STATEMENT OF
CAPTAIN STEPHEN LUCKEY, CHAIRMAN
NATIONAL SECURITY COMMITTEE

AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION

BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

PASSENGER INTERFERENCE WITH FLIGHT CREWS
AND THE CARRY-ON BAGGAGE REDUCTION ACT OF 1997

JUNE 11, 1998

Click here, to view Summary of Statement

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, I am Captain Stephen Luckey, Chairman of the National Security Committee of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA). ALPA represents the professional interests of 49,000 pilots who fly for 48 airlines in the United States and Canada. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the timely issues of passenger interference with flight crews and limits to carry-on bags. I currently fly the B747-400 on international routes and, therefore, have a significant personal interest in mitigating the problem of passenger interference. ALPA has been at the forefront of the effort to mitigate the problem of passenger interference, or what we refer to as disruptive passengers, as will be described in my further comments; we have strong views on the carry-on baggage question as well.

The Threat

At the outset, I would like to pose two rhetorical questions about security threats facing air carriers. First, how many U.S. aircraft were bombed during the last calendar year? Secondly, how many U.S. aircraft were hijacked last year? Fortunately, the answer to both questions is "none," which is due in no small measure to the government and industry’s dedication of resources to deter the possibility of such attacks. However, to the question of how many U.S. flights experienced episodes of passenger interference last year, the answer is "thousands" based on extrapolation of statistical information provided by a few carriers. Passenger interference is the singularly most pervasive security problem facing the airline industry, not only in the U.S., but around the globe. This problem, while not constituting the type of dire threat to life posed by a bomb or a hijacker, still poses demonstrably real hazards to the safety of passengers, crews and, ultimately, the flight. With two-pilot cockpit aircraft in widespread and growing use today, such as the airplane that I fly, sending a pilot into the passenger cabin to help resolve a dispute seriously diminishes the safety of flight. This is particularly so in the event of an altercation, which could result in an incapacitated pilot and a resulting one-pilot aircraft.

The phrase "passenger interference" is fairly vague and could be misconstrued by some to amount to nothing more than combative conversations or mild harassment of flight and cabin crews which prevents or delays them from carrying out their duties. Although ALPA is opposed to such forms of interference, what we are most concerned about are the extreme forms of violence aboard aircraft which have resulted in injuries and emotional trauma for flight attendants and pilots. There is also potential for a hijacking, or loss of an entire aircraft, depending on the number of disruptive passengers onboard and other variables.

It may be helpful to describe a few of the kinds assaults which have occurred in the past few years in order to establish a common understanding of the seriousness of the problem which is being addressed.

As can be seen, both passengers and crew members have been the subjects of violent attacks while airborne. These assaults would be difficult to counter in a restaurant or other public place; when they happen aboard an aircraft at 33,000 feet and five hours from land, the difficulty is magnified several fold. All of the resources available to thwart assaults on the ground, such as a call to 911 and police response are unavailable in the air. When the B747 that I fly leaves the ground, all of its potential problems, and the very limited resources we have, are sealed inside with us for an extended period. For that reason, it is imperative that law enforcement agencies lend their support to addressing this problem, as appropriate, and that the airline industry proactively work to mitigate it.

Why the Rise in Passenger Interference Events?

ALPA, with the assistance of several national media outlets, gave widespread public attention to this problem at a first-ever international conference on disruptive passengers. That conference, which was held in Washington, D.C., last April, was keynoted by the Honorable James Oberstar of this Subcommittee, and included presentations by the academic community, law enforcement, airlines, flight attendants, and, of course, pilots. We will be pleased to make a copy of the transcript of that conference available to the Subcommittee upon request.

Of particular interest to all attendees was learning why the disruptive passenger syndrome has become so pronounced in recent years. One of the conference’s speakers, Dr. Jerrold Post, professor of psychiatry, political psychology and international affairs at George Washington University, was invited to address that topic. He noted that perhaps the most important finding of his research into this subject was that "there is no unified system in the industry for collecting information on these incidents." In fact, we do not know unequivocally that the number of passenger interference events is rising, but anecdotal evidence and statistics kept by some air carriers gives strong credence to that belief. I will return to the subject of data collection momentarily.

