Unruly passengers face overseas jail under new rules

November 29, 2019
Unruly passenger laws
Image: EASA

Passengers who act badly on a plane after January 1 might find themselves cooling their heels in an unpleasant jail in a country they never expected to visit.

A new protocol due to come into force from January 1, 2020, makes it easier for police in the country in which a plane lands to prosecute unruly passengers.

Doing that was difficult previously thanks to a 1963 agreement that meant jurisdiction over offences committed on an international flight rested with the state where the aircraft was registered.

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This caused issues when unruly passengers were handed over to authorities after landing in a foreign territory and the International Air Transport Association estimates about 60 percent of incidents go unpunished.

A decision by Nigeria to become the 22nd state ratify the “Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft”, or Montreal Convention 2014 (MP14), means miscreants can now be more easily taken away and dealt with under local laws.

This may have significant consequences for an unruly passenger if a plane from a signatory nation is diverted because of an incident.

Airlines say the new protocol enhances the capacity of states to curb an escalation in the severity and frequency of unruly behaviour onboard aircraft.

Unruly and disruptive incidents include physical assault, harassment, smoking or failing to follow crew instructions.

IATA  said these incidents may compromise flight safety, cause significant delays and operational disruption and adversely impact the travel experience and work environment for passengers and crew.

“Everybody on board is entitled to enjoy a journey free from abusive or other unacceptable behaviour,’’ said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.

“But the deterrent to unruly behaviour is weak. About 60 per cent of offences go unpunished because of jurisdictional issues.

“MP14 strengthens the deterrent to unruly behaviour by enabling prosecution in the state where the aircraft lands.”

Countries to ratify MP14 include the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Qatar, France, Spain, Malaysia, India and China.

Those missing from the list include Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK and Canada.

De Juniac urged more states to ratify the protocol so that the prosecution of unruly passengers could be uniform globally.

He said states should also review the effectiveness of the enforcement mechanisms available to them.

The new protocol comes after a 34 per cent rise in unruly passenger incidents in Europe in 2018 prompted the European Union Aviation Safety Agency to launch a campaign against the trend.

EASA figures showed a flight was threatened every three hours and once a month the situation escalated each month to the point where an aircraft had to make an emergency landing.

Airlines are also working on a range of measures to help prevent incidents and manage them more effectively, including enhanced crew training and raising passenger awareness of potential consequences.

But the issue can be a double-edged sword for airline brands, as recent high-profile incidents on Australian carrier Qantas have shown.

Australian pop duo The Veronicas and Black Eyed Peas star will.i.am took to twitter after conflicts with crew members on separate flights saw them referred to Australian Federal Police.

Both parties took to social media to complain about overly aggressive flight attendants and sparked a media furore.