Unruly Passengers

What you need to know for safer flights.

Passenger incidents have been on the rise in recent years. In 2009, the International Civil Aviation Organization recognized unruly passengers as an important issue. Unruly passengers can often create situations that jeopardize passenger and crew safety, as well as situations that can be expensive for the aircraft operator. While you can’t control passenger’s behavior, there are ways to recognize and defuse these situations.

Types of Passenger Threats

Unruly passengers can present a wide range of threats so it’s important to understand the various types of threats and how to mitigate them. The ICAO categorizes passenger threats by four categorizations. Level 1: Verbally disruptive behavior and level 2: physically abusive behavior, are considered safety hazards. Level 3: Life-threatening behavior with a weapon and level 4: attempts to breach the flight crew compartment, are considered serious security threats. The majority of incidents reported are level 1 disturbances, with 23% of them being related to alcohol consumption.

Recognizing Unruly Behavior

It is best if signs of unruly behavior can be recognized in the early stages and mitigated before an incident arises. This means staff and crews need to be on alert for abnormal behaviors.
Keep an eye out for passengers who may be talking loudly, showing signs of intoxication, or seem agitated. It is important that employees at every step of the way pay close attention to the disposition of passengers and communicate with other areas of operation so that unruly behavior can be mitigated before it escalates.
There are three levels of behavior to look for which an easily be remembered by thinking of a stop light. Green behavior means the passenger is exhibiting normal behavior and is fine to proceed normally. Yellow behavior means the passenger is beginning to exhibit reduced inhibition and impaired judgement. When a passenger starts showing signs of yellow behavior, the crew should begin taking measures to prevent them moving to red behavior. The senior crew should also be alerted to yellow behavior. Red behavior is when a passenger starts to show signs of difficulty with walking and other motor functions, moves slowly, or has a slow response time. If a passenger is exhibiting red behaviors, alcohol should no longer be served to them and senior crew members should be notified immediately. It may be necessary to get the passenger medical attention. The senior crew members may also consider declaring a threat level.

Unruly Passengers

Preventing and De-escalating Unruly Behavior

Since many unruly situations happen due to alcohol consumption, when a passenger starts showing signs of intoxication it best to encourage them to eat food or drink water to slow the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. It may also be necessary to stop serving alcohol to the passenger.

If a passenger is becoming unruly, they should be warned either verbally or with written cards that their behavior will not be tolerated. Remember to remain discreet when warning a passenger in order to avoid escalating the situation.

In situations that do not involve alcohol, you can attempt to de-escalate the situation by allowing the passenger to express their concerns. It is important to listen to what they have to say and to do what you can to help. Often these situations can be improved by appealing to reason rather than being authoritative.
It is important to remember that travel can be very stressful for passengers for many reasons, and you shouldn’t take their behavior personally. Most importantly remain calm and do what you can to ensure the safety of all passengers.

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