By Cailey Rizzo
September 17, 2019

Disruptive passengers are showing up with increasing frequency in the skies. It is now said that there is an unruly passenger on one out of every 1,053 flights around the world, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

That number was released by the IATA in 2017 and has not been updated since. But the year prior, the frequency was only one out of every 1,424 flights. In that same year, the amount of serious infractions (called level three and include a threat to life) increased from one percent of incidents reported to three percent.

However, these onboard disruptions don’t necessarily mean that a passenger is arrested and punished for their actions. It just means that the airline has filed a report. The most commonly occurring instances are failure to adhere to safety regulations (49 percent of all incidents), intoxication (27 percent) and smoking onboard (24 percent).

Drinking on airplane
Credit: Getty Images

In fact, some passengers are able to get away with their unruly behavior with no legal action — just being banned from an airline.

International airline regulation has a few loopholes that allow some passengers to escape law enforcement. Under international law, the authorities in the state where the aircraft is registered are those who “have jurisdiction over offenses committed onboard,” according to the IATA.

So when a drunk or unruly passenger is turned over to local authorities after the plane lands, the authorities may not have jurisdiction to proceed with the case. The issue is dropped and the passenger is allowed to walk away scot-free.

In order to deal with these infractions, the IATA is hoping to pass a measure they call Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14). The amendment was drafted in 2014 in response to an increase in unruly passenger behavior and problems addressing the behavior due to the “lack of enforcement action” or a jurisdictional gap in some states, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN specialized agency. The new rules would extend legal jurisdiction for dealing with unruly behavior to the territory in which the aircraft lands.

Now, the IATA is calling on more countries to sign MP14. It will only come into force once 22 countries have signed on. So far, it is just shy of passing. Only 21 countries have signed.

Major players like Australia, Canada, China, the US and the UK have not ratified the amendment. However, according to Runway Girl Network, this is because “they adopted deterrent measures in their own national laws and so haven’t seen ratification of MP14 as a priority.”