Will Airlines Finally Crack Down on Drunk Passengers?

By Shawn Dwyer 06/05/14

The IATA adopted new guidelines to weed out drunks before they climb aboard and try to grope other passengers.

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Everyone gets a little crazed, right? Photo via

In a recent major airline conference in Qatar this week, the International Air Transport Association finally began dealing with the costly problem of unruly drunks on flights.

Culling incident reports made between 2010-2013, the IATA, which represents some 240 airlines worldwide, proposed a new set of guidelines and said that members “unanimously adopted a resolution that calls on governments and industry” to help solve a growing problem that can cost airlines hundreds of thousands of dollars per diverted flight.

In the three-year time frame studied, there were 20,000 incidents where passengers were unruly. Everything from “physical assault” to “failing to follow lawful crew instructions” were reported during that time. But there were more serious incidents reported, including “consumption of illegal narcotics, sexual harassment, and physical or verbal confrontation or threats.”

Since airlines are prone to not taking any chances, even the most minor of incidents can lead to an emergency landing, which can wind up costing a ton of money. While not all incidents involved alcohol or illicit drugs, many of them did. In 2011, one incident involved “two intoxicated business executives” physically and verbally abusing both the airline crew and fellow passengers to the point where the flight had to be diverted off its transpacific flight path.

One of the most bizarre incidents came in January 2013 on an Icelandair flight, where a 47-year-old Icelandic man was so heavily intoxicated that he began choking and spitting at other passengers, leading passengers to secure him in a seat with duct tape.

The old guidelines were vague and frustrating; one stated that “it is important to distinguish behavior that may simply be a person’s personality trait from behavior that might be a result of cultural background rather than unruly behavior.” But now, airlines will allow airport and wait staffs more authority to monitor alcohol intake and refuse service. The new proposals now await ratification from government representatives, airlines, and airports.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.