Flight attendant Steven Slater has become a cult hero for his celebratory, emergency slide exit from the doldrums of dealing with unruly passengers. His frustrations aren’t isolated; airline incidents caused by unruly passengers are on the rise.
According to a study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the total projected incidents in 2009 increased more than six-fold compared to 2007. The projection is based on data from January 2007 through June 2009 from IATA’s database of reports by member airlines as well as a direct survey. In total, the data included 102 airlines and 10,614 reports, of which 2,477 were incidents involving unruly passengers.
Most incidents of unruly passengers are never prosecuted. In some cases, there is a lack of jurisdictional clarity, especially in international cases. In others, the airlines choose not to enlist police authorities, or choose not to pursue any legal actions beyond having a disruptive passenger escorted from the plane.
What crazy or crass passenger behaviors do airline attendants have to deal with the most? The Daily Beast consulted IATA’s statistics for the answer.
#1, Smoking or consuming narcotics Approximate percentage of incidents: 35
Notable transgression: Earlier this month, an American Airlines flight flying from JFK Airport in New York to Los Angeles was diverted to New Mexico when a passenger allegedly lit up in the bathroom. All of the 160 passengers on the flight had to deplane while the FBI and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the plane.
A man, who was reportedly intoxicated, allegedly refused to follow crew directions to take his seat and locked himself in the bathroom.
#2, Refusal to comply with safety instructions Approximate percentage of incidents: 20
Notable transgression: An unruly passenger aboard an AirTran Airways flight flying from Atlanta to San Francisco in January caused the North American Aerospace Defense Command to dispatch two F-16s to accompany the plane to land in Colorado Springs. A man, who was reportedly intoxicated, allegedly refused to follow the crew's directions to take his seat and locked himself in the bathroom. Following the emergency landing, the plane was inspected and returned to the air.
#3, Verbal confrontation Approximate percentage of incidents: 15
Notable transgression: Bradley Radtke of South Carolina was aboard a flight from St. Petersburg, Florida, when he allegedly began acting erratically, forcing the plane to return to the gate before taking off. Radtke was reportedly intoxicated and overly obnoxious. “He was being loud and boisterous, making profane and inappropriate comments to other people on the plane,” said spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. After he was escorted from the plane, Radtke allegedly continued his belligerence, kicking the police officers who were assisting with the incident. He was arrested and charged with disorderly intoxication and battery of a police officer.
#4, Physical confrontation Approximate percentage of incidents: 5
Notable transgression: A Canadian woman aboard a flight traveling from Calgary forced the plane to make an emergency landing in Winnipeg after trying to open a door to the outside during the flight. She was accused of assaulting a crew member and another passenger as they tried to restrain her. She was arrested and charged with mischief, assault, and endangering the safety of an aircraft.
#5, Uncooperative passenger Approximate percentage of incidents: 4
Notable transgression: Matthew Kleindorfer of Las Vegas pleaded guilty in May to battery, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace for his unruly behavior aboard a SkyWest flight from Helena, Montana, to Salt Lake City. The plane was diverted to Idaho Falls after Kleindorfer pounded on the cockpit door, claimed he was a space alien and requested to fly the plane, according to authorities. He was ordered to serve two years probation.
#6, Threats Approximate percentage of incidents: 3
Notable transgression: In January, a 56-year-old man on a flight from Portland, Oregon, to Maui acted erratically enough to cause the plane to turn around after 90 minutes in the air. Joseph Johnson was charged with interference with the performance and duties of a flight attendant, a federal crime. He allegedly became upset when he was not allowed to stow his bag under his exit row seat, and then passed a comment card in a sealed envelope to a flight attendant that made reference to plane crashes and Gilligan’s Island, which the crew deemed threatening. Once back in Portland, Johnson was questioned by authorities and the plane refueled and headed again for Hawaii.
#7, Sexual abuse or harassment Approximate percentage of incidents: 3
Notable transgression: A flight from Las Vegas to Honolulu was forced to change its course and land in Los Angeles after a female passenger accused a male passenger of harassment. In Los Angeles, the man was questioned and released after the woman declined to press charges. The Hawaiian Airlines flight resumed its trip and landed three hours late in Honolulu.
#8, Other riotous behavior Approximate percentage of incidents: 15
Notable transgression: A holiday flight from London to Cuba turned nightmarish last year when more than 40 Irish passengers became drunk, over excited, and disruptive, with one attempting to open the emergency exit mid-flight. "They were smoking and ignoring all instructions from the crew—and one of the kids thumped a passenger for no reason. I was so scared that I left my seat and sat with the crew," said one of the other passengers on the Thomas Cook flight. On the return flight, the same group of travelers was reportedly drunk again, and 17 were barred from boarding.