Aviation Laws

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. A similar definition has been adopted by the Indian law under Civil Aviation Requirements, Section 3- Air Transport Series, Series M, Part VI, Issue II, 2017.

Types of acts

A disruptive passenger is someone who by their actions or stated intentions jeopardizes or might jeopardize the safety of the aircraft, persons aboard it, or property therein. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has promulgated a ‘non-exhaustive’ list of behaviour which counts as unruly or disruptive. The list mentions the following 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.

The prominent factors responsible for such behaviour are alcohol, smoking and violent behaviour. The International Air Transport Association released statistics in 2017 stating that unruly passenger incidents occurred at a rate of one incident every 1,053 flights. These incidents have a disproportionate impact on the economic costs incurred.

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.

The Aircraft Rules, 1937

The Aircraft Rules, 1937 were formed in pursuance of the Aircraft Act, 1934. The unruly passengers were governed under this Act conjointly read with the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This legislation lays down the ideal behaviour which is expected from the passengers. The problem with this legislation was that it only listed what was the ideal behaviour. It failed to provide recourse to punitive actions or other repercussions.

Consequently, the provisions listed in the Indian Penal Code had to be invoked. The problem at this stage was that the disruptive acts of the passengers sometimes did not amount to an ‘offence’ per se. In other instances, they would be granted bail immediately.  Resultantly, no legal actions could be invoked against such unruly passengers and they walked free without having to face any legal repercussions for their deviant acts.

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