Shame in the skies: Which? reveals worst airlines for disruptive passengers

Nearly one in six (17%) Ryanair passengers have been on a flight with a disruptive passenger in the last year, according to a new Which? Travel survey.

The budget carrier tops the consumer champion’s rankings of shame in the skies, with Thomas Cook (15%) and TUI (14%) coming in second and third place respectively. easyJet (13%) was ranked fourth.

Overall, one in 10 passengers reported that they had experienced a flight blighted by shouting, drunkenness, verbal abuse or other obnoxious behaviour.

Which? heard from one holidaymaker who said an enraged fellow passenger had to be “wrestled to the floor” by an off-duty policeman when they were refused more alcohol after downing four vodkas.

Another passenger told of a flight from Newcastle to Alicante where a drunken stag party tried to set fire to a seat cover.

The results raise concerns about how effectively airlines are managing troublesome passengers, particularly those who are drunk, with Which? Travel receiving numerous complaints of already drunk passengers being served more alcohol on-board.

Recent high profile incidents have drawn significant attention to the problem, which isn’t confined to short-haul or budget carriers, and it seems to be on the rise.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), there was an average of 186 disruptive passenger incidents a year on flights between 2012 and 2016. In 2017, that number had jumped to 417.

Airlines have acknowledged there’s a problem. However, the approach of some carriers – who often incentivise crew to sell a range of products on-board by paying commission – to tackling the issue doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

easyJet has said that the consumption of duty-free alcohol on planes, which is already banned by airlines, should be a criminal offence.

However, Which? has also spoken to an easyJet flight attendant, who lifted the lid on the airline’s approach to alcohol on flights – claiming the airline only pays “lip-service” to reducing problem drinking.

The attendant also exposed how cabin crew are rewarded for selling the most alcohol and that training on dealing with disruptive passengers lasted just two to four hours.

The staff member also revealed that they had been groped by drunk passengers, and reporting disruptive behaviour when the aircraft lands can mean hours of sitting around waiting to fill in additional paperwork, and this is unpaid.

Ryanair recently announced it was calling for new restrictions on serving alcohol at airports, including a two-drink limit per passenger and no alcohol sales before 10am.

Yet in the same week, the airline also tweeted an image of an apparently paralytic young man lying on a beach with an empty bottle at his side. The caption to the photo included the approving tagline: “this could be you”.

The CAA has called for more prosecutions of passengers who break the law on board, and airport schemes, such as one in place at Glasgow, have had some success in reducing drunken behaviour.

While these efforts are a good start, they need to be matched by airlines themselves, who need to accept more responsibility about their contribution to the problem.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel editor, said:

“People should be able to take a flight without having to worry about their trip being disrupted or journey diverted by rowdy passengers who have had one too many.

“Airlines need to take more responsibility for preventing passengers having too many drinks, and incentivising cabin staff to flog more gin and tonics isn’t the right way to do that.

“Many of us like to enjoy a drink when heading off on holiday, and any measures taken by the aviation industry – and airlines in particular – should be aimed at those who go too far.”


Notes to eds

  1. Bad behaviour in the air: Data was taken from the Which? annual airlines survey. In September and October 2018, 7,901 Which? members completed a survey about their recent experiences of flying with an airline from the UK. Which? recorded 12,459 member experiences. The question about disruptive behaviour was asked to the full sample.


  2. Ryanair tweet:


  3. In response to the flight attendant’s claims, easyJet responded saying that its staff work to a ‘serve responsibly’ policy, meaning they monitor consumption and refuse to serve anyone who’s drunk. But it confirmed it does run ‘on-board sales incentives’ for all products sold, not just alcohol. It didn’t provide a figure for how much training staff are given to deal with disruptive passengers but said its ‘appropriate’ and ‘robust’ and refreshed each year. It also said it encourages staff to report incidents and claims that they are able to do this when on board the flight or immediately afterwards, while still being paid.
  4. Richard Stephenson, CAA director, said: “Passengers need to know they will face the full weight of the law should they be found guilty of disorderly behaviour.” The penalty for endangering the safety of an aircraft can be a custodial sentence of up to five years. Even being drunk on board an aircraft can result in an £80,000 fine, should the plane have to divert.
  5. At Glasgow Airport, everybody who works at the airport is given a central phone number to call if they spot someone who’s drunk or aggressive. This information is then shared with bars and shops, which can refuse to sell that individual more alcohol. The police will also approach them and warn that they may not be allowed to board the plane. Police at Glasgow Airport told Which? that serious incidents fell to 27 in the first nine months of 2018, compared with 58 in the same period in 2017.

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