What happens when a law is broken on an airplane?

Contrary to what some may believe, flights are not always physically or emotionally safe for the passenger. From time to time, unfortunate or unwanted incidents occur regarding verbal altercation, racist language, sexual harassment or outright violent behavior. For the most part, one can rest easy knowing that airline personnel, before boarding and during the flight, are watching for unsavory characters and potential bursts of bad behavior. Although every offense is different, here is some information, in a nutshell, on what happens when a law is broken on an airplane.

Flight attendants are the first responders

For small acts of misbehaviour, such as being too loud or rude to other passengers or cabin crew, it is the flight attendants who will step in to determine what can be done. Flight attendants receive basic training in dealing with abusive passengers who seek to create trouble, particularly after drinking more than they should. For aircraft safety reasons, more than two flight attendants may gather collectively to dispel tension as they may not allow a passenger to spoil the flight, injure someone or wander off.

Second, most flights have an air marshal or two on board incognito so they can quickly defuse a situation that seems problematic. They usually step in when asked or if they are close enough to witness the situation for themselves. All reasonable measures will be used to detain a passenger if necessary. For more violent and dangerous potential crimes such as terrorism, murder, hijacking, etc., the pilot will be informed who, in his capacity as commander-in-chief, can order drastic measures such as physical restraint and abuse of the person who poses a threat or even drug them. In some extreme cases of breach of safety, the pilot can change course at will and have an unplanned early landing.

Communication with air traffic control

When the pilot has determined the level of the threat (even if it is relatively minor, such as a drunk and abusive passenger), he will radio and notify air traffic control as soon as possible. This gives advance notice to the relevant authorities on the ground to prepare and this may include calling the police to the area. Upon landing, the police will enter the plane, immobilize the passenger(s) in question and arrest them, subjecting them to the laws of the country or state where they landed. Keep in mind that many minor incidents go fairly unpunished by order of the pilot as some people may experience health issues, jet lag, extreme exhaustion, etc., especially if they are on their third or fourth flight in two days. Having edibles on a plane when that flight does not allow it, for example, then refusing to return the goods may be seen as a less than ideal minor behavior incident.

Severe cases

For situations that have gotten out of control, the perpetrator may even end up with a hefty fine or jail time in the country where the plane landed. For this reason, they better hire a lawyer as soon as possible to deal with the charges and they can search by location, for example for a Orlando Criminal Defense Attorney. Be aware that in many cases the perpetrator can be extradited to their own country to face charges as well. Aviation laws are constantly updated because the Tokyo Convention, which is highly respected in this regard, is decades old and does not encompass all events that may occur.

Here are some incidents classified according to severity that can occur on an aircraft or that have historically occurred during occasional flights:-

  • Interference or law of compliance– this is a very common occurrence in which a drunk or rude passenger will use vulgar or rude speech against another passenger or one of the cabin crew. Most airlines have strict rules about being rude to crew or flight attendants, so this violation is usually nipped in the bud and cannot escalate. Flight attendants or other crew members will use their verbal training to calm the passenger down and give them what they need or force them to accept the situation as it is. Most countries have federal charges regarding interference with air personnel and this can become a serious charge.
  • Threaten or harass– if a passenger verbally, physically or sexually harasses anyone around them in any capacity, this will also not be tolerated. Perpetrators who use a loud voice or sarcasm or who threaten to harm anyone in any way usually face charges upon landing and evidence may also be stored for this purpose.
  • Possess firearms, rifles or other concealed weapons– this charge is a precursor to more serious but very infrequent incidents such as hijacking or terrorism. If someone is in possession of concealed weapons such as guns or a knife and intends to use them or threatens to use them, the air marshals on board the aircraft will use physical force to eliminate the threat. The passenger can even be locked up separately after being disarmed and forcibly restrained. When they arrive, they risk facing very serious charges in that country or state.
  • Terrorism– this is the most serious crime that can be committed, but it rarely occurs, especially on board flights. If the terrorist is trained to assemble an explosive or use firearms during the robbery and fully shows his intention to do so, he can even be sentenced to life imprisonment or worse for that particular crime.

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