By asking all countries represented at the 39th ICAO Assembly now underway to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014 on unruly passengers, IATA is seeking international help in combating a worrying rise in the numbers of unruly-passenger incidents airlines are reporting.
IATA has released figures showing that in 2015, for the third year in a row, the numbers and occurrence rate of unruly-passenger incidents reported by its member airlines increased.
Data collected by IATA since 2007 from non-mandatory reporting by 190 airlines to its Safety Trend Evaluation Analysis and Data Exchange System show that last year these carriers reported 10,854 unruly-passenger incidents to IATA, a rate equating to one incident for every 1,205 flights. In 2014 the airlines reported 9,316 incidents, one every 1,282 flights. In 2013 they reported unruly-passenger incidents occurring at a rate of one every 1,362 flights.
“The anti-social behavior of a tiny minority of customers can have unpleasant consequences for the safety and comfort of all on board,” says Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, in an IATA statement calling for collaboration on the unruly-passenger problem.
“The increase in reported incidents tells us that more effective deterrents are needed,” says de Juniac. “Airlines and airports are guided by core principles developed in 2014 to help prevent and manage such incidents. Be we cannot do it alone. That’s why we are encouraging more governments to ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14).”
Although 30 nations signed the protocol, to date only six – Bahrain, Congo, Dominican Republic, Gabon, Guyana and Jordan – have ratified MP14. It supersedes the 1963 Tokyo Convention, the first ICAO body of regulation covering bad passenger behavior – but mainly concentrating on aircraft hijacks.
The reason developed nations in North America and Europe haven’t yet ratified MP14, which requires ratification by 22 countries to come into force, is that they recognized long ago that “elements in the Tokyo Convention were no longer fit for purpose”, says IATA spokesman Chris Goater. To combat a rising tide of unruly-passenger incidents, they adopted deterrent measures in their own national laws and so haven’t seen ratification of MP14 as a priority. However, France has said it plans to do so.
IATA’s statistics show that 11 percent of reported incidents in 2015 involved physical aggression towards passengers or crew or damage to the aircraft. This represented “a significant proportion” of all unruly-passenger incidents reported during the year.
Alcohol or drug intoxication represented a factor in 23 percent of incidents, though IATA says “in the vast majority of instances these were consumed prior to boarding or from personal supply without knowledge of the crew”. Most unruly-passenger incidents involved verbal abuse, failure to follow lawful crew instructions and other forms of passenger anti-social behavior.
“What we see a lot is disobedience of crew instructions”, such as telling passengers to turn off their electronic devices, Goater tells Runway Girl Network. “As people become more blasé about flying, they show less deference to necessary rules and they respond verbally to challenges” by flight attendants.
“What we need is for passengers to respect the crew and the rules, making it a more pleasant flight for everyone,” says Goater, raising the question of whether the airline industry could do a better job of explaining to passengers why instructions flight attendants give them are necessary.
Apart from alcohol and drugs, “a whole host of other factors” play a part in causing unruly-passenger incidents, says Goater. “I think what you find is there is a number of triggers – a lost job, problems with the partner, or a passenger wants to smoke and can’t.” However, he thinks claustrophobia doesn’t cause many incidents – “planes have been around for a long time” – and declines comment on whether some incidents result from reduced personal space as airlines add more seats in aircraft cabins.