With the U.S. airline seat occupancy at a record high and the airport and flying experience being what it is these days, these incidents are only on the rise, and flight crew is the first line of defense.
Along with the FAA’s relaxation of rules on use of digital devices on U.S. airlines, came a hefty and dense 222-page report that the committee which decided on these rules put together. Besides laying out the case for the new landscape, it also has two charts that the main airline lobbying organization Airlines For America supplied to the committee and make for an interesting read.
The two charts show the data on the various forms of passenger misconduct on U.S. airlines, and their frequency, at least the reported ones. The most common type is passenger who have had too much alcohol, either on the flight, or before they boarded.
Another major category is failure to follow crew instructions, and two subsets — not putting on seatbelt and failure to put away the bags — are the most common.
Then there’s the Threat Level 1, what we commonly know as “air rage” and the many infamous incidents that get tons of media coverage around the country. This is the second most popular type of misconduct that at times has led to costly flight diversions in U.S.
It would be instructive to track the growth of this category over time, and the rise of air-rage as the airlines become more and more packed and the flight experience, especially in economy. With more relaxed digital device use onboard in U.S., would it create new forms of behavior and possible misconduct, or would it leads to more occupied and hence less unruly passengers?
And this isn’t just a U.S. focused issue. IATA, the main international airline trade group, issued its first ever “Guidance on Unruly Passenger Prevention and Management” guideline in December last year, with detailed definitions and instructions for airlines and training of crew.
Alcohol: Passenger appears intoxicated (boarding/during flight), drinking from own bottle not served by FA
Smoking: Smoking on aircraft, tampering with smoke detector
Failure to follow Crew Instructions (Regulatory): Failure to comply with crew instructions regarding carry-on baggage, portable electronic devices, seatbelt, pets, etc. (regulatory)
Threatening Behavior: As defined by Levels of Threat:
Level 1: Passenger Disruption (Suspicious/Threatening) – Includes verbal or written threats
Level 2: Physical Contact (e.g., push, hit, slap, kick, grab)
Level 3: Life Threatening (e.g., weapon displayed, credible terrorist or bomb threat, sabotage of systems, credible hijacking
Level 4: Breach of Flight Deck
Photo credit: As packed as flights are these days, can you blame them? Zhou Ding / Flickr