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The Street
The Street
Veronika Bondarenko

Airlines have a new plan to handle unruly passengers (some won't like it)

While still comparatively rare to the millions of people who get on and off a flight every day without any issue, the number of those who do cause a disturbance is on the rise.

In the airline world, an "unruly passenger" is classified as someone who jeopardizes the safety of the flight in categories ranging from "suspicious or threatening behavior" to actions that are "life-threatening" in the U.S. While International Air Transport Association (IATA) numbers show that there was one such person for every 835 flights in 2021, that number rose to one in 568 flights by 2022. Some of the most common behaviors include verbally abusing flight attendants, fighting with fellow passengers and disregarding anti-smoking laws.

Related: Airlines Now Have to Deal With An Entirely New Kind Of Problem

"The increasing trend of unruly passenger incidents is worrying," IATA Deputy Director General Conrad Clifford said of the findings earlier this summer. "Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free experience on board."

Airline passengers want to enjoy flights in peace.


'Necessary legal authority to prosecute unruly passengers'

As first reported by aviation industry outlet Simple Flying, the issue of in-air safety has come up at the IATA World Security and Operations Conference in Vietnam from Sept. 19 to 21. To combat the problem of bad passenger behavior, the IATA has reiterated its support for the 2014 Montreal Protocol (MP14).

More Travel:

An internationally-developed protocol for dealing with safety incidents when a plane is in the air and outside any one jurisdiction, it gives the airline itself the jurisdiction to restrain and pass on an unruly passenger to law enforcement. To date, 45 nations have signed onto the protocol but that number makes up only 33% of overall airspace. North American countries such as Canada and the U.S. have not signed the agreement but instead prosecute based on the federal laws of their own countries for incidents that occur in its airspace.

While the matter is simple for most domestic flights, it becomes slightly more complicated when an international airline flies above a country that has not joined the MP14 protocol.

"Governments [need to] 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," IATA wrote in its annual report. "Such powers exist in the Montreal Protocol 2014 and IATA is urging all states to ratify this as soon as possible."

Here are some other changes IATA and ICAO want to see

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) also expressed support for the protocol and encouraged more states to join. IATA also encouraged airlines to record unruly passenger incidents in its Incident Data Exchange to have a single database of incidents that occur that can then help the organization know which incidents are most common and which changes to make to avoid them.

And as always, things also come down to training (and the money that the industry will or won't pour into doing this.) IATA pushed airlines to invest beyond what is legally required to have flight attendants who are well-trained and confident in handling problems as they arise.

"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," Clifford said.

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