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IATA Urges Governments to Close Legal Loopholes on Unruly Passengers

March 25, 2014 By: Susan Young

gavelIf the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has its way, unruly passengers who create havoc onboard flights, disobey crew orders or, worse yet, jeopardize the safety of the aircraft, could be hauled off to the slammer or, at least, get serious fines.

IATA urged government leaders meeting on March 26 in Montreal to crack down on such unruly passengers and close the legal loopholes that can prevent prosecution for serious onboard offenses.

Those government leaders will gather for a diplomatic conference at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal to discuss revisions to the Tokyo Convention.

These revisions would enhance the ability of law enforcement and other authorities to prosecute the small minority of passengers who are violent, disruptive, abusive, or acting in a manner which might endanger safety.

The Tokyo Convention was negotiated in 1963 and it gives jurisdiction over offenses committed onboard aircraft to the state of registration of the aircraft. With modern leasing arrangements, the state of aircraft registry is often neither the state in which the aircraft lands nor the state of the operator.

IATA said that limits what can be done for enforcement and, consequently, the options available to mitigate disruptive behaviors. 

For this reason, the airline industry supports proposals for jurisdiction to be extended to both the state in which the aircraft lands and the state in which the operator is located. 

The proposed revisions to the Tokyo Convention will be debated at the International Conference on Air Law at the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal from March 26 through April 4.   

"Airlines are doing all they can to prevent and manage unruly passenger incidents, but this needs to be backed up with effective law enforcement,” said Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO, who added that reports of unruly behavior are on the rise.

“The Tokyo Convention was not originally designed to address unruly behavior and there is a great deal of uncertainty among carriers as to what actions crew can take to manage incidents in the air,” Tyler emphasized. In addition, if the aircraft lands in a state other than where the aircraft was registered, local authorities are not always able to prosecute.

Tyler stressed that “passengers expect to enjoy their journey incident-free…and air crews have the right to perform their duties without harassment.”

What happens when the crew must deal with an unruly passenger who cannot be controlled. Often it means a diversion to a nearby city, not the plane’s final destination.

“The inconvenience to other travelers of a forced diversion is significant,” Tyler said. “At the moment there are too many examples of people getting away with serious breaches of social norms that jeopardize the safety of flights because local law enforcement authorities do not have the power to take action.”

In a press statement, IATA said it applauds the work of ICAO and supports the proposed revisions to the Tokyo Convention.

“Closing these legal loopholes will better deter such behavior and make passengers think twice before acting in ways that may put the safety of many at risk," said Tyler.   

IATA represents some 240 airlines comprising 84 percent of global air traffic.

More on IATA’s policy position regarding the Tokyo Convention revision and unruly passengers can be found at

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About the Author

Susan Young
A veteran of 100-plus cruises, Susan J. Young, is senior contributing editor for cruises – covering ocean, river and niche cruises for Travel Agent and

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By Susan Young | March 25, 2014
Unruly passengers on flights annoy fellow passengers and crew and can, at times, even jeopardize safety. Now, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has had “enough” – here's what the organization is saying to government officials.