Dr. Post noted that there were several contributing factors to passenger interference which I will highlight and elaborate upon, namely:

Alcohol

This problem includes both inebriation and pathological intoxication, where just a small amount of alcohol produces an extreme reaction in certain individuals. He explained that airports are now places where a considerable amount of time is spent by the traveling public waiting for their flight to depart. As a result, airport lounges and bars afford passengers an opportunity to become inebriated prior to reaching the gate. Unfortunately, once passengers are boarded in first or business class, alcoholic beverages are served until just before the airplane lands. FAR Part 91.17 makes it illegal for airlines to board someone who appears to be drunk; unfortunately, it is not always easy to determine if someone is drunk during a hurried conversation at the gate counter.

Ms. Katherine Prescott, President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, noted at our conference how pervasive the serving of alcohol by airlines is citing the research of a law firm which was involved with a court case pertaining to a drunk driver who became inebriated while flying as an airline passenger. The drunk driver had been served eleven, I repeat, eleven drinks in one and a half hours while seated in first class. The airline on which the perpetrator flew, as the defendant, fought the case for five years and claimed that eleven drinks would not have been served in that amount of time. The airline eventually agreed to an out-of-court settlement when an investigator for the plaintiff hired a private investigator (PI) to research the airline’s alcohol service; the PI was served 12 drinks on the same airline between the same two cities while riding in first class. It is interesting to note that a 160-pound man will become legally intoxicated (i.e., blood-alcohol level of .08) by imbibing only four drinks in an hour.

Most, if not all, airlines have a policy of unlimited alcohol in first and business class. In fact, some carriers promote excessive drinking through their policies for flight attendants to offer more alcohol to the passenger prior to their glass being emptied and offering drinks before they are requested. The primary effect of alcohol on the human anatomy as relates to flying is well understood, that being that inebriation occurs more rapidly with a decrease in cabin pressure. Combine that fact with the reality that passengers often drink on empty stomachs while on short flights and a dangerous situation can occur.

Clive Phillips, of an Australian airline cabin safety working group, has noted the relationship between prohibitions on smoking and alcohol consumption. He states, "Smoking is a particular factor on long-haul flights where you have people who normally smoke several cigarettes an hour. They can’t do that so they substitute by drinking more alcohol and you end up with a twin problem: people suffering from cigarette withdrawal and too much alcohol."

Entitlement

Certain successful individuals have what is called "significant narcissistic features" which can be categorized as merely extreme self-confidence. These individuals resent being told what to do but also have expectations of being catered to like royalty. As the quality of airline service declines and/or the frustrations accompanying delays increase, these feelings are magnified and can be acted upon by the individual.

Opposition to Authority

Some disruptive business executives, who are used to being in control of others and in positions of authority, resent even minor kinds of requests from the cabin crew. A request to turn off a laptop computer or not to make a cellular phone call during takeoff were given as examples of such requests which have provoked outbursts from upper echelon airline clientele. These individuals, it was noted, may not take well to receiving such requests from some person beneath them in social rank.

Loss of Control (Fear of Flying)

Dr. Post stated that he had treated a fairly significant number of people who suffer from a flying phobia. He explained that the underlying dynamic in this phobia is a loss of control or a fear of such a loss. Entering a large, flying aluminum tube and placing one’s destiny totally in the hands of others can be extremely anxiety-provoking for these individuals and result in disruptive behavior.

Crowding

Social anthropologists suggest that crowding produces increased aggression. The issue of decreased personal space leading to tension and aggression is well-demonstrated through anecdotes of passenger altercations which began as a result of one person’s body adjudged by another to be too close to his or her own. Certainly, coach class seating is rather confining, sometimes to the point of discomfort depending on the size of the individual, their personality and their expectations. As air carriers strive to ensure that a higher percentage of airline seats are sold on each flight, the crowding conditions will worsen and we can expect this to be a factor in passenger-initiated altercations.

As I have mentioned, airline efforts to collect data on passenger interference has been spotty, with some carriers developing internal data bases and others not. At those carriers which do collect information, the number of reported events has risen, but it is not known whether the actual number of events has risen, remained stable, or decreased due to reporting practices. Further, there is currently no single entity or organization that collects information on these events so that the phenomenon can be studied by human behavior experts, such as Dr. Post, and others with a vested interest in addressing the problem. Without such data, we will continue to prescribe solutions to this problem, which may not work, based on a collective hunch.

