FAA issues some practical advice for flight attendants dealing with disruptive passengers

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Threats, Civil Penalties, Criminal Prosecution, Politicians’ Admonitions

The Disruptions Continue

Aviation Rulemaking Committee offers de-escalation tactics


With the possible exception of the Max 8 and 5G messes, there have been few aviation safety issues which have received as much public attention as UNRULY PASSENGERS on board flights and the harm that they have done to the aviation safety professionals, flight attendants, who are there to protect their customers in emergencies. The coverage has long been present here and has focused on policies, punishments and possible actions:

·      IATA Calls For Greater Governmental Action On Unruly Passengers While A SMS Review More Likely To Increase Aviation Safety Proactively (6/14)

·      A New Airline Safety Approach To Improve The Persistent Problem To Unruly Passengers 10/16

·      Disruptive Behavior On Board Aircraft Has Severe Consequences (8/18)FLIGHT ATTENDANT ASSAULT

·      Zero-Tolerance MUST Continue To Protect The Flight Attendants (3/21)

·      Passenger Disruption Surge, Post FAA Zero Tolerance Policy, Merits BAN (7/21)

PASSENGER DISRUPTIONS·      Chairman DeFazio’s Letter To FAA Re Prosecution Of Unruly Passengers Should Have Been Sent To Justice Ass’t AG Polite (8/21)

·      “If You Want It Bad, You’ll Get It … Bad!”- Many Indictments Now-The RIGHT Instruction For Passenger “Defendants” (11/21)

In a crowded aircraft filled with passengers, some of whom are unsettled by the situation, the likelihood that the slightest disruption has been known to result in conflagration. The stress-inducing circumstances minimize the degree to which the potential miscreant will be conscious of or deterred by the consequences of an irrational, emotional act. Many of the airlines have terminated alcohol service and airport bars have been encouraged to be aware of “overserved” patrons.

The behaviors persisted, however, proving the futility of prior warnings. Below are excerpts from recent FAA documents suggesting (i.e., InFO) strategies to de-escalate the problematic disruption. The FAA notice (InFO Information for Operators 21006 Flight Attendant (F/A) Communication Techniques and Onboard Procedures to De-escalate Cabin Misconduct – see I below) is supplemented by a thorough development of specific tactics to deal with these situations (Air Carrier Training Aviation Rulemaking Committee (Recommendation 21-14) Best Practices to De-escalate Cabin Misconduct see II below)


The preamble to the ARC Report includes the academic[1] research that supports this approach to psychological tactics likely to result in a more peaceful outcome. Probably the most useful aspect of Recommendation 21-14 are copied in II e,f &g below. Instructions like “establish rapport”, ”be empathetic”, “listen”, “can you tell me more about”, etc. Equally salient is the ARC’s counsel to use real-world scenario-based training.

It appears that the airlines have already put these recommendations into practice-

AA de-escalate training poster


  1. InFO Information for Operators 21006

Flight Attendant (F/A) Communication Techniques and    Onboard Procedures to De-escalate Cabin Misconduct.

INFO heading

II ACT_ARC_Rec_21-14.pdf (faa.gov)ARC ACT header

a.ACT text


b.ACT sub recommendation

c.ACT recommendation



d.ACT recommendation

e.act specific tactics list




tested phrases


[1] Spielfogel and McMillen define de-escalation as a “verbal or nonverbal communication strategy that can help a person regain a sense of calm and self-control.” They go on to note that two “common elements of de-escalation are (1) the attempt to reduce the use of heightened, disproportionate, or harsh responses to perceived conflict, and (2) the attempt to reduce heightened negative emotions present in the situation.”


passenger disruption


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