Unruly Passengers to Confront or Not?

Should you get involved in situations where there’s a problematic passenger on board?

I would say no. Let the cabin crew do their job and sort things out. Flight attendants are trained to handle all kinds of situations even those when someone becomes unruly and violent.

Are there exceptions to the rule? If the cabin crew ask for assistance and if you are capable of holding your own in a situation like this, then yes. Especially if you have experience or are trained in crowd control or mediation. Otherwise if you have self-defence knowledge, perhaps ex-army or police, speak to the cabin crew and assist. On some aircraft among the passengers they may also be an air marshall or a law enforcement agent. So stand back and leave the dirty work to them.

If you have physical or medical issues, mobility or heart problems to be more precise, I wouldn’t contemplate getting involved unless of course you are in the middle of the action but even then try to solve things tactfully or get out of the way as soon as possible and let others de-escalate the situation. It is not a good idea to get your blood pressure up and get your heart racing. Other health consequences could arise.

De-escalation and Mitigation

In the early stages communication, listening and body language are very important. Knowing the reason why there’s a problem and calming things down is the first step in mitigation. There’s a whole procedure that must be followed for this to work. Physical force should be the last resort but it may be necessary. Important to remember there can be legal ramifications if there is assault, injury or death. Tread carefully.


Unruly passengers can be restrained with cable ties and adhesive tape. Even trouser belts if nothing else is available. I know flight crew have tape stored away. I’ve read stories where passengers (mostly drunk and unruly) have been bound to their chair. I can confirm this when I got into a conversation with one flight attendant talking about a roll of tape marked “Fragile” I had put in my carry-on instead of the checked luggage. I was taking the tape with me just in case my hardside luggage wouldn’t close properly. It was duly confiscated at departure before boarding back in Australia. The flight attendant responded they are not worried if a passenger had tape with them in the cabin since they themselves carry it on board. They are more preoccupied with passengers becoming violent and using other implements as weapons.

Disruptive behaviour

This is happening more often on planes. It could be the enclosed space of the cabin and limitations of movement. Perhaps it’s the air quality and pressurised cabin that gets to people’s heads. Or just plain and simple bad behaviour. Some seem to be in another world and forget they are with others. Some are bad mannered and inconsiderate while others just don’t want to follow rules and directives. Some make the cabin their home and act as they please and if they don’t get their way they throw a tantrum, become disruptive or have a complete meltdown.

A few points to consider:

  • The cabin is not your home, you are not alone
  • It’s not a stage either
  • You are not going anywhere fast so relax and keep calm
  • Have respect and consideration for others
  • If there’s a problem let the cabin crew know so it can be resolved
  • Communication is very important, do it politely
  • Manners go a long way
  • Follow the rules and directives of the cabin crew
  • And…no one wants aggravation especially while confined in a tube at 36,000 feet

Final word

Unless you have experience with unruly people or are trained in de-escalation techniques the best advice is to steer clear. It is very possible the situation may get worse when passengers interfere. Not everyone has a cool head. Some like confrontation and jump in. There is also the possibilty the unruly passenger may feel threatened by too many people and become violent. Remember, do not engage unless in imminent danger of physical harm.

Note: This opinion piece is not in response to any incident related to refusal to wear a mask during the COVID-19 mandates.

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