Deportees

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) deported more than 23,000 illegal immigrants last year via commercial airline aircraft; other reports place this number even higher. Approximately half of these individuals have been indicted for criminal acts or have been involved in criminal activity. A very few deportees who fall into the highest risk category are escorted by armed INS agents, while all others travel unescorted. The INS’s current policy is to escort these individuals only when they travel in groups of 12 or more; groups of 11 or fewer ride unescorted.

Not surprisingly, several disruptive passenger events have been linked to the deportation of these individuals, which an article in the May 18, 1997, issue of the San Diego Union Tribune details. That article describes a U.S. air carrier flight from Los Angeles to El Salvador last March which carried two dozen criminal immigrants on board, just out of jail. During the flight, some of the deportees stole liquor from a service cart and became inebriated. Worse, a 12-year-old girl traveling alone and seated amid some of the criminals, was inappropriately touched by one of the men sitting behind her and re-seated elsewhere when she summoned a flight attendant.

More recently, an unescorted deportee being transported aboard a major air carrier aircraft performed several lewd acts in few of other passengers. In our view, no one who pays for a ticket on a commercial flight should be subjected to such debased behavior. Other problems, such as inadequate hygiene and contagious diseases such as tuberculosis are common at some deporting locations. From our perspective, since deportees are being sent somewhere against their will, this fact automatically places them in the category of an escape risk or worse, regardless of whether they have a criminal background. It is entirely conceivable that a large group of unescorted deportees could take over an aircraft, or attempt to do so, placing all passengers, crew and the aircraft at great risk. The risk is magnified on small regional aircraft which do not carry a flight attendant; the flight crew cannot monitor what transpires in the cabin of the aircraft and they can literally be the last to know that a problem has erupted.

For these reasons, ALPA has profound concerns with the current INS practice of deporting individuals on commercial flights without an escort. Ironically, the INS’ own deportee escorts refuse to operate their deportee transport vehicles unless there are at least two of them in each vehicle, even though the deportees are handcuffed and often in leg irons. There is an obvious problem when these vehicles are allowed to pull up along side of our aircraft and unload deportees, who moments before were in handcuffs, to ride unescorted in the seat next to Grandma.

To address this problem, we have urged the INS to adopt the following policies:

In 1994, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution which called for the INS to escort the criminals it deports. Last May, Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham wrote to Ms. Doris Meissner, Commissioner of the INS about his concerns relative to that agency’s deporting of large numbers of criminal aliens on civilian airlines without INS or other law enforcement escort. To date, these efforts have been no more successful than our own in resolving this problem. As a way of breaking this impasse, Congress should consider legislation which would require the countries to which the illegal immigrants are being sent to arrange and provide for deportation of these individuals. Alternatively, Congress could pass legislation which prohibits carriage of deportees on commercial aircraft without a proper escort, as regulated by the FAA.

The Legal Environment

Passenger interference on board commercial aircraft is strictly a federal crime from the time the aircraft doors shut for flight until they reopen upon arrival. While the aircraft is on the ground with a door(s) open, passenger interference can be handled by the local law enforcement organization at the airport who may arrest for battery, assault, indecent exposure, and so forth.

There are only a few federal laws and regulations which explicitly prohibit passenger interference aboard aircraft. Federal Aviation Regulation 91.11 states that, "No person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated." Title 49, U.S Code, 46504 says that whoever, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of an aircraft, interferes with the performance of their duties or lessens the ability of the crew member or flight attendant to perform their duties is subject to a fine and imprisonment for not more than 20 years. If a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the crew member or flight attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

In 1996, an irate passenger physically assaulted an airline captain on my airline in the Detroit Metro Wayne International Airport terminal while in the process of obtaining information and documentation pertinent to his flight. As a result of the injuries sustained in the assault, the pilot was unable to fly the trip and the flight was canceled. Subsection 46504 did not, but we believe should, apply to assaults made while the pilot is on duty, regardless of whether he or she is on the ground or in the aircraft.

