior, the more we can focus governments and regulators on the need to tackle the problem.
- If your airline is facing problems at specific airports or on specific routes you may consider implementing the type of campaign approaches outlined above. Contact us
For more information contact:
Assistant Director External Affairs
T: +41 22 770 2927