It feels like there’s never any shortage of stories about passengers going wild on flights of late – only yesterday, for example, a British lawyer was jailed for six months after spitting at a flight attendant and then launching a drunken foul-mouthed racist tirade during a nine-hour flight between India and London. Or how about the case of another Brit who has just been sent to prison for seven months for punching and knocking out a member of cabin crew on an easyJet flight? Astonishingly, it was the man’s honeymoon flight!
If stories like this seem all too common, then it’s not just you. According to the European Air Safety Agency (EASA), the safety of a flight is jeopardised by unruly or disruptive passengers once every three hours – and that’s just within Europe. And yes, it is getting worse – in fact, the number of disruptive passengers reported by airlines increased by as much as 34% in 2018 compared to the year before.
Worryingly, at least 70% of these incidents involve some form of physical aggression – whether that be to flight crew or fellow passengers (like on a recent Ryanair flight where a brawl between passengers left blood splattered across the cabin and on overhead bins).
Around one flight per month even has to make an emergency landing because of these types of incidents.
Of course, it’s not just violent passengers that are a problem. There are many other cases of passengers risking the safety of everyone on board so they can have a smoke, while others refuse to comply with the lawful instructions of cabin crew. In many cases, alcohol is a major contributing factor.
That’s why EASA has now launched a new campaign, declaring that “unruly passengers threaten your safety.” The pan-European agency has joined forces with a number of commercial partners including major airlines like KLM, Norwegian and easyJet, as well as major airports throughout the continent like Heathrow.
The message is simple – this kind of behaviour isn’t acceptable and can’t be tolerated. EASA has even made a short video which demonstrates what it means…
There is, though, one big problem. The campaign just doesn’t seem to have any teeth – it’s all very well saying this behaviour is unacceptable. Tell us something we don’t already know. It’s not like any airline is actively courting disruptive passengers.
So what does EASA suggest can be done to stem this rise in unruly passenger incidents? Well, not a lot at the moment. It’s not like the agency is backing calls to limit the consumption of alcohol at airports or to restrict how much alcohol passengers can purchase in Duty Free.
Nor are there other sensible suggestions like allowing airlines to share data on disruptive passengers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good message to share but it’s hardly like it will reach the people who actually disrupt flights.
The one upside is that with commercial support, airline workers might be more willing to stand up to disruptive behaviour and nip it in the bud before it gets too bad. Sadly, I doubt this campaign, good intentioned that it might be, will make the slighest bit of difference.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.