Unruly Passenger – “Disruptive” v.s “Unlawful” v.s “Unruly”

[Ref SkyBrary – Unruly Passenger]

Definition of “Disruptive passenger”

ICAO Annex 17 – Security defines a disruptive passenger as: “A passenger who fails to respect the rules of conduct at an airport or on board an aircraft or (fails) to follow the instructions of the airport staff or crew members and thereby disturbs the good order and discipline at an airport or on board the aircraft.”

Definition of Unlawful

The Tokyo Convention (1963), also known as The Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, makes it unlawful to commit Acts which, whether or not they are offences [against the penal law of a State], may or do jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or of persons or property therein or which jeopardize good order and discipline on board.”

Definition of “Unruly

An unruly passenger is someone who, by action or stated intent, jeopardizes or might jeopardize the safety of the aircraft, persons or property therein or the accepted level of good order and discipline on board. To help airlines more easily identify the problem, International Air Transport Association (IATA) has defined – developed and promulgated a “non-exhaustive” list of examples of what is considered unruly or disruptive behavior whilst on board an aircraft. This list includes:

  • Illegal consumption of narcotics – an illegal drug such as heroin or cocaine
  • Refusal to comply with safety instructions (not following Cabin Crew requests such as direction to fasten a seat belt, to not smoke, to turn off a portable electronic device or by disrupting the safety announcements) – Uncooperative passenger (examples include interfering with the crew’s duties, refusing to follow instructions to board or leave the aircraft)
  • Verbal confrontation with crew members or other passengers
  • Physical confrontation with crew members or other passengers
  • Sexual abuse / harassment
  • Other type of riotous behavior – very loud and uncontrolled (examples include: screaming, annoying behavior, kicking and banging heads on seat backs or tray tables)


4 main Causes of unruly behavior include, but are not limited to:

  1. Intoxication – being drunk
  2. Drug use (both prescription and non prescription)
  3. Mental heath issues
  4. Frustration personal issues or from travel related dissatisfaction

Read More –

Levels of Threat

International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has defined a four tier threat level hierarchy. Although all National Aviation Authorities (NAA) do not follow these specific definitions, they provide valuable guidance to operators in determining the seriousness of an unruly passenger incident and in developing their policies on appropriate level of response. The ICAO level of threat specifics are as follows:

  1. Level 1 — Disruptive behavior (verbal);
  2. Level 2 — Physically abusive behavior;
  3. Level 3 — Life-threatening behavior (or display of a weapon);
  4. Level 4 — Attempted or actual breach of the flight crew compartment (refer to cockpit)


Leaning from News: Law student in court accused of indecently assaulting two Cathay Pacific crew on flight to Adelaide


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