How do flight attendants handle situations involving disruptive passengers?

A disruptive passenger is one who disobeys safety or security instructions and displays threatening or abusive behavior. Often they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is illegal for an intoxicated person to board a flight, to get drunk or take drugs, or to drink alcohol that was not purchased or distributed on board the flight. ‘plane. Other causes of passenger disruption include anxiety, jet lag, prescription medications and fear of flying. Unfortunately, incidents involving disruptive passengers are on the rise, and so are the delays and disruptions they cause.


On the ground

As this problem is becoming increasingly important, airline staff are encouraged to be extra vigilant at the airport, in order to spot any potential problem passengers through the various stages of the airport – check-in, security and at the boarding gate. If a passenger is very drunk before the flight, he may be denied boarding. Airline personnel must use teamwork and communication to stay alert, mitigate risk and try to stop a problem before it starts.

Once on the plane, flight attendants monitor passengers during boarding for any signs of aggression or threatening behavior. They are on the lookout for anything suspicious or unusual because at this point if a passenger becomes unruly they may be offloaded and handed over to security. Once the plane is in flight, things get complicated.

You never know when a passenger can suddenly become unruly. Photo: Getty Images

in flight

If a passenger is suspected of becoming disruptive, flight attendants may limit alcohol given or purchased by the passenger. If the passenger becomes aggressive, the flight attendant will attempt to defuse the situation by talking to the passenger, offering them a soft drink in the meantime, and encouraging cooperation. Flight attendants are trained to spot potentially disruptive passengers and for safety, conflict management, self-defense and restraint.

If the situation escalates, a flight attendant should intervene and issue a warning to the passenger. At the same time, another flight attendant will inform the main crew member of the situation, who will then communicate what is happening in the cockpit – at this time, the safety of the aircraft, crew and passengers may be compromised. The threat level should be determined and diversion of the aircraft to the nearest airport should be considered. If the passenger does not comply with the warning and remains aggressive, restraint may be used and the passenger will be arrested upon landing.


Aviation authorities and airlines have become much less tolerant of unruly passengers lately. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) introduced a zero tolerance policy in January 2021.

The disruptive passenger can be fined, jailed, or both. They will also have to cover the cost of hijacking the plane, which could be up to $80,000. Most airlines will prohibit the passenger from using the airline for a fixed term or for life. In recent times, fines of $75,000 and $82,000 have not been uncommon.

Flight attendants detect any potential problems during work. Photo: Eurowings

Other disturbances

Of course, not all “disruptive events” end so badly. On board an aircraft, the crew must sometimes solve minor problems involving “nearby individuals”. It can be a loud passenger or a loud group, a seat-kicker, crying babies, or a passenger who fully reclines their seat. All of this can lead to another passenger reaching for the call bell.

Find solutions

A flight attendant can speak calmly to the noisy passenger(s) and encourage them to be quiet. A seat kicker may receive toys or coloring books from the crew to distract them and otherwise occupy themselves. Warming a baby’s bottle and providing baby food can help temporarily soothe crying, or the crew (if they wish) can temporarily restrain the baby to provide relief to exhausted parents. During a meal service, the flight attendant may politely encourage anyone with a reclined seat back to straighten their seat so that the passenger behind can eat comfortably.

Soft skills, spotting problems before they start and defusing problems are the answers.

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