January 20, 2017

Trump Administration Could Ratify Montreal Protocol 2014 Addressing Unruly Airline Passengers

Holland & Knight Alert
Judy R. Nemsick

Unruly passenger incidents on commercial aircraft are an endemic problem for the airline industry. Such incidents threaten the safety and security of all on board, disrupt operations and result in significant economic losses to the airlines. To address the increase in unruly passenger issues, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) conducted a detailed analysis of such incidents and, in 2009, made a formal request to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to review and enhance the Tokyo Convention of 1963.1 The Tokyo Convention, which took effect in 1969, governs criminal offenses and other acts committed on board aircraft that jeopardize the safety of flights.2 A diplomatic conference with 100 governments participating resulted in ICAO's adoption of the Protocol to Amend the Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, done at Montreal on April 4, 2014 (Montreal Protocol 2014).

Montreal Protocol 2014 makes several key improvements to the Tokyo Convention that strengthen an airline's position when addressing unruly passengers. The Protocol notably extends the jurisdiction to try the unruly passenger from the state of aircraft registration to also include the states in which the operator is located and that is the destination of the flight (including a state to which a flight may be diverted). This will greatly facilitate the prosecution of unruly passengers upon disembarkation. It also clarifies what constitutes unruly behavior by simply requiring reasonable grounds to believe that a serious offense has been committed. Such offenses include physical assault, or the threat thereof, and failure to follow crew instructions. Importantly, Montreal Protocol 2014 expressly recognizes an airline's right to seek compensation for expenses caused by unruly behavior.

The Protocol requires the ratification, acceptance, approval or accession of 22 nations to take effect. At present, there are 30 signatories and eight ratifications and accessions. While ratification of Montreal Protocol 2014 is not likely to be a 100-day priority for the Trump Administration, President Donald Trump's emphasis on "law and order" and the airline industry's support for it should lead to U.S. ratification as well as greater protections and rights to the airlines in handling such cases in the future. 


1 Convention on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed on Board Aircraft, signed at Tokyo on Sept. 14, 1963. See Joint Position Calling for States to Ratify the Montreal Protocol 2014 to Deter Unruly Passenger Incidents and Promote a Safer Air Travel Experience for All.

2 The Convention allows the aircraft commander, crew and passengers to take reasonable measures when necessary to secure the safety of the aircraft. The commander may also disembark a passenger and deliver them to law enforcement. See Tokyo Convention, Arts. 6, 8, 9. Additionally, there is immunity from liability provided that the actions taken are in accordance with the Convention. Id. at Art. 10.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult competent legal counsel.

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