Unfortunately, many of us have observed unruly passengers on flights. Their behaviour can vary from being damn right obnoxious and criminal to disturbing the ambient atmosphere in the cabin. At a basic level, the traditional unruly passenger could be categorised as an individual exhibiting some or maybe all of the following behaviours: drink-fuelled, loud, making threats, harassing others, rude, total disregard for crew safety instructions, making sexual advances and generally jeopardising the safety or altering the good order and discipline on board an aircraft. It is well known that this type of behaviour is rising and sadly society as a whole seems to simply accept the situation. It is compounded by the emergence of a new breed of unruly passenger who is a lot more confident and ready to challenge any form of authority. This new type of unwanted passenger may wish to use e-cigarettes, exhibits air rage that is triggered by the most benign comment or event, readily links to social media to inflame a situation, openly questions the deployment of airline safety equipment during flight, swiftly moves into litigation mode, uses personal devices to annoy other passengers and is likely to be involved in or encourage ‘group unruly behaviour’.
Unruly passengers acting alone are difficult to control, but ‘group unruly behaviour’ is even more problematic and it is also on the rise. Knowing that the rotation of aircraft is time-sensitive, groups are now demanding financial compensation for flight delays even when the reason is outside the airline’s control. Their demands can be raised during the flight and/or the group can refuse to leave the aircraft on arrival at the destination if unsatisfied by the airline’s response. Group unruly behaviour poses unique problems for cabin crew: how do they control the ‘mob mentality’? Let’s be fair, the police on the ground in many parts of the world struggle to contain mobs and they do not have the added problems of confined spaces and complicated jurisdiction issues. Police can retreat at any time if they lose control but where do cabin crew go to regroup?
Modern society relentlessly challenges authority and the new and seasoned passenger genuinely believes that they know better and always have a right to know. In the past, the Captain and the crew controlled the release of information and the general communication flow regarding flight delays, security requirements and other technical or operational issues. Today, passengers are instantly on their mobile phones, alerting the media or friends and looking for any opportunity to question airline staff. It is common knowledge that airline staff have always had to be ‘in-air’ part-time psychiatrists, parent figures for immature adults, restrainers trained up to the level of Police Officers, and social workers. But now they have to be even more than that and possess an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of varying health conditions whilst being behavioural specialists as well, all the time knowing that whatever they do or say could become an instant hit on YouTube!
What are airlines and the international civil aviation community doing to address the evolving unruly passenger problem?