A new Airline Safety Approach to improve the Persistent Problem to Unruly Passengers

Unruly Passenger Airline Safety Approach
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New Unruly Passenger Airline Safety Approach

SMS Can Reduce Incident Rates

Geneva - The International Air Transport Association (IATA) released figures showing that reports of unruly passenger incidents onboard aircraft increased in 2015. Some 10,854 unruly passenger incidents were reported to IATA by airlines worldwide last year. This equates to one incident for every 1,205 flights, an increase from the 9,316 incidents reported in 2014 (or one incident for every 1,282 flights).

The majority of incidents involved verbal abuse, failure to follow lawful crew instructions and other forms of anti-social behavior. 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 behavior is simply not acceptable. The anti-social behavior 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

The Tokyo Convention was modernized with the Montreal Protocol 2014, closing gaps in the international legal framework dealing with unruly passengers. To date, six states have ratified the Protocol. “More are needed in order to have a consistent global approach to this issue,” said de Juniac.

Also in 2014 the airline industry set out core principles for a balanced, multi-stakeholder strategy for tackling unruly behavior, based around 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 behavior. 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 behavior 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 behavior. 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,” said de Juniac.

This statement by IATA or a very similar text has been issued by IATA since 2012. It is an appropriately toned and well-documented plea for all stakeholders to take action to prevent and deter the problems, more pointedly SAFETY RISKS, created by the behavior of unruly passengers on board aircraft. Its specific request is for “more governments to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014,” Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. In spite of the repeated industry efforts to deter them, dangerous incidents have increased!

Here are a few of the actions which IATA has taken over those four years:

  1. Issued a 56 page Guidance on Unruly Passenger Prevention and Management which includes a lengthy section on prevention, a section on levels of threats, an analysis of the legal aspects and a model set of documents to use in conjunction with such incidents.
  1. A 2013 paper submitted to the ICAO Legal Committee VIEWS OF THE INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION (IATA) ON SOME PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF THE ISSUE OF UNRULY PASSENGERS19 pages defining, quantifying and describing the problem as well as sharing the IATA procedures for dealing with these passengers.

Unruly Passenger Airline Safety Approach

  1. An AGM RESOLUTION ON UNRULY PASSENGERS, which calls on all IATA members to adopt the Manual, on ICAO to ratify the Montreal Protocol of 2014, on States to adopt local laws intending to deter this conduct and on airports and security authorities to interdict passengers who are likely to cause on board airplanes.
  1. A 2014 presentation, THE VIEWS ON SOME PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF THE ISSUE OF UNRULY PASSENGERS, to the IATA International Law Conference, 19 pages similar to the 2013 ICAO presentation.
  1. A 2014 IATA sponsored conference at ICAO on this issue.
  1. A 2014 NordAN presentation on “Causes, Consequences and Combatting on the Issue,” Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network. The presenters offered some very practical strategies.

Unruly Passenger Airline Safety Approach

  1. An IATA website which is designed to raise awareness about the problem. While it is quite informative, it is highly unlikely that it will deter prospective unruly passengers.
  1. Offering classes entitled Unruly Passenger Prevention and Response.
  1. A 2016 free program, ICAO & IATA Unruly Passenger Seminar at which experts discussed advances in deterring, preventing and dealing with unruly passengers.
  1. Disseminating a paper Penalising the Unruly Passenger, which amply explains the legal consequences to disrupting flights.

Quite clearly, despite IATA’s best efforts, the problem is not getting any better and even seems to be getting substantially worse.

The problems have reached such levels that the UK is considering banning the sale of alcohol at airports. In the United States, the FAA and the US Attorneys have increased the prosecution of passengers for this behavior with nasty penalties ($13,000 to $38,000). In fact, a court in  Wallaesa v. Fed. Aviation Admin., 2016 WL 3212995 had the power to fine such disruptive passengers.

The FAA activity, as shown in the below table, is not escalating at the same rate as the violations are.

Year Total
1995 146
1996 184
1997 237
1998 204
1999 226
2000 255
2001 305
2002 279
2003 286
2004 310
2005 205
2006 137
2007 153
2008 124
2009 139
2010 128
2011 155
2012 183
2013 150
2014 145
2015 99
2016 9 as of April 13, 2016

There may be a need to bring the message to the passengers at the point of embarkation. Criminal prosecution is a threat which might cause, even an inebriated person, to reconsider flying.

Unruly Passenger Airline Safety Approach

Etiquette rules about passenger behavior have been posted with some positive commentary.

Alcohol, drugs, anxiety and other factors associated with the likelihood of these inflight incidents are affected by calendars (vacations, sports, etc.) local cultures, religion and legal standards. For example, it appears that the rate of these problems correlate with the vacation times in the British Isles and “football” matches at overseas venues. The point is that universal approaches may not be the best answers. Requiring any sort of sobriety check would be totally inappropriate in countries in which religions prohibit alcohol, while when the XYZ soccer team is playing at an overseas venue breathalyzers might be an effective method.

SMS’s analytical tools can be applied to address quite specific problems and its participation rubric insures that flight attendants and company medical officers are involved in problem solving. The IATA Manual is a very well written reference book; might not each airline be encouraged to involve the group dynamic of SMS to craft a scalpel to reduce the incidence rates of these problems for each airline and its own particular patterns of inflight confrontations?


ARTICLE: Collaboration Needed to Stem Unruly Passenger Incidents
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