Unruly Airline Passenger Incidents Increasing

Most reported unruly passenger incidents were classified as level 1, or intentional non-compliance with safety regulations like not wearing face masks, not wearing seat belts.

COVID-19 disrupted international aviation and new rules to contain it, especially those for facemasks, increased cases of unruly passenger behaviour on aircraft, an analysis has found.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), member airlines reported 5,672 incidents of unruly passenger behaviour in 2021.

This amounted to 1.13 incidents per 1,000 flights or 1 incident for every 885 flights.

Between January-June 2022, there were 4,242 reported incidents. The number amounted to 1.20 incidents per 1,000 flights or 1 incident for every 833 flights.

Most reported unruly passenger incidents were classified as level 1, or intentional non-compliance with safety regulations (not wearing face masks, not wearing seat belts). Level 1 incidents are verbal in nature.

After that most reported incidents were classified as level 2.

Such incidents include physically aggressive, obscene or lewd behavior.

IATA has been collecting and analysing safety reports from member airlines on unruly passengers since 2007.

After 2020 it started implementing a new global reporting system for safety-related incidents.

The new reporting system coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in reduced traffic and layoffs by airlines, resulting in fewer incidents being reported to IATA.

“Despite a reduction in the number of air passengers during the pandemic, the rate of reported cases of unruly passenger incidents increased driven by non-compliance with face mask requirements,” said Tim Colehan, IATA’s assistant director for external affairs.

“While the health situation has improved and most mask requirements have gone, government awareness of the problem of unruly behaviour of flights has increased with some such as the US implementing a range of measures to tackle the problem,” Colehan added.

“IATA is urging governments globally to implement public awareness campaigns so that travellers know the type of conduct which is prohibited on board and for a stronger legal deterrent so that there are consequences for those who believe that rules do not apply to them,” Colehan said.

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