The successful prosecution of interfering passengers often faces several obstacles:

Recognizing these problems, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the FBI office at the Detroit Metro Wayne Airport deputized 22 local airport police as federal marshals in 1996 for the specific purpose of granting them jurisdiction for crimes committed aboard aircraft. This activity, which ALPA has named the Civil Aviation Security Enhancement (CASE) Program, enables the deputized officer to arrest the perpetrator with federal authority and jurisdiction. The CASE program has been very successful at that airport and is spreading to, or being considered by, several other airports. We are promoting the expansion of the CASE program for adoption at at least 25 other airports across the country so that a pilot is never more than 30 minutes away from a facility where federal arrests can be made.

Internationally, the Tokyo Convention, formally known as the Convention on Offenses and Certain Other Acts Committed On Board Aircraft, which was signed in 1963 and now has 162 state signatories worldwide, establishes a number of legal remedies for passenger interference.

However, as expressed by ICAO last year, the Tokyo Convention has a shortcoming: "Since aircraft in flight are legally regarded as part of the territory of the state of registration of the aircraft, the state where the aircraft lands will treat offenses committed on board during the flight as committed on foreign territory (unless it is the state of registration of the aircraft). In most cases of minor offenses and ‘less serious’ crimes, it will, therefore, not have the jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute. The Tokyo Convention of 1963 obliges contracting states to establish their jurisdiction over offenses and crimes only when committed on board aircraft of their own nationality. There is no obligation in the Convention to establish jurisdiction with respect to offenses and crimes committed on board foreign aircraft. Furthermore, the Tokyo Convention does not establish such jurisdiction itself. It therefore leaves a jurisdictional gap in this respect."

This so-called jurisdictional gap does not pose a problem in the U.S. because, thankfully, our Justice Department prosecutes inbound offenders regardless of the nationality of the aircraft. In other countries, however, this situation does not exist which creates an opportunity for crimes to be committed aboard aircraft with no punitive action taken against the perpetrator. Concern about this has been expressed by ICAO, International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations, International Air Transport Association, Airports Council International and others aimed at the possibility of a broadened application of the concepts of the Tokyo Convention. The U.S. needs to support efforts to ensure that the Tokyo Convention’s jurisdiction shortcoming is addressed so that States can and will prosecute all inbound offenders.

Zero Tolerance

ALPA strongly supports the concept of "zero tolerance" for passenger interference, because without such support, the likelihood of disturbances increases and the likelihood of crew member injuries and perpetrator prosecutions decreases. Said another way, the airlines must demonstrate support for the industry to mitigate this problem. Some air carriers have adopted the zero tolerance principle within their passenger interference programs, which affirms that they will back their crew members in the event of an interference event.

In 1996, the FAA published Advisory Circular 120-65, entitled "Interference with Crewmembers in the Performance of their Duties", which contains some valuable information about the problem and how to create an airline program aimed at addressing it. Some, not all, air carriers have created programs using that document for guidance. We believe that the FAA should amend FAR Part 121 to make such programs mandatory.

Cathay Pacific Airways has produced a booklet entitled "Guidelines for Handling Unruly Passengers" for benefit of its flight crews. The airline has also developed a training video on the subject in which various disruptive passenger scenarios are presented and used for further discussion. We believe that U.S. air carriers need to do such training for their crew members. Although flight attendants are trained on how to evacuate passengers from aircraft and perform numerous other safety measures, most are not trained on how to prevent passenger disruptions or how to de-escalate confrontations before they become violent. Flight and cabin crews both need to have a thorough understanding of the problem and ways in which they can work together to handle such passengers, including use of restraint devices if necessary.

 

Recommendations Concerning Passenger Interference

In conclusion on the subject of passenger interference, we would like to make some recommendations which we believe Congress should support to help lessen the likelihood of future inflight altercations.

Alcohol Service

We believe that carriers industry wide should adopt a responsible alcohol service program which is geared toward meeting the customer’s expectation of alcoholic beverage service under the following conditions: (1) no passengers shall be boarded while intoxicated (2) if a passenger is found to be intoxicated while still on the ground, they shall be required to disembark before takeoff (3) a passenger found to be intoxicated after takeoff shall not be served any alcohol during flight (4) no passenger will become intoxicated while inflight and (5) no passenger shall leave the aircraft intoxicated. In order to institute such a program, we make the following common sense recommendations which were first profferred by Ms. Prescott of MADD at our conference:

Federal Statutes

We recommend that Congress amend 49 U.S. Code 46504, Interference with Flight Crew Members and Attendants, to make assaulting, intimidating or interfering with pilots and cabin attendants a crime while they are in the performance of their official duties, whether on the ground or in the aircraft.

