The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called for action to combat a rising tide of unruly or violent in-flight incidents, some involving people who are drunk, under the influence of drugs, or insane.
The airline orgnaisation is pushing for measures to ensure passengers do not board aircraft drunk or under the influence of other substances.
Airlines reported 10,854 unruly passenger incidents worldwide to IATA last year. That equates to one incident for every 1205 flights, an increase from the 9316 incidents reported in 2014 (or one incident for every 1282 flights).
Most incidents involved verbal abuse, failure to follow lawful crew instructions and other forms of anti-social behaviour. A significant proportion (11%) of reports indicated physical aggression towards passengers or crew or damage to the aircraft.
Alcohol or drug intoxication was identified as a factor in 23% of cases, though in the vast majority of instances these were consumed prior to boarding or from personal supply without knowledge of the crew.
“Unruly and disruptive behaviour is simply not acceptable,” said IATA’s new director general and chief executive, Alexandre de Juniac.
“The anti-social behaviour of a tiny minority of customers can have unpleasant consequences for the safety and comfort of all on board. The increase in reported incidents tells us that more effective deterrents are needed. Airlines and airports are guided by core principles developed in 2014 to help prevent and manage such incidents. But we cannot do it alone. That’s why we are encouraging more governments to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014.”
The Tokyo Convention was modernized with the Montreal Protocol 2014, closing gaps in the international legal framework dealing with unruly passengers. To date, just six states have ratified the Protocol.
“More are needed in order to have a consistent global approach to this issue,” de Juniac said.
Also in 2014, the airline industry set out core principles for a balanced, multi-stakeholder strategy for tackling unruly behaviour, based on enhancing the international deterrent and more effective prevention and management of incidents.
In some countries there has been a focus on the role of alcohol as a trigger for disruptive behaviour. Airlines already have strong guidelines and crew training on the responsible provision of alcohol. IATA is supporting initiatives, such as the code of practice pioneered in the UK, which includes a focus on prevention of intoxication and excessive drinking prior to boarding.
Staff in airport bars and duty-free shops must be trained to serve alcohol responsibly and there is a need to avoid offers that encourage so-called “binge drinking”.
Evidence from an initiative by Monarch Airlines at London’s Gatwick Airport has shown instances of disruptive behaviour can be cut 50% with this pro-active approach before passengers’ board. The industry believes that adopting this cooperative voluntary approach is preferable to heavy-handed regulation and licensing.
“There is no easy answer to stem the rise in reported unruly behaviour,” de Janiac said.
“We need a balanced solution in which all stakeholders can collaborate. The industry’s core principles can help to manage the small percentage of passengers who abuse alcohol. And it must be balanced with efforts by governments taking advantage of all their deterrence mechanisms, including those provided through the Montreal Protocol 14.”
Edited by Peter Needham