Unruly Aircraft Passenger – Know the Rules!

Know your rights when you confront an Unruly Aircraft Passenger

Have you seen an Unruly Aircraft Passenger lately?. Why it’s getting worse and what you should do.  

Unruly passengers are really unruly travelers. They blame masks or queues, and it can start inside the airport or out in the world even before they take a cab to the terminal.

They don’t succumb to some spell when they suddenly get into their seat. Unruly behavior is happening everywhere in society and the stress of traveling can be the detonator. 

This webpage on Unruly Aircraft Passenger will help you understand...
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    Flight Don'ts

    Unruly folks are not welcome in any part of aviation, but travel does induce stress.  When you throw in alcohol, ban smoking, or discover no room in your overhead bin at your seat… well, I mean, some of us just have better dispositions. 

    But some have shorter fuses.

    If you are an airport worker, Flight Attendant or just a fellow passenger you need to know what to do. Or what to avoid doing. So we need to let you know where the boundaries are and where the grey areas are during unruly passenger incidents.

    unruly passenger

    Bad Behavior

    Bottom line – Unruly passengers threaten your safety. Whether you know it or not, their actions can have a domino effect that could lead to grave consequences.

    We are not exaggerating. An aircraft is a hive of technical activity that requires all parts to be operational. When you distract people, such as cabin crew – you stop their cog in the flying machine.

    Unruly Facts

    Instances of unruly passengers are bad and it’s getting worse. According to EASA every three hours the safety of a flight within the EU is threatened by passengers demonstrating unruly or disruptive behavior.

    According to EASA stats, 70% of these incidents involve some form of aggression. In the EU from 2017 to 2018 alone, incidents increased by 35% despite a zero-tolerance policy across the globe. And it’s not just us regular folks.

    A quick google will reveal celebrities, sports stars and famous musicians who decided it would be a clever idea to throw a tantrum on a flight. Or their fist. We don’t link to that nonsense. 

    In the 12 months to February 2022, the FAA had 607 reports of unruly passengers. More than 50% of these incidents were in relation to Face masks. Of these events more than 80 ended up in Federal court.

    The Rules and Fines

    In the EU it falls under EU Reg 376/2014 and in the USA the law that will get you is in the Reauthorization bill which can pin a charge of USD $37,000 per violation on an unruly passenger.

    Thats an expensive flight. Keep in mind that it’s highly likely a single incident can (and will) contain multiple violations. Before you act out (or get involved unnecessarily) – think twice. Especially with a person who looks like’s they’re in the law-violating mood.

    The reason civil penalties are high is the implications for the airline passengers and their flight. If disruptive passengers cause an aircraft to be diverted or rescheduled, things get expensive. And the airlines are entitled to protection.

    How Unruly Passengers threaten Safety

    It should be obvious, but it bears hanging a lantern on the following facts. Unruly passengers have a direct impact on both the safety of flight crew and fellow passengers.

    • An Intoxicated person does not follow safety instructions when needed.
    • Aggressive behavior distracts flight crews from their duties, which are safety related.
    • Physical violence results in injury to them, one of the crew or a traveler.
    • Unruly passengers can be a very traumatic experience in what is an already stressful environment.
    • If a member of the crew is involved in a physical assault, your flight could be deemed an emergency – and if you caused that, you could be involved in a criminal prosecution.

    In the USA, interfering with the duties of a crewmember violates Federal Aviation Administration law FAR 91.11 or 121.580. The link will give you the full text. And that’s not even the Security issues. Those will be dealt with separately by the TSA (Transport Security Administration).

    What exactly is Unruly behavior?

    • Excessive drinking during or before the flight.
    • Use of drugs or mixing them with alcohol during or before the flight.
    • Not complying with Flight Crew instructions.
    • Being violent, verbally or physically abusive.
    • Distracting the cabin crew from their duties.

    Yes, the number of unruly passengers as a percentage of total flights flown is small. But we all see the flickers of temper and the huffing and puffing of travelers that should know better. Let’s get this nonsense out of our industry right away.