Passenger Interference Data Base

As I noted previously, the absence of a database to capture information about passenger interference is an obstacle to the government and industry in assessing why the attacks are occurring and developing methods to counter the threat. We recommend that the FAA convene a meeting with industry to discuss this issue with the aim of determining how a database should be developed, who should be responsible for it, and to address other related questions.

Tokyo Convention

The U.S. should (1) encourage other States to adopt into their national laws provision for the prosecution of inbound disruptive passengers, regardless of the nationality of the air carrier involved and (2) support efforts at ICAO to amend the Tokyo Convention to bridge the current jurisdictional gap I described previously.

Carry-on Baggage Reduction Act of 1997

Turning now to the other topic of this hearing, we agree with the overall objective of the Carry-on Baggage Reduction Act, which is to enhance safety. It is no secret that too many carry-on bags, and especially too many such bags of a large size and heavy weight, contribute to potential safety hazards. These hazards can be categorized as ones which affect (1) aircraft performance (2) personal safety, and (3) emergency evacuation.

Aircraft Performance

Every certificated aircraft has a weight and balance chart which enables the pilot to determine whether the aircraft can be safely flown with the desired passenger and baggage load. It is not operationally feasible for each passenger and their baggage to be weighed prior to each flight which would allow for precise weight and balance determinations. Instead, the FAA allows air carriers to use average weights for each passenger and bag, which can be substantially lower than the actual weights depending on a number of variables. When this happens, aircraft performance can suffer, especially in conditions of high density altitude, which endangers the safety of flight.

Personal Safety

Carry-on bag weight has a direct effect on the structural integrity of the overhead bins and closets which is critical in certain circumstances, such as during a sharp jolt due to turbulence. One of the most important considerations of restrictions to carry-on baggage, therefore, is its potential for causing injuries to passengers when it falls from overhead bins during normal operations. We have made a number of recommendations to the FAA about how to increase the structural integrity of the overhead bins in response to the agency’s request for comments on a draft Advisory Circular. Such improvements to this equipment can be greatly enhanced by limiting the weight of items placed therein.

Emergency Evacuation

In the event of an emergency, such as a very hard landing or a landing off of the runway, the weight of baggage in the overhead bins is a key factor in determining whether passengers will be physically injured or killed if the bins fall down. Beyond that, accident investigations have determined that some passengers have been delayed or prevented from reaching safety due to fallen bins which block their egress path. The size of bags is also important in this regard because if a large bag(s) falls onto the floor and blocks an aisle, passengers may have difficulty reaching the emergency exits.

From the standpoint of operational efficiency, the carriage of large and heavy bags slows down airline operations because of the time involved in finding space for them and stowing them properly. Airline operations can run more smoothly and efficiently, which means fewer headaches for our members, if large and heavy bags are checked instead of carried onboard. With the growth in aviation, additional operational efficiency is needed wherever we can get it and this is one area of "low hanging fruit" so to speak.

That said, we do not believe that the proposed one-bag limitation will achieve the desired results because it will encourage some passengers to bring very large and potentially heavy bags on the aircraft. Different aircraft types have different carry-on bag stowage capabilities; in fact, the stowage capacity may vary on the same aircraft according to whether a person is seated in first class, business class or coach.

Therefore, while we agree with the concept of enhancing safety as is promoted by the legislation, we believe it should be amended to require air carriers to use a size limitation instead of a one-bag-per-person limit. In practice, the airlines could use a sizer box(es) for each aircraft type and all of the individual’s bags would be required to fit in that box. It should be noted that pilots must often carry more than one bag in order to have in their possession aeronautical publications required by regulation. Any legislative or regulatory effort aimed at limiting the number of bags should not impede the crew members’ in this regard.

We are desirous of further developing this concept with other industry organizations, after which a consensus can perhaps be reached that could be utilized in congressional legislation. Accordingly, we respectfully request that Congress allow the industry time to discuss and hopefully reach agreement on carry-on baggage restrictions before taking any legislative action.

Thank you again for the opportunity to appear before you today and I will be pleased to address any questions you may have.