Aviation Risk

Turbulence Increasing

Political and cultural clashes are moving off the streets and into the aisles of airplanes.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 8 min read

Turbulence in the air is increasing, and a change in flight plan isn’t the answer.

As cultural and political clashes move from the streets into the air — and onto YouTube — airlines must protect their brands and other passengers before events get out of hand. Liability is generally not an issue unless there is bodily injury, but even then it’s questionable whether an airline would be found at fault when a dispute is between two passengers.

Advertisement




While incidents involving unruly passengers on airplanes have been increasing, there are no statistics kept on the types of disturbance that have occurred.

Yet, anecdotal evidence abounds. More than 2 million people have watched YouTube videos about the New York attorney who was kicked off a JetBlue flight after verbally accosting Ivanka Trump and her family.

Both supporters and critics of President Trump have been kicked off airplanes after loudly proclaiming their political views, and sometimes refusing to sit next to people who have different opinions.

It’s not just political disagreements that bedevil airlines. Some Orthodox Jewish or Muslim men have refused to sit next to women. Some Muslim passengers have been removed from planes just for speaking Arabic or been refused boarding for praying before take-off.

Some men are asked to switch their seats to avoid having them seated next to unaccompanied underage females. Some women who travel alone have been assaulted by seatmates.

“The airline is truly caught in the middle of this situation and doesn’t want to be there,” said attorney Mark Dombroff, chair of the aviation practice at Dentons law firm. “Yet, they find themselves wrapped up in this cultural tension.

“You overlay heightened awareness of terrorism and cultural sensitivity, and put that in the context of the already stressful environment of aviation and I think it ratchets up the issue on airplanes.”

Two brokers who work with the aviation industry said no insurance claims relating to political or cultural disputes have been filed, according to the claims adjusters they spoke with.

A Difficult Situation

“It’s very difficult to answer on a universal level as to what an airline can do about it,” said Rob Lawson, a partner at the Clyde & Co. law firm, who specializes in aviation. “You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

“Historically, the problem with unruly passengers has been in relation to passengers who have been fueled by alcohol. That’s a very different problem than a cultural issue.”

Mark Dombroff, chair of the aviation practice, Dentons

The number of incidents on-board airlines has been increasing.

From 2007 to 2013, an analysis by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) found one unruly incident per 1,600 flights. In 2015, it increased to one incident for every 1,205 flights. Intoxication was identified in about one-quarter of the reported cases. The majority of the incidents involved verbal altercations, 11 percent involved physical aggregation or damage to the aircraft.

More than half (53 percent) of IATA members surveyed in 2015 said that the frequency of unruly passengers had increased in the past five years, and 40 percent had diverted a flight in the past 12 months due to an unruly passenger.

“The airline is truly caught in the middle of this situation and doesn’t want to be there.” —Mark Dombroff, chair of the aviation practice, Dentons

According to the FAA — which tracks domestic flights as opposed to all flights tracked by the IATA — there was one unruly passenger for every 114,500 flights.

The FAA number reflects “the lowest it has ever been since the federal government has tracked this specific unruly passenger data,” according to Airlines for America (A4A), a trade organization representing airlines.

“The world of airline travel is not easy today. … You have a mix of every conceivable personality, heritage, weight, all sitting in these tiny seats that seem to get smaller all the time,” said Bradley Meinhardt, area president and managing director-aviation, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a repeat Power Broker® in the aviation category. “That can be a volatile mix.”

One broker who asked not to be identified said she personally experienced a disconcerting incident on an airline when the Muslim man sitting next to her said he didn’t want to speak with her because she was not a believer. He did not ask that she be moved.

“It was a little uncomfortable,” she said. “This is definitely something that could be an issue and probably will be an issue.”

Decision-Making on the Fly

Safety will always be at the forefront of the airline cabin crew’s response.

“The safety of our passengers and crew are always our highest priority, and the crew members on board the plane are always mindful of the need to keep all passengers safe,” said Kathy Grannis Allen, managing director, airline industry public relations, communications, A4A, in an email.

“Airline employees rely on their extensive customer service training to address the rare instances when passenger disruptions happen on board … . A4A has supported vigorous prosecution of passengers charged with disruptive behavior aboard aircraft,” she said.

“Interfering with the flight crew’s performance of duty is a federal charge [on U.S. domestic flights],” said Dombroff.

Prosecution doesn’t require specific intent to interfere, he said. “The mere fact of it occurring is sufficient.”

For international flights, it’s more complex. In many cases, the country where a passenger leaves the plane does not have jurisdiction to prosecute if the aircraft is registered in another country, according to the IATA, which noted that the Tokyo Convention of 1963 governs offenses on flights.

The consequence is that the offenders are left unpunished, said the IATA, which noted that the high cost of extradition to the original country is likely to deter all but the most serious prosecutions.

Advertisement




The IATA has worked with some countries to permit “state-of-landing jurisdiction” to permit prosecution of events that occur onboard foreign aircraft.

But more often, it’s not prosecution that’s involved but escorting offending passengers off the plane if they fail to quiet down or comply with instructions from the cabin crew.

The practice of escorting passengers off planes became a huge international controversy in April when United Airlines forcibly removed a 69-year-old physician because it needed seats to fly crew members to another city.

Cell phone videos showed what appeared to be aviation security officers banging the man’s head into an armrest and dragging him from the plane. The passenger, who suffered a concussion and broken nose, planned to sue the airline.

Once a plane is in flight, the captain is the ultimate onboard authority, said Meinhardt.

If an incident occurs in the air, the captain can decide to divert the plane to a closer landing field, where the offending passenger will be removed.

According to the IATA, the cost of a diversion could cost from $6,000 to $200,000, depending on factors such as whether fuel has to be jettisoned to comply with the aircraft’s maximum landing weight limit, landing fees, accommodation, ground-handling charges, passenger compensation and fuel uplift to complete the journey.

IATA best practices call for using de-escalation techniques with unruly passengers “and as a last resort the use of restraints,” said Jonathan Jasper, IATA cabin safety manager, in an email.

Liability Limited

Ejecting a passenger or moving — or refusing to move — passengers is unlikely to trigger an insurance claim or successful litigation by a passenger. And losses associated with diverting a plane would not lead to a successful insurance claim by an airline, either, experts said.

Lawson of Clyde & Co. said that an airline’s terms and conditions usually give it the right to move passengers, to refuse boarding and eject passengers if they behave in an unreasonable manner. Should that occur, “case law says that if you merely are upset by what an airline says to you in the course of a flight, you have no right of action.”

Bradley Meinhardt, area president and managing director-aviation, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.

The same is true if a passenger upsets another passenger, he said, explaining that the Montreal Convention [a global airline treaty that establishes airline liability] has an exclusive liability code which says the airline will be liable for bodily injury caused by an accident.

“If nothing qualifies as an ