Passengers who are disruptive can cause real problems to flights. Only recently an American Airlines flight from North Carolina to Los Angeles was diverted to Albuquerque because of a passenger making threatening comments towards a crew member. Once landed the plane was met by local law enforcement and the passengers disembarked. The plane flew later on to its original destination Los Angeles. So far this year 323 disruptive passenger incidents have been reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in the US as of February 1st. There were altogether 5981 incidents reported last year. So what exactly is disruptive behaviour?

Typically, disruptive behaviour involves drink/ drug intoxication, refusal to allow security checks, disobeying safety or security instructions, threatening abusive or insulting words, endangering the safety of an aircraft or another person or otherwise acting in a disruptive manner.

©American Airlines
An American airlines flight had to be diverted because of a disruptive passenger ©American Airlines


What is the Consequence of Disruptive Behaviour?

Clearly disruption to flights is a big issue. The cost of disruptive behaviour can be high as passengers are forced to divert to another airport. Passengers are forced to wait longer as the disruptive passenger is removed and then further waiting until the flight resumes to its original destination. The economy loses out as passengers who travel for business reasons may have to miss work or business meetings. Holiday makers would also lose out as they have less time at their destination. If they are on a tour, they may also lose money as they have to rearrange or re-join the tour at another location. In addition. the tension and danger of a disruptive passenger on board can also upset other passengers as well. Another real danger of disruptive passengers is also terrorism which as we know can destroy lives.

Aircraft diversions can also be costly to airlines as well. They may need to compensate travellers. Additionally, they will have to pay more for their staff as the flight duration is longer as well as paying for landing time at another nearby airport. So how do airlines deter people from being disruptive and is this enough?

Possible Solutions

According to the UK Civil Aviation authority passengers who have disruptive behaviour can make them liable to civil prosecution in the UK. The punishment for disruption depends on the severity. Acts of drunkenness on a plane carry a maximum fine of £5000 and 2 years in prison. The prison sentence for endangering the safety of aircraft is up to 5 years. Disruptive passengers may also be expected to reimburse the ai9rline for the cost of having to divert the flight. Diversions costs can range from £10,000 to £80,000 depending on the size of the aircraft and where it has to divert to.

There are however concerns that the measures taken are not enough. In the US the CEO of Delta Airlines Ed Bastian sent a letter to the US Attorney General suggesting that unruly or disruptive passengers be prosecuted and placed on a no-fly list. The US Department of Justice responded by saying that they prioritise dealing with those people who engage in criminal behaviour that threatens the safety of passengers, flight crews and flight attendants. It was implying that behaviour which did not endanger anyone would not by a priority for them.

Delta Airlines
The CEO of Delta Airlines wants a no fly list for disruptive passengers Delta Airlines | © Andrea Ongaro / Travel Radar

As one can see, the number of cases of disruptive behaviour is high. However, whilst there are concerns in the US that the punishments for disruptive behaviour do not block travellers from flying, it does appear that there are significant deterrents to disruptive behaviour in the UK. We will have to wait to see if a no-fly list is implemented in the US and whether this could be replicated elsewhere so that disruptive behaviour is not repeated.

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