Aviation Law


The phenomenon of disruptive passengers is not new, yet, the number of incidents is constantly on the rise. The International Air Transport Association released data in 2017 which stated that there was 1 unruly passenger incident per 1,053 flights. In 2017 alone, approximately 8,371 incidents of unruly passenger behaviour were reported.

The airlines, governments and passengers are continuously worried about the increasing frequency of these incidents. The severity of these incidents poses a disproportionate impact on the safety and security of the passengers. However, more often than not, these passengers go unpunished due to lacuna in the law.

What constitutes unruly behaviour

The definition of a disruptive passenger is laid down in Annex 17 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Chicago Convention. This Convention on International Civil Aviation Security Safeguarding International Civil Aviation Against Acts of Unlawful Interference defines an “unruly passenger” as a passenger, who does not respect the rules of conduct at the airport or on-board a flight or fails to follow the instructions issued by the airport staff or crew members. Owing to this behaviour, such a passenger disturbs the good order and discipline at an airport or on-board an aircraft.

The list of unruly or disruptive acts:

  • Illegally consuming narcotics,
  • Smoking cigarettes in the aircraft,
  • Consuming excessive alcohol,
  • Refusing to comply with safety instructions,
  • Verbal or physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers,
  • Sexual harassment/abuse,
  • Making threats towards the crew or other passengers, and
  • Other types of reckless behaviour, including screaming, banging head on the seatbacks, etc.

Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is the principal regulatory body which primarily governs civil aviation in India. It is responsible for dealing with safety issues, regulation of air transport services, enforcement of civil air rules and regulations and other such tasks. It also coordinates its functioning with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). One of the main tasks of this body is to ensure air safety and airworthiness standards.

Indian laws 

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) is the responsible body for the governance and administration of the aviation industry in India. It plays a crucial role in the formulation and execution of various national policies and programs aimed at the development of civil aviation. It is also responsible for devising schemes for efficient growth of civil aviation. It ensures the implementation of various legislations, including the Aircraft Act, 1934.

Civil aviation requirement on the handling of unruly passengers

The aforementioned problem was rectified by the Government by introducing the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR). This mandated the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to maintain a no-fly list. Additionally, CAR also defines the term ‘unruly passenger.’ It borrows this definition from Annex 17 of the Chicago Convention.

The notification further divides the unruly behaviour into three categories:

Level 1: Unruly behaviour is defined consisting of acts such as making inappropriate physical gestures, verbally harassing passengers, or the crew, unruly intoxication, etc.

Level 2: Passengers indulging in physically abusive behaviour such as pushing, hitting, grabbing, touching inappropriately, kicking, etc.

Level 3: Passengers showcasing life-threatening behaviour, via actions such as eye gouging, damaging the aircraft, attempting or actually breaching the flight crew compartment, etc.

Kunal Kamra vs. IndiGo Case:

The recent incident in 2020, wherein, an Indian comedian Kunal Kamra was banned from various airlines for heckling a fellow passenger is a primary example of the arbitrariness. The airline imposed a 6 months ban on him prior to constituting an internal committee. Further, several other airlines followed this suit without any valid grounds. Consequently, a legal notice was served upon IndiGo for arbitrary actions against the comedian.

Hence, it can be inferred that these Rules grant arbitrary powers to the airlines. Although the motive of these rules is to mitigate the incidents of unruly passenger behaviour, the process mentioned therein can be challenged in the Courts for the reasons mentioned above.

By Rajat Malhotra@ lexqlic





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