Unruly aircraft passenger

An unruly or disruptive aircraft passenger is a passenger on a commercial aircraft whose behavior poses risk to the safety and security of crew and other passengers. With a lack of access to law enforcement while flying, flight attendants (and sometimes passengers) are charged with the responsibility to handle such passengers.[1]

Generally, such passengers are not at risk of committing terrorist acts, but since the September 11 attacks, such incidents have been taken more seriously due to increased awareness of terrorism.[2]

In the United States, several hundred and sometimes more than one thousand such incidents are reported on commercial airlines each year.[1][2][3]


The most common cause of a passenger acting unruly is from intoxication. The availability of alcoholic beverages on airlines and at airports enables passengers to drink excessively before and during flights. Flight attendants have the ability to keep track of how many drinks are served to passengers while on board an aircraft, but have no way of knowing how many are consumed prior to boarding.[1] Despite urban legends, however, the effects of alcohol are not increased at altitude.[4]

Other causes include the use of drugs (prescription or illegal).

Sometimes, sober passengers are disruptive by failing to obey laws and rules that must be observed or arguing with flight attendants.[2]

Stressful situations, such as jet lag, flight delays, or other difficult or annoying passengers in one's vicinity, can lead passengers to an increased likelihood of becoming agitated and air rage.

The lack of Oxygen due to saving fuel in compressing the thin air outside has its effect.

Handling unruly passengers

Extremely unruly passengers who must be restrained are restrained using a variety of methods. Some airlines carry flexcuffs for this purpose. Others use seatbelts, adhesive tape, neckties, shoe laces, or whatever is available on the aircraft. While the United States does not allow passengers to actually be confined to the seat or any other part of the aircraft, and only allows their individual body parts to be restrained, other countries, such as Iceland, do allow tying an unruly passenger to the seat.[1]

Sometimes a flight must be diverted to allow an aircraft to dispose itself of an unruly passenger as soon as possible.[2]


In the United States, passengers who disrupt the duties of a flight crew member can face fines up to $25,000 and sometimes lengthy prison sentences.[2][3] In addition, the airline can choose to ban the problem passenger from any future flights.

In Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority reserves the right to use stun guns to subdue unruly passengers.[5]

Unruly crew members

Less common are incidents of unruly crew members. Long hours and low pay have been seen as factors contributing to unruly behavior in staff.


External links

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