Over the last 10 years the frequency of airline travel in Australia has increased. In 2014, 33.1 million Australian passengers travelled internationally and almost double that amount--60.13 million passengers--travelled domestically (BITRE 2015a; BITRE 2015b). The majority of short-term international departures of Australian residents in 2013-14 were for holidays (60%), followed by visiting friends and relatives (23%), business (10%), and other reasons such as employment, education or attending conferences (7%; Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014).
Airlines are regularly called on to respond to and manage unruly passenger incidents. The term 'unruly passenger' is used here to denote all passengers who, through their demeanour, behaviour or failure to comply with cabin crew directions, present a threat to the safety or security of the aircraft or those on board, but who are not engaged in an act of sabotage or terrorism. In June 2015, the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) held a roundtable discussion with representatives of the Australian Federal Police (AFP), regulatory and governing bodies, and five Australian airlines that provide international and/or domestic services to metropolitan, regional and remote areas. The aim of the roundtable was to examine the nature and frequency of, and responses to, unruly passenger incidents in Australia. As the roundtable was focused on discussing industry-wide policy and practice relating to unruly passenger management, one executive-level representative with responsibility for safety and security from each industry stakeholder was invited to attend.
A representative of one of the major airlines estimated it dealt with approximately 30 unruly passenger incidents per month. Given the high volume of passengers transported every month, this is a small but consistent issue for the airline. The severity of these incidents varied; they included cases of onboard smoking, failure to comply with instructions, failure to fasten seatbelts, intoxication, and offensive and disorderly conduct. Roundtable participants indicated disruptive and noncompliant passenger incidents were more common across the represented airlines than incidents involving aggression or violence.
The current rate of unruly passenger incidents was reported to be lower than that of seven or eight years ago. Roundtable participants attributed this success to a suite of strategies implemented by the airlines, as well as the high level of collaboration across and between airlines, the police and regulatory bodies. However, roundtable participants reported a number of knowledge gaps and issues that, if addressed, may further reduce the rate of unruly passenger incidents, with related safety and security implications.
The nature of unruly passenger incidents
Other than the classified internal reporting and review conducted by airlines, there is limited publicly available research examining Australian incidents of unruly passengers. However, there has been much international research on responding to and managing air-rage incidents. Definitions of air rage vary slightly between studies, but it is generally used as an umbrella term to describe any behaviour on an aircraft that interferes with cabin crew in the conduct of their duties, disrupts the aircraft's safe operation or risks the safety of those on board, excluding premeditated acts of sabotage or terrorism (Anglin et al....