20 Dec 2023

Air NZ unruly passenger incidents rise to nearly 200 a month

9:26 am on 20 December 2023
Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand issues between five and 10 ban notices to customers each month for disruptive and unacceptable behaviour. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Air New Zealand is seeing a rise in the number of abusive passengers, with nearly 200 reports a month of unacceptable behaviour.

The airline said the unruly behaviour was becoming more extreme.

Chief operational integrity and safety officer Captain David Morgan said the severity and impact of the incidents had increased over time and there had been recent cases where people had been assaulted.

"The large majority of our customers are fantastic and treat people with courtesy and respect, but unfortunately, there are some people who fly with us who refuse to follow instructions, verbally abuse other people, or are disruptive. We've recently also seen instances of people being physically abusive."

Captain Morgan said the company had "zero tolerance" for such behaviour and the culprits would be banned from travelling on Air New Zealand planes.

While holiday travel could be stressful there was no excuse for taking this out on other passengers, Air New Zealand ground staff, cabin crew or pilots, he said.

The airline was expecting Saturday to be its busiest day and estimated there would be a total of 1.7 million customers travelling with them over the holiday period (up until January).

Morgan urged holiday travellers to embrace some Christmas spirit and show respect to their fellow passengers and to staff.

"We want to thank all of those customers who go the extra mile to say thank you to our frontline staff and are considerate of others - this makes such a difference to what are often long, busy days for our people at this time of year."

In August, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) released analysis outlining a global increase in unruly passenger incidents.

There was one incident reported for every 568 flights in 2022, up from one per 835 flights in 2021.

Physical abuse remained rare, IATA said, but did increase 61 percent over 2021, occurring once every 17,200 flights. The increasing aggression even included threats to kill.

The most common disruptive behaviour reported was smoking, failure to fasten seatbelts, exceeding the carry-on baggage allowance or failing to store baggage when required, consumption of a passenger's own alcohol on board, verbal abuse, and intoxication.

Air New Zealand issues between five and 10 ban letters to customers each month for disruptive and unacceptable behaviour, repeated failure to follow crew instructions and intoxication. The penalties range from 24-hour to permanent bans from traveling on the airline.

Morgan told Morning Report they had several ways of dealing with unruly passengers - which they tried to do before departure if it happened then.

"At the airport, if people are misbehaving then we'll ensure they don't get anywhere near the airplane.

"On the aircraft, our crew are well trained and specifically trained to deal with unruly customers and then of course subsequent to that, the airline will look to take action against people who we feel shouldn't be on our aircraft in the future."

Under the Aviation Crimes Act, the airline had the right and ability to restrain passengers who significantly misbehaved, Morgan said.

"But it's got to get to a significant level of disruption before that actually occurs and in that case, of course, the airplane will be diverted."