Aviation Security: Unruly passenger incidents have increased post-pandemic

Line of Defence Magazine - Update

Unruly passengers
Unruly passenger incidents are on a post-COVID rise.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released a new analysis showing that reported unruly passenger incidents increased in 2022 compared to 2021, calling for more more prosecutions.

Latest international figures show that one unruly incident was reported for every 568 flights in 2022, up from one per 835 flights in 2021, and they most commonly involved non-compliance, verbal abuse and intoxication.

Physical abuse incidents remain very rare, but these had an alarming increase of 61% over 2021, occurring once every 17,200 flights.

“The increasing trend of unruly passenger incidents is worrying,” said Conrad Clifford, IATA’s Deputy Director General.

“Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free experience on board,” he said. “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 but persistent minority of passengers. There is no excuse for not following the instructions of the crew.”

Although non-compliance incidents initially fell after COVID-19 mask mandates were removed on most flights, the frequency began to rise again throughout 2022 and ended the year some 37% up on 2021. The most common examples of non-compliance were: 

  • Smoking of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vapes and puff devices in the cabin or lavatories
  • Failure to fasten seatbelts when instructed
  • Exceeding the carry-on baggage allowance or failing to store baggage when required
  • Consumption of own alcohol on board

“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,” said Clifford. 

IATA (International Air Transport Association) represents some 300 airlines comprising 83% of global air traffic. The incident data was collated from over 20,000 reports submitted by around 40 airlines.