While the majority of civil aviation passengers board their flights as willing customers, occasionally airlines are required to provide transport to those who are being deported or whose circumstances otherwise require a higher than normal level of security. Ahmad Al-Maaytah discusses regulations pertaining to deportee transportation that aim to ensure the safety and security of everyone involved.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) defines a deportee as a person who had legally been admitted to a State by its authorities, or who had entered a State illegally, and who at some later time is formally ordered by the authorities to leave that State. Deportees may be transported with normally-scheduled passenger aircraft and can also be transported with charter aircraft on their own under certain conditions.

The transfer of deportees by private/charter aircraft rather than by scheduled flights depends on the number and conditions of the deportees, and on the regulations specified by the State that carries out the deportation. Here are the specific terms used when referring to the special categories of passengers:

DEPA: An industry-approved code for a deportee accompanied by an authorised escort;
DEPU: An industry-approved code for a deportee not accompanied by an authorised escort;
Deporting State: The State that has arranged for a deportee’s removal from its territory;
Escort: A person authorised by the deporting State who has been trained to accompany deportees on removal flights;
INAD: An inadmissible passenger, that is, a passenger refused admission to a State by its authorities or refused onward carriage by a State authority at a transfer point because he or she lacks the required visa, has an expired passport, etc.

Persons in lawful custody: The persons either under arrest or convicted by courts of law who should be transported to another State for legal reasons. For the transport of persons in lawful custody, an escort should be provided by the competent authorities.


State requirements should apply to any inadmissible person who arrives by air, any deportee to be flown to his or her State of citizenship, and any person under lawful custody who is to be transported by air. All parties involved, such as law enforcement authorities, airport and aircraft operators, should co-operate fully with each other in applying the required procedures. The following guidelines, based on the experience of States and aircraft operators, apply to the transport of potentially disruptive passengers.

Persons in Lawful Custody

The relevant authorities should inform the aircraft operator of the intention to travel with a person in custody at least 24 hours prior to departure. A written notification should indicate any pertinent information that may help the operator assess the security risk to the flight, including whether the passenger is considered dangerous. Persons in custody should always be escorted by one or more law enforcement officers, whose identities should be disclosed to the aircraft operator. The pilot-in-command should be made aware of the situation during pre-flight preparations and prior to passenger boarding.

Aircraft operators are required to take appropriate measures at the point of embarkation to ensure that passengers are in possession of appropriate travel documents as prescribed by the State of transit or destination, so that the responsibility for repatriation falls to the inbound aircraft operator. If an aircraft operator is required to transport an inadmissible person, the passenger should be in possession of travel documents or, if these documents were seized by the relevant authorities, a covering letter for presentation to the appropriate authority at the State of destination.

For deportees, the responsibility for effecting repatriation lies with law enforcement authorities, including risk assessments, notification to authorities in the State of repatriation and in any State where the passenger will be in transit, as well as aircraft operators. It is also the responsibility of the relevant authorities to provide one or more escorts to accompany a deportee if an assessment indicates that the passenger may offer resistance and could pose a security risk during flight.

The relevant State authorities should, in addition to notifying the aircraft operator of a person in lawful custody who is to be transported by air, proceed to make travel arrangements only after obtaining the aircraft operator’s agreement to carry the potentially disruptive passenger.

Many inadmissible persons, deportees and persons in lawful custody travel voluntarily and peacefully, but on occasion such persons may present a security risk. It is common practice for aircraft operators to transport persons in lawful custody under certain conditions, i.e. if the person in custody is:

a) not considered dangerous, he or she should be escorted by at least one law enforcement officer; or
b) considered dangerous, he or she should be escorted by two or more law enforcement officers. Notwithstanding the

presence of escorts, not more than one such person should be allowed on any one flight.
Before boarding a potentially disruptive passenger, the authorities should verify with their counterparts at transit points and the final destination that the travel conditions are acceptable to them.

Security Measures

Certain measures should be in effect before and during a flight with inadmissible passengers, deportees or persons in lawful custody on board. They are as follows:

  • The number of potentially disruptive passengers should be limited according to a risk assessment, the reason for removal of the individual from the State, and aircraft size;
  • A sufficient number of escorts should be deployed, based on a risk assessment and the nature and number of potentially disruptive passengers. The number of escorts required for each situation should be determined jointly by the relevant authorities and the aircraft operator;
  • The flight itinerary should be kept classified and should not be disclosed to the public;
  • Additional security searches should be conducted on passengers and cabin baggage;
  • Inadmissible persons, deportees or persons in custody should be boarded prior to other passengers, and the pilot-in-command should be informed of the seating location of such passengers and escorts;
  • Seats should be assigned to the rear of the cabin, but not adjacent to a door or emergency exit, and should be in a row of two or more seats with at least one escort sitting between a potentially disruptive passenger and the aisle. To the extent practicable, escorted passengers should not be seated next to a minor;
  • Alcoholic beverages should not be served to potentially disruptive passengers and escorts;
  • Food and non-alcoholic beverages may be served at the discretion of escorts, but should not be accompanied by metal utensils of any kind or knives made of any material;
  • Depending on the risk assessment, restraining devices should be available for use by escorts. The use of restraining devices by an escort should be limited to actual need and should conform to State laws and the applicable aircraft operator policy;
  • Sedatives or other drugs may be administered to potentially disruptive passengers only when their use complies with applicable legislation and the aircraft operator’s policy.

