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Rude or stubborn passengers? Here’s what airlines can do about unruly travellers

Rude or stubborn passengers? Here’s what airlines can do about unruly travellers

From making bomb threats, hitting cabin crew members and refusing to fasten their seatbelts, unruly passengers aboard planes have been making headlines in recent months. (Images: Twitter/@veratheape, TikTok/simplyhappy777, TikTok/audikhalid)

SINGAPORE: From bomb threats, hitting cabin crew to refusing to fasten seatbelts, unruly behaviour by passengers on board planes have been making headlines in recent weeks.

Penalties have been imposed on such disruptive behaviour, with the actions taken ranging from verbal warnings to getting remanded and charged in court.

So what exactly constitutes an unruly passenger and how do airlines decide on what penalties to impose? CNA takes a closer look.


The terms "unruly passengers", "disruptive passengers" and "unruly and disruptive passengers" refer to those who fail to respect the rules of conduct on board an aircraft or to follow the instructions of crew members said the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

ICAO, which is the United Nations specialised agency tasked with promoting the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation, added that unruly and disruptive conduct on board an aircraft  "undermines good order and discipline" and may pose a threat to the safety and security of aircraft and its crew and passengers. 

"It may also bring about costly disruption to air travel when aircraft are diverted to disembark unruly and disruptive passengers."

ICAO, which sets standards and regulations for aviation safety, security, and environmental protection, and serves as the forum for co-operation in all areas of civil aviation among its 193 member states, has a list of protocols in place to handle such situations, including a threat assessment hierarchy.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), unruly or disruptive behaviour can include the refusal to comply with safety instructions like the fastening of seat belts, verbal and physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers and the making of threats of any kind to the crew, other passengers or the aircraft.

It also includes other riotous behavior like screaming, kicking and banging heads on seat backs or tray tables.


Singapore Airlines (SIA) told CNA that it is guided by ICAO in its assessment of passengers who are considered unruly or disruptive during flights.

"Our cabin crew are trained to manage unruly passengers, and will be able to make an assessment if the situation on board warrants assistance from ground authorities. If so, the cabin crew will page our ground staff for security assistance prior to arrival," said SIA.

Following this, auxiliary police officers provide security assistance to the airline upon arrival.

An internal review will be conducted to assess the severity of the incident, and a penalty may be issued accordingly. These penalties can range from issuing a letter of warning to the passenger, to blacklisting the passenger from future flights.

Scoot says the well-being of its customers and staff is its priority, and that it does not condone behaviour that compromises flight safety which includes unruly behaviour.

The airline pointed to its Conditions of Carriage, which it uses to assess if passengers are considered unruly or disruptive during flights. Those who contravene it may be refused further carriage, be prosecuted for offences committed onboard the aircraft, and may not receive a refund.

The document - which a passenger is deemed to have read, understood and accepted upon purchasing a ticket - explains that Scoot may restrain or remove, or otherwise refuse usage of its services to those endangering the safety of the aircraft, people or property on board.

Other criteria warranting these actions also include behaving in a manner to which other guests may reasonably object, as well as interfering with crew members performing their duties aboard an aircraft.
"Our pilots and cabin crew are trained to manage unruly behaviour and may exercise reasonable discretion to seek assistance from authorities when necessary. Investigations will be conducted to assess the severity of any incidents which compromises flight safety, and a penalty may be issued accordingly," Scoot told CNA.

In response to CNA queries, Malaysia Airlines said that it has policies and processes in place when assessing and managing unruly passengers on flights in accordance with the Malaysian Civil Aviation Regulations.

All aircraft operators are required under an ICAO programme which is also part of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Regulations, to impose security measures in-flight in order to prevent and restrain unruly and disruptive passengers. 

"Should disruptive behaviour occur on our flights, the flight crew will notify airline security who will then liaise with airport security for further actions," said Malaysia Airlines.

"Depending on the situation, the airline may restrict or ban the passenger from flying with the airline until further notice. Our flight crew are trained to identify and manage disruptive passengers to ensure the safety of our passengers and crew are protected."

AirAsia says it has a zero tolerance policy towards "inappropriate behaviour of any kind".

"Our crew are well trained in handling such matters inflight and we work closely with local police and relevant authorities everywhere we fly to ensure we uphold the highest safety standards at all times," the airline told CNA.

It says the safety and wellbeing of staff and guests underpins its operations at all times and "will not be compromised".

AirAsia may also refuse passengers for inappropriate behaviour, and may ban the passenger from its flights - the duration of which is determined on a case by case basis.


Under Singapore's Hijacking of Aircraft and Protection of Aircraft and International Airports Act, disruptive behaviours which constitute an offence - aside from actual hijacking and related activity - include those who make threats to hijack, endanger the safety of the aircraft or the area where aircraft flight operations take place.

Individuals found guilty of making such threats can be fined up to S$500,000, jailed for up to 10 years, or both. 

In the case of La Andy Hien Duc, who made a bomb threat on an SIA flight and slapped a cabin crew member in September, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia by the Institute of Mental Health, with the judge noting that his culpability for the offences has been reduced due to his mental condition.

He was given a discharge amounting to acquittal for making the bomb threat, after the prosecution administered a stern warning to him, and his jail term was backdated since his first date of arrest on Sep 28. He did not serve any additional jail time.

La was deported from Singapore on Nov 5 and will be barred from re-entering the country.

In contrast, a group of passengers who refused to fasten their seatbelts during a Scoot flight's descent were escorted off the aircraft by airport authorities on Tuesday for further investigation.

A man who was recorded verbally abusing a SIA cabin crew member on a flight from Bangkok last week was first given a verbal warning before getting blacklisted by the airline after he hit an employee on his connecting flight.

ICAO, of which Singapore is a council member state, said in its Manual on the Legal Aspects of Unruly and Disruptive Passengers that it believes the penalties and sanctions for such passengers should be left to each state, as unruly and disruptive behaviour "which is regarded as an offence in one jurisdiction may not be regarded as an offence in another".

Under its Montreal Protocol 2014 treaty, the state of scheduled landing has the necessary jurisdiction and may deal with unruly passengers under their own laws, irrespective of where the aircraft is registered. The state of the operator can also exercise jurisdiction. This gives governments the ability to prosecute and take enforcement action against unruly passengers where appropriate.

However, ICAO noted that international conventions relating to aviation security were designed to combat terrorism, including hijacking, sabotage and similar forms of unlawful interference against civil aircraft, but were not designed to deal with less serious types of offences or acts committed by unruly and disruptive passengers.

ICAO added that "many unruly and disruptive passengers have not been subject to enforcement action" due to several factors, including the costs involved in taking perpetrators and witnesses to court, and the State's decision not to exercise its jurisdiction if the perpetrator is not its national.

Source: CNA/ic(rj)


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