07 Mar

Ask the expert - we put your important questions to our Destinations Manager, Heather Pennock.

Heather explains what airports and airlines are doing to address drunk and abusive passengers?

Each month, we pose your most pertinent questions to one of our ABTA experts.  This month we asked ABTA Destinations Manager, “I have seen many stories in the media about drunk and abusive passengers disrupting flights recently. Why don’t airports and airlines do more to do more to stop this bad behaviour from happening?” and here’s what she told us:

Firstly, it’s important to stress that disruptive behaviour affecting flights is still statistically rare, but as you have pointed out, incidents do occur.

Rude or aggressive behaviour is always unpleasant to experience and is even more so in the confined space of an aircraft. It also has the potential to be dangerous and airlines, airports and aviation authorities, both at home and abroad, take disruptive behaviour extremely seriously.

Flying can be a stressful experience for some, but despite this, passengers should always be polite and respectful to ground staff, cabin crew and fellow passengers.

The most common causes of disruptive behaviour on flights include alcohol intoxication, smoking, vaping, drug use, abusive or aggressive behaviour and not following crew instructions. Engaging in these acts can result in a number of serious consequences for the individual/s concerned.

Punishment for disruptive behaviour varies depending on the severity of the offence.  According to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) acts of drunkenness on an aircraft face a maximum fine of £5,000 and two years in prison. The prison sentence for endangering the safety of an aircraft is up to five years. Disruptive passengers may also be asked to reimburse the airline with the cost of the diversion which typically range from £10,000 - £80,000 depending on the size of the aircraft and where it diverts to.  These sanctions can be more severe in other countries and can also include imprisonment abroad. In addition, airlines have a right to refuse to carry passengers that they consider to be a potential risk to the safety of the aircraft, its crew or its passengers and can also impose travel bans which can be anything up to a life ban.

Although it is still a rare occurrence, disruptive behaviour on flights is unpleasant for all concerned, with potentially serious consequences, please be assured that work continues to take place across the industry to develop new strategies to increase public awareness around such behaviour and minimise the frequency of these occurrences. 

Heather Pennock, Destinations Manager – Health, Safety, Crisis & Operations