Unruly in the skies: Bizarre cases of air rage
In the wake of a report that suggests incidents of air rage were on the rise in 2015, CTVNews.ca has rounded up some of the most bizarre stories of unruly behaviour on flights in recent years.
The International Air Transport Association reports there were 10,854 cases of air rage in 2015, up 14 per cent over the previous year.
"The majority of incidents involved verbal abuse, failure to follow lawful crew instructions and other forms of anti-social behaviour," the IATA report said. It adds that alcohol or drug intoxication are factors in approximately 23 per cent of cases, "though in the vast majority of instances they were consumed prior to boarding or from personal supply without knowledge of the crew."
In Canada, a person convicted of disruptive behaviour on an aircraft – anything from verbal or physical abuse to violating in-flight smoking prohibitions -- could face a fine up to $100,000, be sentenced to up to five years in jail, or both, according to Transport Canada.
Transport Canada reaffirmed its commitment to airline safety in a statement released Thursday, in the wake of the IATA report.
"Transport Canada and airline employees will not tolerate behaviour that puts the safety of our passengers or crew at risk," the department said in the statement.
Transport Canada considers the following in-flight actions illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada:
- verbal abuse;
- physical assault;
- sexual offences;
- intimidating behaviour;
- drunk or disorderly conduct;
- ignoring smoking regulations;
- drinking personal alcoholic beverages;
- refusing to follow crew instructions, and
- endangering the aircraft's safety.
Aviation and security expert John Cox says there has been a gradual uptick in the number of reported air rage cases because the behaviour has not been "prosecuted as rigorously" in many countries. Cox says there was a very low tolerance for bad behaviour on flights after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. However, that once-strict attitude toward in-flight antics has eroded with time.
"I hope we take this (report) and we do enforce our laws a bit more stringently," Cox told CTV News Channel on Thursday.
Several cases of air rage have captivated the public in recent years, due to their bizarre circumstances.
Here are a few of the more high-profile cases.
Few air rage incidents captured headlines quite like the infamous "nut rage" blowout that occurred on a Korean Air flight in late 2013, which led to the resignation of the company's chairman and his daughter, who was also an executive with the airline.
Cho Hyun-ah, then head of Korean Air cabin services, was found guilty in 2014 of violating an aviation safety law after she threw a tantrum on board a flight from New York. The charges stemmed from an incident in first-class, where the airline exec had a full-blown meltdown after a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate. South Korean media covered the case extensively, dubbing it "nut rage."
Cho later apologized for her behaviour, while her father, Cho Yang-ho, asked for forgiveness for failing to raise his daughter better. Both executives resigned their roles as a result of the incident.
Less-than-sober Sunwing duo
A Sunwing flight bound for Cuba ended up turning back to Toronto, escorted by a fighter jet, in August of 2014, after two unruly passengers allegedly drank a "significant" amount of duty-free alcohol, lit up cigarettes in the bathroom, and wound up in a fight with one another. A Sunwing spokesperson said the two women also allegedly made a "threat against the aircraft, which was considered non-credible given their condition."
Liliana Ratmanski, of Whitby, Ont., and Milana Muzikante, of Vaughan, Ont., were arrested at Toronto's Pearson Airport and later charged with several offences. They pleaded guilty earlier this month to mischief and smoking on an aircraft.
Let me off!
A few recent incidents of air rage have involved passengers attempting to get off the plane while it's still in flight. On Apr. 13, 2014, for instance, a passenger on board a flight from Chicago to Sacramento attempted to open a plane door one hour after takeoff. Other passengers and crew managed to subdue the man, who was handed over to police after the plane diverted to land in Omaha, Neb.
Joshua Carl Lee Suggs was found guilty of interference with crew members in an Illinois court in April of 2015.
Several witnesses on the flight said Suggs had been behaving strangely prior to his attempt at the door.
"Some gentleman just decided that he wanted us to visit the Lord today," passenger Monique Lawler told a local TV station in Los Angeles.
In a more recent Canadian incident from late August, passengers on a WestJet flight from Toronto to Edmonton had to help restrain a man who demanded, mid-flight, to be let off the plane. The man allegedly twice asked flight attendants to let him out of the aircraft, approximately 30 minutes from Edmonton. The 20-year-old was subdued and secured with zip-ties until he could be handed over to police on the ground.
Flight attendant attacks
As the first line of interaction between the airline and its customers, flight attendants often face the brunt of unruly passengers' bad behaviour. That's why many cases of air rage involve some sort of attack on a flight attendant.
On Dec. 12, 2014, for instance, an angry passenger on a Thai AirAsia flight allegedly threw scalding hot water in a flight attendant's face, after berating her about service aboard the charter flight. The hot water also contained noodles, according to media reports.
In another case of water-related belligerence, a Vancouver man was charged in 2013, after he allegedly left his seat and started throwing water on passengers and crew members. The Vancouver-to-London flight diverted to Halifax so the passenger could be remanded into police custody. He was charged in the incident, but granted an absolute discharge in 2015, after he was found not criminally responsible.
A late-December flight from Canada to India had to turn back to Toronto after a passenger allegedly assaulted a flight attendant. Other passengers reported a flight attendant was bleeding from her finger after an encounter with the man.
The passenger was taken into custody in Toronto and charged with two counts of mischief.
In a semi-celebrity case of misbehaviour, Paris Hilton's brother, Conrad, was charged in February of 2015 for allegedly interfering with flight crew.
According to the FBI, Hilton became unruly after he allegedly told flight attendants that another passenger was giving him the "stink eye." Investigators say Hilton ignored instructions to fasten his seatbelt and went on a series of tirades, which included alleged death threats against the flight crew, and promises to have them fired.
According to an affidavit, Hilton acknowledged calling the other passengers "peasants."
A woman from Saskatchewan was accused in January of failing to keep her cat contained on board a flight, as well as allegedly smoking in the aircraft's washroom.
The 30-year-old was arrested after her flight from Toronto landed in Regina. She was charged with smoking in an aircraft lavatory and failing to comply with instructions.
With files from CTV National News reporter Peter Akman