Whether they’re pretending to be an airplane captain or becoming aggressive and forcing an airplane to divert, badly behaved airplane travelers continue to hit headlines.
In the photo above, actors play out a disruptive scenario as part of training carried out by the aviation security company Green Light.
But from January 2020, newly ratified legislation will seek to curb the issue of unruly airplane passenger behavior — or at least punish wrongdoers and potentially deter future troublemakers.
Current laws make prosecuting disruptive airplane passengers a bit tricky: The Tokyo Convention of 1963 prescribes that jurisdiction over offenses committed while an airplane is in the sky is automatically conferred on the state where the aircraft’s registered.
This means if the aircraft lands in a different state — either as scheduled or following a diversion — local law officials struggle to take control of the situation.
While some countries, including the US and the UK, have their own regulations that allow local law enforcement to handle such a scenario, other states have previously been left in a loop.
Not any more: The Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14) has officially been ratified by the required 22 states — and therefore will come into practice from January 1, 2020.
Punishing bad behavior
On November 26, 2019, Nigeria became the 22nd country to ratify MP14.
“We want as many countries as possible to ratify this treaty,” says Chris Goater, assistant director, corporate communications for Europe at the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
“We expect more to do so — getting to 22 in five years doesn’t sound that fast, but actually by the standards of international treaties that’s really quick.”
That speed, Goater tells CNN Travel, is in part a reflection of the severity of the unruly passenger issue, but it also indicates how out of date the Tokyo Convention had become.
“There was a lot of goodwill for this change,” says Goater.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has collected data on disruptive passenger behavior since 2007.
The latest available stats, from 2017, suggest an average of one incident for every 1,053 flights.
Not every airline is part of IATA, and not every airline will report every incident — so whether the issue is really getting worse is hard to judge.
But in the age where everyone’s got a camera in their pocket ready to film an incident, unruly passenger incidents do feel increasingly omnipresent.
Goater says IATA is committed to turning the tide on the issue, whether by supporting new legislation or running campaigns.
“Crew and other passengers who just want a nice peaceful flight deserve better, which is why we’re tackling this as a matter of urgency,” he says.