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Alexandre de Juniac

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Policy 22 December 2017

Curbing Unruly Behavior Onboard

​It is always interesting to see what topics pique the interest of the news media. The release of our statistics on unruly passengers is perennially one that garners much attention. I suppose that the popularity is related to the vast numbers of people who fly—they have a personal interest in the story.

With one incident for every 1,424 flights your chances of having an undisturbed flight are high. If you flew each day for four years, you are likely to experience one incident. But, of course, that is one too many. And although rare, some unruly behavior in severe form can endanger the safety of flight. It is a problem that needs a solution.

There is a lot of speculation about why reports of unruly behavior have risen in recent years. One theory is that awareness is rising aided by social media. Another explanation is that it has grown with the increase in people traveling - now some 4 billion this year. Others relate the phenomena to frustrations with the travel experience or the excessive consumption of alcohol particularly prior to boarding.

It is probably a combination of these factors and some others. And there is no foolproof single solution that is going to make the problem disappear. But that does not mean that there is nothing that can be done. Travelers should be reassured that there are concerted efforts focused on prevention and deterrence.

Airlines, for example, give their crews special training on how to handle and de-escalate situations. That’s important as they are usually on the front line. Their goal is to keep everyone safe and calm.

Airlines are also working with airport stakeholders to promote the responsible consumption of alcohol—both at bars and with the purchase of Duty Free. And that continues on board the aircraft where crew are also trained in responsible service of alcohol so that passengers enjoy their time on board while avoiding becoming intoxicated.

If things get out of hand, it is also important to have an effective legal means to handle unruly behavior. In 2014 governments agreed on an international protocol—Montreal Protocol 2014 to be precise. This allows law enforcement where an aircraft lands—at the intended destination or a midway point if an emergency landing is needed—to have jurisdiction over the offenses and the passenger involved. The Protocol needs at least 22 nations to ratify it before it comes into force, and we are encouraging governments to put this on their agenda.

Nobody wants any situation to evolve to the point where the police need to be involved. The hope is that knowing that there is no “legal free pass” for behavior in the air will be a sufficient deterrent. But it is also good to know that there will be consequences if and when all other measures fail.

Airlines don’t want to be a killjoy, but unruly passenger behavior kills the joy for everyone on a flight. In this season of goodwill, I wish everyone happy and peaceful travels.

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