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Unruly passengers on planes still a challenge - report

Jan 14 2018 22:00
Carin Smith

Cape Town - The issue of unruly passengers remains a significant daily challenge in the airline industry around the world, according to Tim Colehan, assistant director of external affairs at the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

Between 2007 and 2016 more than 58 000 incidents involving unruly passengers were reported to Iata, an analysis by the organisation shows. About 190 airlines participated in this Safety Trend Evaluation, Analysis and Data Exchange System (STEADES).

At the same time, it is estimated that a total of 4 billion passengers likely travelled by air in 2017.

Iata research has found that the most frequent issues for passengers to behave in an unruly manner, is being intoxicated - due to the consumption of alcohol or narcotics; not complying with smoking and other regulations; and disputes between passengers.

Incidents include cases where the unruly passenger had brought his or her own alcohol on board. Often the unruly passenger started drinking before boarding the plane, or consumed alcohol bought at duty free shops at the airport and consumed on board without the crew noticing. The Iata report points out that the level of intoxication of a passenger is not always clear at the time of boarding the plane.

In the view of Colehan, the statistics on unruly passengers are likely significantly underestimates the extent of the problem.

"A tiny minority of passengers whose unruly and disruptive behaviour on board flights can disrupt the flight experience and travel plans of countless other passengers and adversely impact the work place for the cabin crew," comments Colehan in the report.

Iata has found that in 2016 there were roughly one unruly passenger incident per 1 434 flights, compared to one per 1 205 flights in 2015.

At the same time, a small increase was found in the proportion of more serious incidents of unruly passengers - from 11% of incidents in 2015 to 12% in 2016. These would involve cases involving physically abusive or obscene behaviour or verbal threats of such physical violence. It would also involve tampering with emergency or safety equipment.

The research found that most of the more serious incidents remained at the level of verbal threats.

Other types of incidents would involve passengers who fail to follow instructions from the crew or violating safety regulations - for instance, smoking in the toilet. Violating regulations can also include not turning off or stopping electronic devices or not complying with seat belt signs.

Although the Iata research found that many cases are successfully managed by the crew, there has been an increase in incidents where, even after all other techniques to handle such incidents were tried, the cabin crew had no other option but to restrain the unruly passenger for the safety of all on board.

In 2016 there were 169 such incidents where a passenger had to be restrained, compared to 113 in 2015.

In the view of Colehan, the Iata report shows a need for governments to play their part in enhancing the international legal deterrent proposed by Iata. At the same time, airports, airport restaurants and bars as well as duty free shops have an important role to play.

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iata  |  aviation  |  transport  |  airlines
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