    Passenger civil rights are not being violated by airport byelaws. Nor the airline terms and conditions of your carriage. Which we expect you to comply with. And that’s with Masks, a Mask Mandate or a “no more alcohol request”. 

    Every passenger and commercial aircraft crew has the right to a safe flight. Free of violence and any other behavior that could put them at risk. The flight should be enjoyable, but if not, it should be manageable or even acceptable. We only want one thing from you, your respect.

    What the Airport is responsible for

    The route through to the aircraft involves many steps. And there are a few stages where we might be alerted to a problem passenger. And may have already attempted to stop it. 

    Check-in: Staff here are trained to look out for issues such as intoxication, threatening or suspicious behavior. And they will report anything they don’t like the look of.

    Security Screening: This is a major flashpoint for some unruly passengers. Queuing, the start of a long day and not happy with the speed of those ahead of you. In a rush to get to the bar or the VIP Lounge. These staff are also on the lookout for shithousery. And in a lot of cases some people won’t make it through. The Canadians, through CATSA, are leading the way here. 

    Boarding Gates: This is when the person’s level of intoxication or behavior will start to manifest if it hasn’t done so already. They’ve hit the bars and have had time to develop whatever personality modification they will use to create the problem. 

    What Flight Attendants Must Do

    Those nice smiles and welcome-on-boards for sure. But they are also keeping an eye out for passengers who are nervous, intoxicated, loud, belligerent, or from Florida.

    If they’re not happy with someone, they will approach them to see if they can gauge the problem. Mark their card, so to say. Tell them that they are on the radar.

    Done correctly, this alone can defuse 90% of dangerous behavior. Most people respond when you appeal for their cooperation. That’s why alcohol is so dangerous. This filter is off. If the crew still don’t like what they see, the person can be confronted formally.

    You can be asked to leave the aircraft. If it happens during the flight, it’s down to the flight attendants to make tough decisions. Flight crew cannot leave the cockpit. Ever. If a pilot is somehow compromised, the risk of flight will be raised to an unacceptable level. So, it’s just the cabin crew that must deal with it.

    Your "In-flight Bystander" 101 Rules

    The First Rule of Unruly Flight Club is “Do not get involved”.

    Let’s say you spot someone unruly, and it hasn’t been picked up by the Cabin crew. Then you should discreetly notify them when they arrive at your seat. Don’t call them. And at no point should you confront or address the unruly person directly or through other passengers.

    Only flight attendants should intervene. This is how they do it;

    • Through communication skills.
    • Through Conflict Management skills.
    • Team skills.
    • Dealing with persons under the influence skills.

    This post is too short to dig deeper, but we suggest you do so by yourself, there are some great resources at the FAA, EASA and TSA websites.

    Flight crews are instructed in how to perform when a person refuses to comply. We call these “standard intervention” techniques.

    Intervention is the point between the unruly person looking like they won’t be compelled to stop or change their behavior. And we are pre-emergency. So we do these things:

    • Limit service to them (no alcohol)
    • Physical break-way and controlling to separate them from other passengers.
    • Reminded the person what laws they are breaking and the consequences they face.
    • Physical restraining devices.
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    The Traveler List

    Flight crews are well trained and have the interpersonal training and tools to do what is required. They don’t need you to get up in this guys (or girls!) face to tell them to sit down and shut up. In all reality that is what this person is hoping will happen. They are being confrontational because they desire confrontation.

    Should I ever get involved?

    Yes. On the rarest of occasions. If cabin crew have failed or are failing in all efforts to resolve the situation. And they need to physically intervene to control the passenger, then it is common for them to enlist the support of travelling law enforcement personnel or other able-bodied passengers.

    When they do this, and you are happy to assist – then all laws and regulations are on your side. Don’t wait to be asked if things escalate. You can ask them if they need your help and wait for a positive response. Once you have that – the law is completely with you again.

    Hopefully it won’t come to that.

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