With air travel recovering from the pandemic, a new study found that bad behavior among airline passengers has continued to rise.
A new analysis by the International Air Transport Assn. shows that unruly-passenger incidents on airplanes increased 47% from 2021 to 2022, from one incident per 835 flights to one incident per 568 flights.
Though incidents of physical abuse often draw the most attention, the most common types of incidents were “non-compliance, verbal abuse and intoxication,” according to the report. Other misdeeds included bringing outside alcoholic drinks into the cabin, failing to wear a seat belt and packing too much baggage.
Physical abuse incidents occurred on 1 in every 17,200 flights, a small fraction, but still an increase of 61% over the prior year. By comparison, the odds of a person being struck by lightning in their lifetime are 1 in 15,300, according to the National Weather Service.
The rise of incidents comes despite the Federal Aviation Administration issuing a zero-tolerance order in 2021 against unruly behavior. Instead of receiving warnings or being required to seek counseling, violators began to face criminal prosecution or fines of as much as $35,000. Airlines also have the authority to ban an unruly passenger from flying on their carrier in the future.
“Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free experience on board,” said IATA Deputy Director General Conrad Clifford. “While our professional crews are well trained to manage unruly passenger scenarios, there is no excuse for not following the instructions of the crew.”
The FAA said in April that it had sent 250 cases of unruly passengers to the FBI for potential criminal prosecution, including one in March, when a man tried to stab a flight attendant with a broken-off spoon.
FAA numbers showed that about two-thirds of unruly-passenger reports were related to face masks before April 2022, when a federal judge struck down masking requirements on planes and public transportation.
Incidents of passengers failing to comply with the flight crew, the most common category in 2022, were up 37% over 2021 and included smoking and vaping in lavatories, “failure to faster seat belts when instructed,” carrying on too much baggage or failing to store it, and consumption of outside alcohol on the plane, according to the IATA.
The data come from more than 20,000 reports submitted by some 40 airlines.
“No one wants to stop people having a good time when they go on holiday — but we all have a responsibility to behave with respect for other passengers and the crew,” Clifford said.