How airline's fight against the unruly disruptive passengers' behavior? - By Ahmed Haouaria

24 Avr 2022
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My motive for exploring so many subjects was that I wanted to study research topics covering more than one airline's subjects. Security was one of them. It all started when, as a junior Cabin Crew, I was introduced to security as a major component of the airline industry during my initial training.

Nine years later, during my train the trainer process, in my first management role, I got the chance to have as a trainer one of the best Airlines Security specialists in Morocco, Captian Mostafa Lakhdar who had instilled deeper training values such as environmental awareness and placed the core value of security at the center of my interests. The phenomenon of unruly passengers, while not new, is however increasingly worrying. Occurrences of this are not uncommon and certain behaviors, in addition to the inconvenience they cause to passengers and crew alike, can prove extremely costly when they lead to a diversion of the aircraft, and dangerous when they threaten flight safety.

Montreal, 10 June 2019 – ICAO Secretary-General, Ms. Fang Liu, and IATA Director General and Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Alexandre de Juniac, officially launched new ICAO directions on the legal aspects related to the management of unruly and disruptive passengers.

The ICAO document entitled the ICAO Manual on the Legal Aspects of Unruly and Disruptive Passengers (Doc 10117) is a key element resulting from the adoption of the Protocol amending the Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft (Montreal Protocol 2014).

 Its main aim is to help governments adopt in their national legislation appropriate and better harmonized legal measures aimed at preventing and dealing with incidents relating to unruly and disruptive passengers onboard international flights.

Unruly passengers: threats to the safety and security of aircraft, flight crews, and passengers

“Unruly and disruptive passenger conduct can present particular threats to the safety and security of aircraft, flight crews, and passengers,” Ms. Liu said. “This kind of conduct can also lead to costly disruptions for both air carriers and passengers when an aircraft has to be diverted due to such an incident. »

Diverted flights, disembarked passengers, harassment, violence of any kind, intimidating behavior, drunkenness and disorderly conduct, obstruction of aircraft safety, and refusal to obey crew instructions. The indiscipline of a minority of passengers poses major problems for airlines in terms of safety, but also terms of costs. According to available statistics worldwide, there are nearly 5,000 serious incidents per year.

Four categories of unruly passengers: 3 Levels of Threat

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has defined a four threat level hierarchy. Although all National Aviation Authorities (NAA) do not follow these specific definitions, they provide valuable guidance to operators in determining the seriousness of an unruly passenger incident and in developing their policies on the appropriate level of response. The ICAO level of threat specifics are as follows:

 Level 1 — Disruptive behavior (verbal); MINOR

Behavioral indicators include but are not limited to:

  • The use of unacceptable language towards a crew member: swearing or use of profane language
  • Unacceptable behavior towards a crew member: communicating displeasure through voice tone or rude gesture, provoking an argument, or making unreasonable demands (e.g. refusal to give up on a denied request)
  • A display of suspicious behavior: e.g. agitated or numb; distant and unresponsive behavior
  • Passengers not following crew instructions or challenging authority
  • Violation of a safety regulation Cabin Crew Actions Fli

Level 2 — Physically abusive behavior; MODERATE

Behavior includes but is not limited to:

  • Physically abusive behavior towards a crew member: openly or aggressively hostile action that includes physical act or contact
  • Obscene or lewd behavior towards a crew member: actions of an overtly sexual, lecherous, or lascivious nature
  • Verbal threats: threatening a crew member or another passenger with physical violence or bodily harm onboard or while about to board aircraft, or making threats in an attempt to board aircraft
  • Tampering with any emergency or safety equipment onboard the aircraft
  • Deliberately damaging any part of the aircraft or any property on board the aircraft

Level 3 — Life-threatening behavior (or display of a weapon); SERIOUS

Behavioral indicators include but are not limited to, actions creating a fear of imminent death such as:

  • The threat, display, or use of a weapon
  • Physical or sexual assault with intent to injure (Violent, threatening, intimidating, or disorderly behavior

Level 4 — Attempted or actual breach of the flight crew compartment; FLIGHT DECK

An incident that constitutes a security threat and which includes but is not limited to: 

  • An attempted or unauthorized intrusion into the flight deck 
  • A credible threat of death or serious bodily injury in an attempt to gain control of the aircraft The display, use or threat to use a weapon to breach the flight deck
  • Sabotage of or the attempt to sabotage an aircraft 
  • Actions that render the aircraft incapable of flight or that are likely to endanger its safety of flight 
  • Any attempt to unlawfully seize control of the aircraft

Stronger laws

 The phenomena of indiscipline are often linked to the excessive consumption of alcohol, but also of drugs. It must be taken into account that at altitude the decrease in oxygen has unfortunate consequences on the body: at more than 10,000 feet, a glass of alcohol counts... for two. The alcohol-drug mixture forms an even more explosive cocktail.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has issued significant amendments to the 1963 Tokyo Convention which were agreed upon at a diplomatic conference in Montreal. This convention provides the legal framework for the treatment of passengers whose unruly or disruptive behavior leads to physical aggression or poses a threat to the safety of a flight.

This agreement is good news for everyone, passengers and crew. The changes and measures already taken by airlines are beginning to provide an effective deterrent against unacceptable behavior onboard aircraft. To date, several states have already ratified the agreement.

It should be understood that this agreement makes it possible in particular to extend the jurisdiction of the country of registration of the aircraft to the country of destination. This protocol fills a void that has allowed many serious violations to escape legal action.

In addition, the changes made provide greater clarity in the definition of unruly behavior. Alongside these decisions, airlines are gradually adopting appropriate staff training, ranging from the ability to calm a situation through dialogue to self-defense courses. Signatory States must work with carriers and airport authorities to conduct awareness campaigns on the consequences of unruly behavior and ensure the implementation of procedures to prevent unruly behavior during flights.

Passenger blacklist: How Would an Unruly Passenger No-Fly List Work? Delta case

As private businesses, airlines have the right to deny service to anyone they want, and they already maintain their own no-fly lists for unruly passengers who have disobeyed in-flight instructions or become violent. Delta says it has 2,000 such passengers on its internal no-fly list.

What the Delta CEO and a major flight attendant union are calling for is a national no-fly list maintained by the Department of Justice for "any person convicted of a crime because of an onboard disruption." They believe this is necessary to close loopholes that would allow a banned passenger on one airline to simply book a flight on another carrier.

Not every unruly passenger incident is prosecuted as a crime. Of the thousands of incidents reported to the FAA in 2021, the agency only referred 37 to the FBI for review, and the DOJ only brought charges against 21 offenders.

While the FAA doesn't have the authority to prosecute offenders, it can issue steep fines for violating its zero-tolerance policy on unruly behavior. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a union representing more than 50,000 flight attendants, states that passengers fined by the FAA should also be added to the federal no-fly list.

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