Alcohol and Unruly Passengers

Unruly passenger incidents on-board flights have become a significant issue affecting IATA member airlines, writes Tim Colehan for NordAN. The number of unruly incidents reported to IATA increased from one incident for every 1,362 flights in 2013 to one for every 1,289 in 2014. This data combined with statistics recorded by individual civil aviation authorities and anecdotal evidence from member airlines indicates that this issue is becoming more prevalent.

Many of those passengers responsible for unruly behavior never face prosecution because of jurisdictional gaps in the Tokyo Convention 1963 (TC63), which governs offenses committed on board aircraft in flight. However, the new Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14) amends TC63 in a way that should address these jurisdictional gaps. Twenty-two States must become Parties to MP14 in order for this new treaty to enter in to force, with universal ratification being the target thereafter.

Latest Developments and Next Steps
IATA’s advocacy work on this issue is focused on a dual strategy of prevention/management of unruly passenger incidents and enhancing the legal deterrent as set out in the Core Principles which were unanimously endorsed at the 2014 AGM in Doha.  These set out the need for airlines, governments and airports to work together to tackle the issue.

IATA’s Guidance on Unruly Passenger Prevention and Management was updated in January 2015. New guidance for airlines specifically dealing with Safe Service of Alcohol on Board has also been produced (NB. many airlines already have such crew training in place irrespective of whether such training is mandated by regulatory authorities as it is in the US). This guidance has been widely distributed to the member airlines’ in-flight, security and other relevant teams.

Members have noted that intoxication as a result of drinking prior to boarding can be a trigger to unruly behavior.  Therefore, a further element of the work on prevention and management is engaging the airports to seek their assistance. For example, IATA is providing guidance and best practice to  ensure that airport concessionaires such as duty free retailers, bars and restaurants are training staff in the responsible service of alcohol (where appropriate to avoid incidents that have to be dealt with in the air).

The industry’s core principles on unruly passengers continue to gain recognition by governments. In a speech given Robert Goodwill MP, the UK Under-Secretary of State for Transport, he prescribes a multi-stakeholder approach to tackle this issue, recognizes the role of government in enforcement and highlights the need for airports to do more to avoid pre-flight binge-drinking. BAR UK and the British Air Transport Association (BATA) have done an excellent job raising the issue of unruly passenger incidents to regulators in the UK and IATA is supporting this initiative. The text of the speech can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/speeches/air-travel-and-alcohol-dont-always-mix

IATA is also advocating at the global, regional and local level to enhance the legal deterrent by promoting the ratification of the Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14). The Republic of the Congo and Gabon became the first States to ratify MP14, with many others being well advanced in the process. Ratification of international treaties like MP14 takes time because States often need to amend or implement domestic legislation prior to ratification. Dependent on the legislative process required for States to comply with the obligations of the treaty, this can take time. Our best estimate is that MP14 will enter in to force expected in 2017/8.

IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility for aviation are hosting a joint seminar on unruly passenger in Geneva on 1 April 2016, targeting decision makers from states and senior airline management. The aim of this initiative is to promote ratification of MP14 by demonstrate to governments the extent of the problems that airlines currently face when seeking prosecution of unruly passengers.

Tim Colehan is Assistant Director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA)