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Airline passengers behaving worse than ever and liquor is often to blame — IATA

Airline passengers behaving worse than ever and liquor is often to blame — IATA
(Photo: Unsplash / Ismail Mohamed Sovile)

International Air Transport Association figures show there was one unruly incident reported for every 568 flights in 2022, up from one per 835 flights in 2021.

From not listening to airline staff to intoxication and verbal abuse: the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says passengers are becoming more badly behaved.

In its latest analysis, IATA says there were more reports of unruly passengers in 2022 compared with 2021, which has forced it to take steps under the Montréal Protocol of 2014 (MP14).

The protocol, which amended the 1963 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, sets common standards for airlines to follow on international flights between member signees.

It regulates passenger rights in case of delayed or lost luggage, flight delays and cancellations, and injuries. In 2014, the protocol expanded the grounds of jurisdiction by recognising, under certain conditions, the competence of the state of landing and the state of the operator to exercise jurisdiction over behaviour on board aircraft, and gave in-flight security officers more legal protection.

So far, only about 45 countries, or a third of international passenger traffic, have ratified “MP14”.

IATA’s latest figures show there was one unruly incident reported for every 568 flights in 2022, up from one per 835 flights in 2021.

Alarming increase

The most common types of incidents last year were noncompliance, verbal abuse and intoxication. The association says while physical abuse incidents remain very rare, these had an alarming increase of 61% over 2021, occurring once every 17,200 flights.

In one incident in November 2021, a flight attendant was hospitalised after being punched in the head during a heated argument with 32-year-old Arielle Jean Jackson.

Soon after boarding, the unruly passenger was asked to disembark. That’s when Jackson struck the Southwest employee on the flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Also that year, two first-class passengers (both women) were prosecuted for striking airline staff while on a flight between Dallas and Los Angeles.

In another incident, from September last year, a California man was charged after he punched a flight attendant in the back of the head during an American Airlines flight. The act, filmed by another passenger on video, showed that the suspect “used a closed fist to strike the flight attendant”.

The US Federal Aviation Authority reported in 2021 that it issued more than $1-million in fines against badly behaved airline passengers.

In 2021, a survey by the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), which represents more than 28,000 flight attendants at American Airlines, found that more than 85% of all respondents had dealt with unruly passengers as air travel picked up in the first half of 2021. More than half (58%) had experienced at least five incidents that year and 17% reported experiencing a “physical incident”.

Conrad Clifford, IATA’s deputy director-general, said the increase in air rage was worrying.

“Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free experience on board. For that, passengers must comply with crew instructions.

“While our professional crews are well trained to manage unruly passenger scenarios, it is unacceptable that rules in place for everyone’s safety are disobeyed by a small but persistent minority of passengers. There is no excuse for not following the instructions of the crew.”

IATA said while non-compliance incidents initially fell after mask mandates were removed on most flights, the frequency of such incidents began to rise again in 2022, ending the year up 37%.

The biggest issues related to:

  1. Smoking of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes and puff devices in the cabin or toilets.
  2. Failure to fasten seatbelts when so instructed.
  3. Exceeding the carry-on baggage allowance or failing to store baggage as required.
  4. Consumption of own alcohol on board.

IATA said it had a strategy in place for a zero-tolerance approach to unruly behaviour. This includes regulation which will ensure that governments have the necessary legal authority to prosecute unruly passengers, regardless of their state of origin, and to have a range of enforcement measures that reflect the severity of the incident. It says such powers already exist in MP14, but that more countries need to ratify the protocol.

Responsible consumption

It also believes guidance is needed to prevent and de-escalate incidents through collaboration with industry partners such as airports, bars and restaurants, and duty-free shops. Since the vast majority of intoxication incidents occur from alcohol consumed before the flight, airport bars and restaurants need to do their part in ensuring responsible consumption.

“No one wants to stop people from having a good time when they go on holiday, said Clifford, “but we all have a responsibility to behave with respect for other passengers and the crew. For the sake of the majority, we make no apology for seeking to crack down on the bad behaviour of a tiny number of travellers who can make a flight very uncomfortable for everyone else.”

It would certainly help the staff at the forefront of the abuse (and co-passengers): the AFA has previously called on the FAA and US Department of Justice to protect passengers and crew from disruptive and verbally and physically abusive travellers, saying its survey data has shown existing measures were failing to address the problem.

In 2021, 71% of flight attendants who filed incident reports with airline management received no follow-up and most did not observe efforts by their employers to address the rise in unruly passengers, said the AFA. DM

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  • Peter Doble says:

    There is no doubt a correlation in the increased human behaviour pattern and the often appalling conditions of flight travel. Perhaps it is time to reassess the obsession with tourism as the financial benefits against the environmental impact do not add up and most business and personal relationships can be conducted virtually.

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