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Aviation: Disruptive passengers

A British man has been ordered to pay $21,260 (Canadian) to Westjet to compensate for the cost of fuel used during a return to Calgary at the beginning of a flight to London. The passenger had consumed six drinks while waiting for the flight, then became belligerent and repeatedly tried to get up to use the toilets during take off. The captain elected to return to Calgary but had to dump 20,000lbs of fuel before landing. The troublesome passenger was arrested and subsequently pleaded guilty to charges of failing to comply with safety instructions and resisting arrest. A restitution of $65,000 was requested but the judge said he did not want to bankrupt the traveller. However, it was pointed out that Westjet could pursue a civil case to recover the $200,000 it is estimated the passenger caused.

Meanwhile, another traveller on a United Airlines flight from London to Washington DC repeatedly banged on the screen in the back of a seat, was incoherent and slurring, and drank from an open bottle brought onto the aircraft. The captain decided to return more than an hour into the journey. The passenger plead guilty of being drunk on board an aircraft but denied assaulting a crew member and another customer. The defendant was ordered to pay £4,000 and was advised that she could face further costs if the airline elected to sue her.

Disruptive passengers

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) defines a disruptive passenger as one who: "fails to respect the rules of conduct at an airport or on board an aircraft or 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."

In the UK acts of drunkenness on board can involve a fine of up to £5,000 and two years in prison, while a grater charge of endangering the safety of an aircraft carries a term of up to five years in jail. Nevertheless the penalties haven't been a deterrent to some as the number disruptive passengers reported to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) escalated rapidly between 2012 and 2016, although they leveled off a year later as the message slowly started to get heard.

Disruptive passenger reports (source UK CAA)

2013 - 98

2014 - 145

2015 - 195

2016 - 415

2017 - 417

2018 - 326 (up to 31 October)


Although disruption can arise from drug use, mental heath issues, anxiety and frustration, excessive consumption of alcohol is the number one cause of incidents caused by passengers. Many people like a drink before flying, and The Aviation Oracle is no stranger to taking two or three gin and tonics before boarding, but that only ever had a soporific effect.