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IATA quandary as police set ‘madman’ passenger free

January 11, 2016 Headline News, Travel Law No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A passenger likened to a madman, who screamed “I have a bomb and you’re all going to die” and fought flight attendants aboard a British Airways flight, has been set free by Dubai police.

The man, who terrified other passengers, was arrested by local police in Dubai when the flight landed but then, astonishingly, was later reported to have been released, apparently without charge. The airline did not disclose the man’s nationality.

The police action (or inaction) flies in the face of IATA guidelines. The bizarre and terrifying assault was widely related in UK media, with British Virgin radio DJ Steve Penk describing the ordeal his daughter Natalie, 27, endured on the BA flight from London Heathrow to Dubai.

In an email to her father, reported by London’s Daily Telegraph, Natalie said: “It was absolutely dreadful. I’ve never felt so scared in my life. All hell broke loose. He was restrained on the seats but was literally howling…” See:  Madman screamed ‘I have a bomb – you’re going to die’

The case illustrates the quandary IATA faces as it campaigns to have airlines and countries deal severely with unruly passengers.Illustration from IATA manual on dealing with unruly passengers

Reported incidents of unruly passenger behaviour aboard aircraft in flight are running at well over 5000 a year, IATA reports. Cases include violence against crew and other passengers, harassment and failure to follow safety instructions.

IATA says: “Unruly passengers are a very small minority. But unacceptable behaviour on board an aircraft can have serious consequences for the safety of all on board.

“They inconvenience other passengers and lead to significant operational disruption and cost for airlines. But due to loopholes in existing laws, there are many cases where those who commit serious offences are not punished.

On the surface of it, it would seem the incident aboard the British Airways may turn out to be one of those.

IATA does not have the power to impose penalties, but it is campaigning for a review of the international legal framework, “to ensure that governments have the legal powers they need to deal with unruly passengers”.

It advocates “encouraging the police/local authorities to prosecute unruly passengers in appropriate cases, especially when there has been an assault or threats to staff or passengers.”

That would seem to be the case in the British Airways incident.

IATA has established the following non-exhaustive list of examples of unruly and disruptive behaviours aboard aircraft. It specifically mentions bomb threats:

  • Making threats (includes all types of threats, whether directed against a person, e.g., threat to injure someone, or intended to cause confusion and chaos, such as statements referring to a bomb threat, or simply any threatening behaviour that could affect the safety of the crew, passengers and aircraft);
  • Illegal consumption of narcotics;
  • Refusal to comply with safety instructions (examples include not following cabin crew requests, e.g., instructions to fasten a seat belt, not to smoke, turn off a portable electronic device or disrupting the safety announcements);
  • Verbal confrontation with crew members or other passengers;
  • Physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers;
  • Uncooperative passenger (examples include interfering with the crew’s duties, refusing to follow instructions to board or leave the aircraft);
  • Sexual abuse/harassment; and
  • Other type of riotous behaviour.


IATA’s guidance on unruly prevention and management of unruly passengers can be downloaded here:

Written by Peter Needham

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