In one recent incident with an American Airlines flight from São Paulo (GRU) to New York (JFK or LGA, dunno), the crew decided to land in Brasilia (BSB), Brazil because one couple was fighting (source in Portuguese).

In this case, the crew decided to make a landing in an airport outside their flight plan, and remove the fighting passenger couple from the aircraft. Because of Brazilian regulations on the crew working hours, the aircraft was then grounded for the day.

In the scenario where:

  • passengers aboard an international flight (during flight) begin fighting between themselves (the shouting at each other, possibly bare-fist only kind of fight) and refuse to heed the flight crew's warnings and requests (but not in a life-threatening way), what other options could the crew have besides the one used in the incident above?
  • $\begingroup$ There is a 1. in the question, but not a 2.? $\endgroup$
    – chirlu
    Dec 29, 2016 at 21:33
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ What options do the passengers have when the crew go berserk? $\endgroup$
    – TomMcW
    Dec 29, 2016 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ Cut the oxygen to the cabin by turning off the compressors, heh, heh. $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2016 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ @TomMcW: That could be a good question as, if we exclude hijacking, the statistics for serious harmful acts are against pilots. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Dec 30, 2016 at 15:54
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My flight attendant friend told me they are taught to ram them with the cart $\endgroup$
    – Antzi
    Jan 1, 2017 at 18:09

1 Answer 1


See Chapter 4 of this IATA document for flight crew management of unruly passengers.


In general, they will weed a lot of the negative behavior out on the ground prior to boarding by looking for signs of agitation or aggressiveness towards other passengers or crew. Should a passenger becom unruly while enroute, the following is generally done.

Assess the situation and level threat: what's happening? who is doing it? what are their grievances? Are the legitimate e.g. A family member having a medical emergency or trivial e.g. Passenger in 22B is drunk and aggressive?

If there are other than legitimate reasons for the disruption, action in taken using the use-of-force continuum:

Physical presence - flight crew will be nearby watching subject.

Verbal commands - confront subject. Inform them of both the airline's and Law Enforcemnt's zero tolerance policy toward their exhibited behavior. Inform them if they continue with this behavior the aircraft will be landed, they will be placed under arrest by LE on the ground, and that penalties for their actions are severe. Try to calm them down as well, but do NOT serve them alcohol, even if requested.

If behavior continues, quietly inform the cockpit crew of the disruption and they will make arrangements to divert to nearby airport and inform local airport police and other LE agencies to be ready on the ground.

If passenger has become so unruly that they are posing an immediate threat to other passengers around them, physical force can be used to restrain them by the flight crew. This poses a high risk and should only be done as a last resort to regain control of the cabin. If there is a federal Sky Marshall(s) on board they can assist the crew here as well.

Restraints such as handcuffs and the waist belts may be used to immobilize subject until LE can take over. Divert will become urgent.

Electro Muscular Disruptors - flight crews are now being equipped with and trained on the use of the TASER EMD systems to immobilize unruly passengers in order to restrain them.

If subject's actions pose an immediate threat to life and limb of passengers and threaten the safety of the aircraft and crew (VERY low probability but it is is a contingency), deadly force may be used to neutralize the threat. Near as I know some Capt./FOs do carry firearms as do Sky Marshals. I'm not aware of guns being issued to flight attendants.

  • $\begingroup$ Carlo, the kind of behaviour I am meaning in the question is the one described in pages 27 and 28 of the document linked by you. Since the scenario is in-flight, that would be the "cabin crew actions" part of the helpcard. But it is blanked out. Do you know what is in that sections? $\endgroup$ Dec 29, 2016 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ Second to last paragraph... do you mean "now being" instead of "not being"? $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Dec 29, 2016 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ In the incident pictured at the question, the quarrying couple was not arrested upon landing, but they were barred from re-boarding the plane (and probably lost their tickets). $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2016 at 0:58

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