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Imperative of tough legislation, sanctions against unruly passengers

By Wole Oyebade
29 September 2023   |   4:18 am
Aviation stakeholders have called for tough legislation and its enforcement to curb rising cases of unruly passengers in the local air transport sector.

Festus Keyamo, Minister of Aviation and Aerospace Development

Aviation stakeholders have called for tough legislation and its enforcement to curb rising cases of unruly passengers in the local air transport sector.

The concerned party said the industry could not be expected to deliver more on customer experience without effective deterrence of unruly and disruptive customers.

It will be recalled that local airports have had a fair share of irate passengers attacking officials and destroying facilitation equipment in protest against flight delays and cancellations.

Operators, under the aegis of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), had said they would no longer condone cases of assaults on staff and crew members, public intoxication and verbal abuses by irate passengers.

Other actions that amount to unruly conduct and infractions include, blocking an airline from operating other flights due to cancellation of a route, destroying airline properties; failure or refusal to fasten seatbelts, standing up during taxi, pilfering and general disobedience of flight rules.

Director of Research at Zenith Travels, Olumide Ohunayo, said the frequency of those cases at airports and onboard accounts for delays, disruption and revenue loss for the airlines.

Speaking at the Olisa Agbakoba Legal webinar, themed: ‘Repositioning the aviation sector in Nigeria for revenue generation and growth: The Role of Legislation’, Ohunayo said the sector is not short of legislation, but they need to go tough on errant customers.

He noted that extant legislation defined “unruly” as fighting or other disorderly conduct on board an aircraft or at the terminal building; any conduct/act constituting a nuisance to other passengers; disobedience of lawful instructions issued by the aircraft commander, flight crew, cabin attendants, check-in staff and/or security screening staff; and any conduct that endangers or is likely to endanger the safety of flight operations.

Part 17.92.3 of the Civil Aviation Act states that: “Where any passenger becomes unruly on board an aircraft or at the terminal building, the aircraft commander or airport authority shall take necessary measures including restraint where necessary: to protect the safety of the aircraft, terminal building or of persons or property therein; or to maintain good order and discipline on board or at the terminal building, and to enable him to deliver such person to competent authorities.”

Ohunayo, however, said it is important that the government and airlines have the necessary legal authority to enforce the rules and prosecute unruly passengers. He said: “For this to happen, command gaps must be eradicated for effective coordination between airlines and responsible agencies.” He noted that the United States, for instance, has taken a zero-tolerance approach to disorderly passengers.

“If a crew member, staff or other passenger is threatened or assaulted, then there will be action taken against the offender. In 2022, $8.4 million in fines were issued with the most serious cases referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to pursue criminal prosecutions. Airlines have also used the ‘ban the passenger’ option,” he said.

Ohunayo, however, said the problem with bans is that data protection laws affect information sharing and the ban can be circumvented with a change of name.

Indeed, the challenge is not peculiar to Nigeria. Globally, coronavirus-induced changes in air travel patterns and flight delays have caused frustrated air travellers to push back violently at airlines with the United States alone accounting for 5,981 cases of unruly passengers. Of the lot, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported 4,290 – nearly 72 per cent – were mask-related incidents.

Recently, a United Airlines flight traveling from Houston to Amsterdam was diverted to Chicago because of an unruly passenger, the airline says. Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, reckoned that enforcement of regulation remains important to the aviation sector, pledging that the current administration would ensure better enforcement.