Legislation Concerning Unruly Passangers
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Legislation Concerning Unruly Passangers


The Concept of “Unruly Passengers”:

A “disruptive passenger”, as also referred to as “unruly passenger”, has been defined as “a passenger 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” under Annex 17 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation of 1944 (the “Chicago Convention”).

Although there is no universally accepted definition or classification for unruly/disruptive passenger behaviors, International Air Transport Association (“IATA”) has provided a “non-exhaustive” list of examples of such behaviors. According to such list, refusal to comply with smoking regulations and safety instructions (e.g. fasten seatbelt signs), dispute between passengers, illegal consumption of narcotics are deemed to be among unruly and disruptive behaviors on board.

Furthermore, a four-tier classification has been made under International Civil Aviation Organization’s (“ICAO”) Manual on the Implementation of the Security Provisions of Annex 6 to the Chicago Convention whereby unruly behaviors have been ranged according to their levels of threat.


Which International Legal Instruments Are There to Deal with Those “Unruly/ Disruptive” Passengers?

  • The Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed On-Board Aircraft (the “Tokyo Convention” or the “Convention”)

The Tokyo Convention applies to offences against penal law and to acts which, whether or not they are offences, may or do jeopardize the safety of the aircraft or of persons or property therein or which jeopardize good order and discipline on board.

Pursuant to Article 3 of the Tokyo Convention, the State of registration of the aircraft is competent to exercise jurisdiction over offences and acts committed on board. However, Article 4 of the Convention allows States other than the State of registration to have jurisdiction over such offences in certain cases.

The aircraft commander is also vested with authority to interfere to such offences and acts committed on board when he has reasonable grounds to believe that a person has committed, or is about to commit an offence or act by Article 6 of the Convention. With this Article, the decision about what constitutes an offence is left to the aircraft commander’s discretion.

Despite the existence of the Tokyo Convention, unruly passenger events have increased in the past years and became a serious threat to aviation safety and security. Since the provisions of the said Convention fell quite short of preventing the unruly passenger behaviors and they thus needed to be modernized, a new Protocol to Amend the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft (the “Montreal Protocol of 2014” or the “Protocol”) was adopted in 2014.


  • The Montreal Protocol of 2014:

One of the most prominent improvements that the Protocol has brought concerns the extension of jurisdiction over offences and acts committed on board. Pursuant to Article IV of the said Protocol which intends to replace Article 3 of the Tokyo Convention, mandatory jurisdiction may also be exercised by the State of intended landing and the State of operator. Should the aircraft is diverted to a third State, that State will also have jurisdiction.

Furthermore, Article X of the Protocol clarifies behaviors that should be considered to constitute an offence within the meaning of the Tokyo Convention. To that end, physical assault, threat to commit such assault against a crew member and refusal to follow a lawful instruction given by or on behalf of the aircraft commander for safety purposes will be deemed as an offence.

These changes are likely to ensure greater protection for airlines when dealing with unruly passenger events. 

Article XVIII (1) of the Montreal Protocol of 2014 states that twenty-two ratifications or accessions are needed in order for the said Protocol to enter into force. Accordingly, Turkey has deposited an instrument of accession to the Protocol on 14 March 2019 and became the nineteenth ICAO Member State to ratify it. The Protocol is expected to come into force once three more Member States submit a ratification/ accession instrument and thereafter the Tokyo Convention and the Montreal Protocol of 2014 shall be read as a single document between the contracting Parties.