Unruly Passenger © IATA
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Framework for Handling Unruly and Disruptive Passengers

by Ajay Prakash

During the President of the United States Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, several incidents of passengers’ unruly behavior were reported. These incidents led the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to issue a fresh order related to handling unruly and disruptive passengers. According to IATA, there was one incident of unruly behavior for every 1053 flights in 2020; up from 2016 – one incident for 1424 flights.

In its January 13, 2021 order ‘COMPLIANCE AND ENFORCEMENT BULLETIN NO. 2021-1‘ the FAA stated –

“This special emphasis enforcement program provides that civil penalty action will be initiated against passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crew member in the performance of a crewmember’s duties regardless of culpability.”

Unruly Passenger Graph 2007 2017

Unruly Passengers 2007 2017 © IATA

The FAA advocated a policy of zero-tolerance towards unruly and disruptive passengers. The FAA concern has been “a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior. These incidents have stemmed both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.” See Table above for data compiled by IATA on unruly passengers.

Who is an Unruly or a Disruptive Passenger?

According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a disruptive passenger is –

“A passenger who fails to respect the rules of conduct at an airport or on board an aircraft or to follow the instructions of the airport staff or crew members and thereby disturbs the good order and discipline at an airport or on board the aircraft.”

The Tokyo Convention 1963

A ‘Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft‘ was held under ICAO’s auspices in Tokyo from August 20 to September 14, 1963. This Convention was the culmination of thirteen years of pre-legislative effort to define a flying aircraft’s legal jurisdiction.

The main points discussed and adopted were –

  1. The state of registration of the aircraft is competent to exercise jurisdiction over offenses committed on board the plane.
  2. The state in whose airspace the offense was committed, if such condition is not the state of registration of the aircraft, may not compel the plane to land to exercise its criminal jurisdiction, except in the following cases:
  3. if the offense affects the territory of such state;
  4. if the offense has been committed by or against a national of such condition;
  5. if the offense is against the national security of such condition;
  6. if the offense consists of a breach of any rules and regulations relating to the flight
  7. if the exercise of jurisdiction is necessary to ensure such a state’s obligation under an international agreement.

The Convention entered into force on December 4, 1969. As of 2015, 186 countries have ratified the Tokyo convention.

Indigo Unruly Passenger Handling

How IndiGo handles unruly passengers

The Montreal Protocol 2014

The Montreal Protocol 2014 (April 4, 2014) or MP14, named the ‘Protocol to Amend the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft,’ is a global treaty that strengthens states’ powers to prosecute unruly and disruptive passengers. Four years of consultations led to the modification of the Tokyo framework. This new Protocol addressed the shortcomings of handling disruptive and unruly passengers on scheduled commercial flights.

The significant modifications that ICAO brought in in MP14 are –

  1. Two new entities – The State of the Landing Airport and the State of the Operator were defined with jurisdictions.
  2. The role and rights of the Inflight Security officer (IFSO) were determined.
  3. Recovery of damages from unruly passengers.
  4. States are encouraged to take appropriate legal action.

More than four hundred participants attended the ICAO diplomatic event. They elected Tan Siew Huay of Singapore as the Conference President. Five vice-presidents support her.

IATA ratified the Protocol on January 1, 2020. Twenty-three countries have so far approved MP14. Qatar is the most recent one who joined in August 2020.

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