Air rage incidents taking off

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Air rage incidents taking off

An increase in disorderly behaviour continues to disrupt flights and cause chaos for passengers, airlines and airports.


Whilst, generally, unruly passengers are a minority, the ramifications of their behaviour can be significant.  A recent Jet2 flight from Leeds to Alicante is a prime example. The flight had to be diverted when a male passenger who was intoxicated became verbally abusive, using threatening behaviour towards cabin staff and other passengers.  His actions resulted in the plane being diverted to Toulouse which inconvenienced a total of 1,150 passengers.  Accordingly, the airliner took it upon themselves to fine the passenger for the costs of diverting the plane and banned the individual for life from flying with them.


Such a hard-line approach is perhaps necessary to deter obnoxious passengers from behaviour that is far from acceptable.


Unfortunately, this is far from being an isolated incident. There are reports of unruly passengers across the globe.  In early 2015, a video went viral showing an alleged foul-mouthed and abusive passenger on board a Siberian Airline flight from Hong Kong to Vladivostok being restrained by staff and other passengers using seat belts and sticky tape.


Recently a passenger on board an easyJet flight from Gatwick to Belfast was tasered by police shortly before the aircraft was due to take off.  The incident occurred after the passenger allegedly became abusive during an argument over luggage.


In 2014, a Korean Air flight was delayed due to the now infamous “nut rage” tantrum of Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of the airline’s chairman. This particular air rage incident resulted in a prison sentence for Cho Hyun-ah, illustrating the strong approach that is being taken by certain law enforcement authorities towards such individuals.


Figures released by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) under a Freedom of Information request provide a startling indication of the part played by alcohol in air rage incidents reported in the past year. The figures show a 40% increase in alcohol-fuelled air rage incidents from last year, with a total of 271 incidents between April 2014 and March 2015.


In order to address this rise in alcohol induced air rage, Glasgow’s Prestwick Airport has reportedly introduced security staff to specifically monitor bar areas.  Further, Ryanair has recently taken the decision that they will no longer be letting passengers take duty free on board flights travelling to Ibiza from the UK, following reports that five people were removed from a Ryanair flight after being accused of drunken and abusive behaviour towards staff.


Recognising the need to restore order and provide guidance, the CAA has published details of how airliners may respond to unruly and anti social passengers.


Refusal to carry passengers

Air carriers need to know how to deal with unruly passengers that can potentially turn into a life threatening situation.

Airlines have a right to refuse to carry passengers that they consider to be a potential risk to the safety of the aircraft, its crew or its passengers.

Reasons will typically include if the passenger:

·         is drunk or under the influence of drugs

·         has refused to allow a security check to be carried out on them or their baggage

·         has not obeyed the instructions of ground staff or a member of the crew of the aircraft relating to safety or security

·         has used threatening, abusive or insulting words towards ground staff, another passenger or a member of the crew of the aircraft

·         has behaved in a threatening, abusive, insulting or disorderly way towards a member of ground staff or a member of the crew of the aircraft

·         has deliberately interfered with the performance by a member of the crew of the aircraft of their duties

·         has put the safety of either the aircraft or any person in it in danger.  

·         is a danger or risk to themselves, the aircraft or any person in it due to their mental or physical state or health.


Unacceptable behaviour on board

Passengers must not do certain things while on board including:

·         Endangering the safety of an aircraft

·         Being drunk in an aircraft

·         Smoking

·         Disobeying a lawful command from the commander of an aircraft, and

·         Acting in a disruptive manner (including interfering with the work of a member of the cabin crew).


What can the airline do

If a member of crew deems behaviour disruptive, they have the right to take measures they think reasonable to prevent the passenger continuing that behaviour.


Once in the air, the aircraft commander has ultimate authority on how to address the situation (authority given by the Tokyo Convention 1963 and the Air Navigation Order 2009).  In the UK, the Civil Aviation Act 1982 provides a statutory footing for certain practical measures available to a commander who is faced with an unruly passenger.  For example, where a commander feels that a passenger poses (or is about to pose) a threat to the safety of an aircraft, its passengers, crew, or the good order and discipline on board, the commander may seek assistance from the crew in restraining the passenger. The commander can also request assistance from other passengers in restraining the unruly passenger.  However, as flight crew should not exit the locked flight deck during flight, they must rely on the cabin crew to assess and manage situations and keep them fully informed.


Sometimes the only course of action is to land the aircraft by diverting to the nearest available airport. This carries enormous cost implications including dumping fuel, landing fees, ground handling fees, purchase of new fuel and possibly paying compensation to the other passengers. Another risk is that the crew may run out of hours. However, there is sometimes no alternative and the passenger has to be escorted off the aircraft under police escort and the airline can refuse to carry the passenger on the remaining sectors.


The airline does run the risk that the authorities at the diversionary airport may not have the power to deal with actions that are committed on a foreign registered aircraft.  It may be that a crew member has to personally press charges against the unruly passenger.  Whilst damages may be recoverable from the disruptive passenger(s) – in practice this is often not a practical or simple solution.


The CAA does have a Mandatory Occurrence Reporting Scheme (MORS), the objective of which is to contribute to the improvement of flight safety by ensuring that relevant information on safety is reported but not to apportion blame or liability.

Practical approaches to dealing with disruptive passengers

  1. Clear policy and procedures – a zero-tolerance policy combined with procedures to ensure that all unruly passenger incidents are reported and documented to enable understanding of the incidents and provide sufficient information for prosecuting the offending passengers. The airline must support the crew both in the air and on the ground, allowing time for the crew to give statements and attend court.
  2. Train all personnel – airlines should ensure that ground handling staff and those of any agents that they may use, as well as cabin crew and flight crew are aware of their responsibilities and the company’s procedures.
  3. Improve communication – facilitate the sharing of intelligence between security personnel, ground personnel, cabin and flight crew to help identify and diffuse situations earlier and stop potentially unruly passengers boarding the aircraft.
  4. Warning cards – use of notification warning cards to be presented by crew to unruly passengers warning of the consequences of their actions.
  5. Airport – work with airports to promote passenger awareness of unacceptable behaviour and the legal consequences.  Airports and their concessions including retail outlets, bars and restaurants, need to acknowledge the negative effects of passengers drinking to excess at the airport and work with airlines on a solution.
  6. Breathalyse passengers before boarding – if the aviation industry could work together to decide what is an acceptable alcohol limit for passengers boarding aircraft they could breathalyse passengers who they considered may be over the limit and if so refuse them entry onto the aircraft.

Unfortunately, there is currently no industry-wide standard which deals with air rage incidents and it is often down to the policies of each individual airline as to how they deal with such incidents.


With the increase in air rage incidents now is a good time for the aviation industry to work together and implement standards which will be enforced from the time that the passenger arrives at the airport until touchdown at the final destination airport.


This article was published in Airline Economics Law Yearbook 2016 – read the online edition here.

Alina Nosek, Partner, AviationFor more information on aviation law or related enquiries, contact Alina Nosek, Head of Aviation.

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Published: 1 Mar 2016

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