While the number of flights operated has decreased and traveling has become more challenging due to the COVID-19 outbreak, airports internationally have reported increasing incident rates caused by unruly and disruptive passengers.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the incidence of disorderly passengers has doubled since 2020, and the number continues to rise even in 2021.

An informal survey of IATA’s Cabin Operations Safety Technical Group revealed that over 1,000 incidents of non-compliance occurred during a single week. Furthermore, the same revealed a 55 percent increase in passenger incidents, VisaGuide.World reports.

“Not wearing a mask is arguably no different to not wearing a seatbelt or not putting your laptop away. But because of the pandemic and the public health implications, not wearing a mask makes it much more personal and has caused a confrontation between passengers,” Tim Colehan, IATA’s Assistant Director, Government, and Industry Affairs, said.

He also noted that such incidents led governments, such as the United States, to take a zero-tolerance approach and encourage incident reporting by the crew. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has reported more than 4,600 incident reports from January to October 2021, out of which 72 percent were related to passengers refusing to wear a mask. About 849 of these reports have been investigated, whereas a yearly average of investigated cases over the last decade stood at 142 – marking a 497.8 percent increase.

Similar challenges have been common internationally, in response to which the Tokyo Convention of 1963 was established. This convention regulated the right to prosecute resided with the state in which the aircraft was registered.

However, the convention wasn’t entirely practical as it could cause problems for those landing in a foreign country. Local authorities sometimes assume that they do not have the authority to check aircraft registered in another state or when the operator is a foreign certificate holder (AOC). This allows disorderly passengers to be able to carry on with their journeys without any sanction for their misbehavior.

Furthermore, the Montreal Protocol 2014 (MP14) modifies the Tokyo Convention and gives jurisdiction to the country in which an aircraft lands. Where countries have ratified MP14 and imposed appropriate local laws, authorities have the jurisdiction to handle the unruly passengers that arrive in their territory, regardless of where the aircraft is registered.

“It has taken the pandemic to focus regulatory minds on the issue of unruly passengers, but progress has been quite rapid by international convention standards. Also, many countries, such as Australia, France, United States, and the United Kingdom, already have provisions in their national laws to allow prosecution of unruly passengers irrespective of where the aircraft was registered,” Coleman said by also adding that IATA would like to see equal efforts given for Tokyo Convention to apply for MP14.

MP14 became effective on January 1, 2020, when Nigeria became the 20th country to ratify. As of September 2021, Russia has been the latest to ratify the Protocol, taking the total number to 32 countries. The next countries to ratify the Protocol are the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, which are two top ten aviation markets.