If the carriage of a potentially disruptive passenger is denied, the aircraft operator should, if requested by the State, provide reasons in writing for denying such transportation. If necessary, the operator’s response should describe the additional measures that would enable transportation in similar circumstances in the future.

The airline must include in their security programmes the procedures and measures necessary to transport deportees or prisoners accompanied by security guards on their aircraft. Prisoners and deportees are prohibited from passing through passenger terminals, and so their arrivals and departures must be co-ordinated to ensure that they are able to proceed directly to appropriate waiting areas or, indeed, directly to the aircraft.

It is very possible that deportees may pose a threat to the flight, depending on the circumstances of each case. Therefore, a profile should be prepared for each individual deportee. Some individuals are likely to object to their deportation, so they may seek a means of resisting. Whatever the outcome (based on their personal records), they must be subjected to physical inspection and should not be permitted to take any carry-on baggage into the passenger cabin.

U.S. Marshal with prisoners being transported in an aircraft via Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (Credit: United States Marshals Service)
U.S. Marshal with prisoners being
transported in an aircraft via Justice Prisoner
and Alien Transportation System
(Credit: United States Marshals Service)

The ratio of security guards to deportees varies depending on the records of the deportees. In all cases, the number of guards should never be less than one for every four deportees, and the total number of deportees who require security escorts should be limited to eight passengers on a single flight. The protocol for prisoners and deportees traveling to and from certain airports on a special flight includes:

  • Co-ordinating, in advance and in sufficient time, with the airport administration, airport security unit and the airline carrier (before the movement of deportees or prisoners to the airport), so that airport security can arrange an escort vehicle.
  • A gate must be specified through which the vehicles transporting the deportees and prisoners may enter. All equipment must be available for inspection procedures to be carried out before the deportees enter the airfield. The airport security unit must be ready to respond immediately to any disturbance. The deportees may be accompanied by an armed vehicle until the arrival of the aircraft.
  • The relevant government’s department of prisons or deportation shall provide special documentation for the transfer of the deportees, indicating the destination of the prisoners, the flight number and the number of deportees, so that airport security can take necessary measures to ensure proper handling of the situation.
  • The department of prisons or deportation shall make confirmed reservations for all deportees, whether the travel is international or domestic, while checking beforehand that the baggage allowance is either within the permissible range free of charge or that the deportee has the financial means to pay the excess weight (after coordination with the airline to determine the cost of the excess weight).
  • When deportees are required to travel on international flights, 24 hours’ notice prior to the deportation must be given to both the airport and the airline.
  • The relevant government’s department of prisons or deportation is obliged to complete travel procedures such as ticketing and delivery of baggage at the airline’s counters. In the case of international flights, passport stamping procedures are also completed within the terminal before traveling.
  • Prior to boarding, prisoners or deportees and the airport security unit accompanying them must wait in a designated waiting place until crew are ready for them to board (before general boarding). Prisoners and deportees are escorted to the aircraft under heavy guard. This usually consists of the accompanying personnel, supported by the airport security unit who will be ready to intervene in the event of an attempted escape or attack.
  • After the flight’s departure, the vehicle that transported the passenger to the airport must not leave the airport until the aircraft has completed half its scheduled journey in case the aircraft returns to its point of departure due to technical issues. In this case they must wait for instructions from the air carrier.

The following procedures aim to prevent any attempts to escape from the airport terminal prior to boarding the plane:

  • The deportee or prisoner transfer vehicle (with a sufficient number of guards from the concerned ministry on board) must be accompanied from the transfer area through the designated gate by a vehicle from the airport security unit.
  • The transfer vehicle must drive directly to the aircraft and stop in a suitable position to aid efficient boarding.
  • In the event that the aircraft is in the ramp area, the vehicle carrying the prisoners shall approach the plane steps with the airport security guards forming two lines on either side of the steps in sufficient numbers to prevent escape.
  • If the aircraft is parked on a terminal jetway, and the number of deportees is less than 20, they will board the aircraft via the service steps with the security guards on both sides of the steps. If the number is more than that, airlines must deliver a ladder to the plane to allow boarding.

Ahmad Al-Maaytah

Ahmad Al-Maaytah is an aviation security consultant based in Saudi Arabia and an ICAO certified AVSEC instructor.

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