Unruly passenger incidents increased worldwide in 2022 compared with 2021. This is revealed in an IATA report, that says that one incident was reported for every 568 flights in 2022, up from one per 835 flights in 2021. The most common incident categorisations are:

  • Non-compliance
  • Smoking
  • Failure to fasten seatbelts
  • Exceeding the carry-on baggage allowance or failing to store baggage when required
  • Consumption of own alcohol on board
  • Verbal abuse
  • Intoxication

Thankfully, physical abuse incidents remain rare, but they did increase by 61 per cent over 2021, occurring once every 17,200 flights. This increasing aggression even includes threats to kill and must be stamped out.


The strategy to reduce unruly passenger incidents revolves around regulations and guidance, each of which has several elements.

Governments and airlines must have the legal authority to prosecute unruly passengers, regardless of the state of aircraft registration, and a range of enforcement measures that reflect the severity of the incident. For this to happen, jurisdictional gaps must be eradicated.

The most obvious solution is getting more countries to sign up for Montreal Protocol 14 (MP14), which gives states the necessary legal powers. To end June 2023, some 45 nations comprising 33 per cent of international passenger traffic have ratified MP14.  

“The ratification rate is accelerating, and there is a strong pipeline with countries in an advanced stage toward ratification,” says Tim Colehan, IATA’s Assistant Director of External Affairs.

But ratifying MP14 and removing jurisdictional gaps is not a silver bullet. Enforcement action needs to be taken against those who disrupt flights.

Countries are responding within national regulations. France has extended civil and administrative penalties to cover unruly incidents onboard flights, which are more effective against less serious infractions. Other countries are considering replicating them. The United States, meanwhile, has taken a zero-tolerance approach. If a crew member or other passenger is threatened or assaulted, then there will be action taken against the offender. In 2022, some $8.4 million in fines were issued, with the most serious cases referred to the FBI to pursue criminal prosecutions.

“And the draft of the FAA Reauthorization Act proposed by the House of Representatives proposes new measures to deter interference with crew members,” says Tim Colehan. “This includes a multi-stakeholder task force to develop voluntary standards and best practices on unruly passengers reporting to the Secretary of Transportation.”

Although many airlines maintain individual lists of banned unruly passengers, the concept of government-administered lists is more nuanced. Although this is completely justifiable and a useful deterrent, efforts in other areas will likely yield better results in the short term.

The main problem with bans is that data protection laws make it difficult for airlines to share information. And individual bans can be circumvented with name changes and new passports. China and India are among the countries with national bans and government-controlled lists of unruly passengers, but a lot of work needs to be done.

“Bans can be an effective deterrent, especially where airlines can legally share that information,” says Tim Colehan. “But there are challenges to improving the existing situation and, for the moment, focusing our efforts elsewhere will be more beneficial.”


Preventing or de-escalating incidents is obviously the preferred option. Airports and civil authorities do take the unruly passenger problem seriously and there are examples of collaboration and awareness campaigns throughout the world.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the “One Too Many” campaign comprises duty-free companies, police, restaurants, bars, and airports in a concerted communications effort. As part of this, World Duty-Free puts alcohol in sealed bags adorned with messages advising customers not to open them until they reach their destination.

“The Irish Aviation Authority has a similar declaration, and a lot is being done in Norway and other countries, too,” says Jonathan Jasper, IATA’s Senior Manager for Cabin Safety. “It is encouraging that all stakeholders collaborate to ensure that nobody unnecessarily contributes to the unruly passenger problem.”

Sharing best practices for de-escalating incidents through manuals and training is equally vital. IATA issued a new guidance document at the beginning of 2022 containing advice for airline crews and some practical solutions for governments on public awareness and fixing jurisdictional gaps.

Training, meanwhile, has taken on increased importance following the disruption caused by the pandemic. 

“There are a lot of new crew that don’t have the experience or life skills to deal with some incidents,” says Jonathan Jasper. 

“And even experienced crew missed much flight time and then had mask mandates to handle. Training is constantly being reevaluated to give all crew the best possible skills to deal with post-pandemic unruly passengers. This includes spotting behaviours before they escalate.”

There is also far better support for crew following incidents. Mental health and well-being are increasingly important, and Jonathan Jasper says airlines are investing in this critical area.

“There is no excuse for unruly behaviour,” says Jonathan Jasper. “It is not just about respect for other passengers and the crew. It is about safety, which is always the industry’s top priority. The increasing trend of physical abuse is particularly worrying, and governments must enforce the law and penalise offenders. Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free onboard experience.”