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IATA: Unruly Passenger Incidents Soar by 47 Percent in 2022

As demand for air travel surged following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, so too did the number of incidents involving bad behavior from passengers

by Fergus Cole

June 7, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Rayner Simpson / Unsplash

The number of incidents involving unruly passengers on flights rose sharply in 2022 compared to the previous year, according to new data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The recently released figures reveal that there was one unruly incident per 568 flights last year—a 47% increase compared to 2021, when there was one incident per 835 flights.

The most common unruly incidents reported last year were non-compliance with rules and instructions, verbal abuse of crew or other passengers, and intoxication, which increased compared to 2021. Incidents of physical abuse also significantly increased by 61%, although still rare at one incident per 17,200 flights.

Photo: Courtesy of Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

The surge in non-compliance incidents was mainly driven by a rise in the number of passengers caught vaping in the cabin or lavatories, with other common incidents including smoking cigarettes, failure to fasten seatbelts when instructed to, exceeding the carry-on baggage allowance or failure to store baggage appropriately, and the consumption of their own alcohol onboard. While there was an initial drop in non-compliance incidents following the widescale removal of mask mandates in April, overall incidents of non-compliance rose by 37% compared to 2021.

“The increasing trend of unruly passenger incidents is worrying,” said Conrad Clifford, Deputy Director General of IATA. “Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free experience on board. For that, passengers must comply with crew instructions.”

“While our professional crews are well trained to manage unruly passenger scenarios, it is unacceptable that rules in place for everyone’s safety are disobeyed by a small persistent minority of passengers. There is no excuse for not following the instructions of the crew.”

IATA, representing around 300 airlines that make up 83% of global air traffic, used the figures to call on governments and the industry to do more to tackle unruly flight behavior. The body reminded authorities to take the appropriate steps to prosecute passengers as per the Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14), which has been ratified by 45 countries worldwide – making up a third of international passenger traffic.

“In the face of rising unruly incident numbers, governments and the industry are taking more serious measures to prevent unruly passenger incidents,” said Clifford. “States are ratifying MP14 and reviewing enforcement measures, sending a clear message of deterrence by showing that they are ready to prosecute unruly behavior.”

“For the industry’s part, there is greater collaboration. For example, as the vast majority of intoxication incidents occur from alcohol consumed prior to the flight, the support of airport bars and restaurants to ensure the responsible consumption of alcohol is particularly important.”

“No one wants to stop people having a good time when they go on holiday – but we all have a responsibility to behave with respect for other passengers and the crew. For the sake of the majority, we make no apology for seeking to crack down on the bad behavior of a tiny number of travelers who can make a flight very uncomfortable for everyone else.”