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Swissair tightens controls to combat air rage

Plastic handcuffs are used to restrain unruly passengers.


The increasing number of unruly passengers travelling on Swissair flights has prompted the airline to take action. Crews are being trained to deal with confrontations and passengers who behave aggressively now face being restrained with plastic handcuffs.

Since January 1, all Swissair aircraft have been equipped with the handcuffs, which have so far been used once.

The airline's move comes amid increasing cases of air rage worldwide. The most prominent recent incident concerned a 27-year-old Kenyan man who stormed into the cockpit of a British Airways Jumbo jet and almost caused a crash.

Since 1996, the number of unruly passengers on Swissair flights has doubled. Last year, the carrier said that 572 people "behaved aggressively, recklessly and, in some cases, even violently".

The most frequent causes of disturbances are excessive consumption of alcohol and the no smoking rule. However, seating problems and carry-on baggage restrictions are also blamed for causing short tempers.

Swissair says that, in general, people today have become less polite and increasingly disrespectful, as well as more insistent on their demands being met.

The head of security at Swissair, Werner Schaub, points out that unruly passengers are not limited to a particular class; such incidents are not limited to Economy Class.

The plastic handcuffs were used for the first time about a week after all Swissair aircraft had been equipped with them; a passenger disregarded the no smoking rule, became argumentative when warned and later punched a security officer.

It finally took two men to restrain the passenger and put on the handcuffs.

"Obviously, we don't use the handcuffs when someone simply disregards our no smoking rule. We talk to people first," says Schaub.

"But if bodily harm occurs as a result, we have to take action," he adds.

Swissair's security department reports any major incident to the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Aviation in Bern. This usually results in an official complaint against the passenger, and a possible fine.

Unruly passengers are ofen refused further transportation with the carrier for that trip. The passenger is notified of the decision at the check-in counter, a form of punishment that is considered "usually very effective".

"We have even received letters of apology from passengers because the crew had to intervene," says Schaub.

Scenes of unruly behaviour are not easy situations for young flight attendants to handle, although during basic training and regular annual training, flight attendants are taught how to cope with such incidents.

"Now they will also have to learn to use the restraining devices," Schaub says.

However, he still believes that talking to someone can in many cases defuse an unpleasant situation.

"However, if a situation is serious enough that it endangers the safety of those on board, which means that the passenger has to be overcome and restrained, it requires concerted action. In any case, the captain decides whether this is necessary," he says.

Swissair does not have a "black list" of names of offenders, but says that passengers who do not comply with instructions or who tend to become violent are often known in the industry.

The International Air Transport Association in Geneva is examining the possibility of such a list, which could help ground staff turn away undesirable passengers.

Currently serving as IATA's chairman of security, Schaub says a project group is studying different solutions.

However, he says that databases with names would be delicate from a legal point of view because they would have to comply with data protection laws.



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