Airlines are moving to banish disruptive drunks for life, working on a code of conduct that could see drunken passengers prosecuted, barred from return journeys without refund or simply banned from flying.
The move started in the UK, with British carriers having experienced some of the worst recent incidents of air rage, ranging from brawling and using foul or racist language to public urination or masturbation and attempts to break into the cockpit.
The British Air Transport Association and Airport Operators Association are drawing up common behaviour regulations and airlines have written to Britain’s Transport Secretary asking for the government’s support, the Times reported.
Airlines believe they are within their legal rights to ban drunk passengers from flying for life. They say some incidents of in-flight outrageousness have reached the stage where they could endanger lives.
Managing director of low-cost carrier Jet2, Phil Ward, told the Times his company would not allow the “disruptive few” to spoil flights for families and holidaymakers.
He said he had seen passengers “pre-loading” with alcohol before flights by drinking cans of lager at 5.30am in Manchester Airport.
“The plane is not a nightclub,” Ward told the paper. “It’s six miles up and going at 500mph so you can’t step outside to get some fresh air.”
Cabin crew have to deal with “abusive, racist and often noisy and aggressive” passengers, causing misery and disruption for everyone else, a statement said.
New Jet2 rules let cabin crew give passengers verbal and written warnings. Planes can make emergency landings to offload obnoxious passengers and charge them up to GBP 3500 in “diversion costs” afterwards. That sum, roughly equivalent to AUD 7200, is only a fraction of what a diversion costs an airline. The cost of diverting a United Airlines Rome-to-Chicago flight to Belfast earlier this month because of a disruptive passenger was estimated at about AUD 700,000.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) released figures earlier this year showing a trebling of unruly behaviour over the past three years. Incidents included sexual harassment, bomb threats and attempts to break into the cockpit. One passenger damaged seats and then deployed an emergency exit slide as a plane stood at a terminal.
Last year, IATA’s 70th Annual General Meeting unanimously adopted a resolution calling on governments and industry to work together “to effectively deter and manage the significant problem of unruly air passenger behaviour”.
“Everybody on board is entitled to enjoy a journey free from abusive or other unacceptable behaviour,” IATA director general and chief executive, Tony Tyler, declared.
Written by Peter Needham