Unruly Passenger Restraint: time to clarify our expectations

Who knows how many unruly passenger incidents happen every day? The International Air Transport Association (IATA) may have published its figures of reported incidents – 6,004 in 2011, 5,220 in 2012, and 8,217 in 2013 – but these only pertain to a limited number of IATA members choosing to report their more serious incidents. If we include the figures from non-IATA members and those incidents which have gone completely unreported, we are talking about an astronomical number of people behaving unacceptably on board aircraft and, in turn, endangering the safety of their flights. Indeed, a number of airlines are independently reporting that they, single-handedly, are experiencing thousands of incidents every year.

Yet, despite the subject of unruly passengers often being cited as flight attendants’ ‘Number One’ concern, the aviation industry is guilty of taking an extremely laissez-faire attitude towards the establishment of global standards. For an industry which is heavily regulated, and where we have accepted ludicrous, pointless and burdensome security measures (e.g. the restrictions on liquids, aerosols and gels), the absence of effective control procedures, training, equipment and policy to handle everyday occurrences is frightening.

Much of the debate seems to focus on the fact that, in most countries, the majority of perpetrators seem to escape prosecution due to the absence of national legislation, or at least political will, to prosecute offenders, especially if the incident took place on a foreign-registered aircraft. We are, however, tiptoeing in the right direction in that regard and the Montreal Protocol of 2014, which is an attempt to modernise the 1963 Tokyo Convention, extends jurisdiction for an offence to the destination country of the flight in addition to the country of aircraft registration. Of course, it may be some time before the latest Protocol is formally ratified and even longer until police forces and judiciary around the globe fully embrace their responsibility to act.

 

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