Mask mandates and coronavirus protocols may be largely gone, but airlines are still grappling with a spike in bad behavior among passengers.

An analysis by the International Air Transport Association found a 47% spike in unruly passenger incidents from 2021 to 2022.

In 2022, the analysis found that one incident was reported for every 568 flights, up from one per 835 flights in 2021.

Flight attendant punched
Footage provided by Barrie Livingstone shows an airline passenger assaulting a flight attendant on Sept. 21, 2022.

The typical examples of non-compliance were passengers smoking or vaping, failure to fasten seatbelts when instructed, not following carry-on bag rules, or passengers drinking their own alcohol on board.

“The increasing trend of unruly passenger incidents is worrying,” said Conrad Clifford, IATA’s Deputy Director General. “While our professional crews are well trained to manage unruly passenger scenarios, it is unacceptable that rules in place for everyone’s safety are disobeyed by a small but persistent minority of passengers. There is no excuse for not following the instructions of the crew.”

Thankfully, incidents of physical abuse are far less common, but that number is also going in the wrong direction. There was one reported incident of physical abuse for every 17,200 flights in 2022, an increase of 61% over 2021, the analysis found.

The IATA, which represents around 300 airlines worldwide, is calling for a two-tiered strategy to reverse the trend.

It’s calling for all nations to ratify a 2014 protocol that outlines who has jurisdiction over flights and the ability to prosecute unruly passengers. Gaps in jurisdiction, it says, “means unruly passengers are often released without charge which undermines the deterrent.”

The Association is also asking for better collaboration between airlines, airports, airport bars, restaurants, and duty-free shops since the vast majority of intoxication incidents occur from alcohol consumed prior to the flight.

Spike in bad behavior on airlines chart
A chart showing the increases in bad behavior among airline passengers from 2021 to 2022. (IATA)

“No one wants to stop people having a good time when they go on holiday, but we all have a responsibility to behave with respect for other passengers and the crew. For the sake of the majority, we make no apology for seeking to crack down on the bad behavior of a tiny number of travelers who can make a flight very uncomfortable for everyone else,” Clifford said.