Blazing a trail

posted on 25th April 2018

The UK Aviation Industry Code of Practice on Disruptive Passengers has implications for staff in many areas of the airport environment, including those who work for ground handling agents. Henk van Klaveren, senior public affairs and PR manager at the Airport Operators Association (AOA), explains why

Airports and airlines – and others in the aviation sector – are dealing more often with disruptive passengers. Ground handlers are perhaps not as close to the problem; they may get their information through the airport, for instance, but we at the AOA want to make sure handlers get a wider picture of the issue.
There are only a few hundred incidents a year according to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (out of 268 million passengers), but these incidents can be very disruptive to passengers, within the airport in general and specifically at the gate.
The trail-blazing Disruptive Passengers code is an attempt to tackle and prevent these incidents, which are usually caused by excessive drinking.

Different roles
At duty-free shops it is becoming more common for staff to write on customers’ boarding passes that they have bought alcohol, especially at high-risk times of the day or week.
But airports are increasingly drawing ground handling staff into their efforts.
At the gate, there is an opportunity for the airline to test a person’s fitness for flight. Disruptive passengers can be denied boarding: it is an offence to enter an aircraft while drunk. Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on the gate team, whether airline or ground handling staff, who have to enforce such a difficult decision.
In terms of the airside impact of disruptive passengers, they may have to be disembarked and their luggage unloaded before the flight can depart. This is very rare: usually, such passengers are prevented from boarding – although, they may only become disruptive during the flight. In that case, they would be dealt with on landing.
On inbound flights, we do see arrests in the UK when people land. The police meet the aircraft at the gate and ground handling staff have a supporting role there.
However, the focus is much more on outbound flights, which means at the gate and within the airport terminal; retail, food and beverage outlets have a role, as does airport security.

Chain of responsibility
Ground handling agents should go to their airlines and ask how they want disruptive passengers handled.
They should also talk to the airports regarding how their activities can fit in with a campus-wide approach. Different airports have different circumstances and types of disruption, and ground handlers need to be part of the chain of responsibility.
For instance, at Glasgow Airport there is a ‘campus watch’ initiative in place. Passengers who are becoming disruptive in the airport are informed of the consequences of that behaviour (they might lose their flight, or even be sent to prison). Staff also share information via WhatsApp to make gate teams aware of disruptive passengers.
Holiday flights to certain destinations might present more frequent problems. It might be necessary to target people travelling on those flights using police presence or information from ground staff to encourage responsible drinking. Group travel parties might be treated in a similar way. This is resource intensive, so it requires a risk assessment based on data, followed by appropriate targeted action.
Another example: certain lounges can have issues as passengers avail themselves of free alcohol, so staff might be put in place to ensure responsible limits are met.
The key point is to make passengers aware of their responsibility, and to handle any issues that arise without affecting the travel experience for other passengers.


About the code
Supported by the UK Government, the voluntary UK Aviation Industry Code of Practice on Disruptive Passengers was set up by the Airport Operators Association, Airlines UK, the Airport Police Commanders Group, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers and the UK Travel Retail Forum.
It seeks to create a consistent approach that coordinates and enhances existing efforts to prevent and minimise disruptive passenger behaviour, which can result in nuisance, annoyance or threats to passengers, crew and aircraft safety – not to mention delays and costs.
Currently, 24 UK airports are signatories to the code, as well as nine airlines.
The full text of the code may be found at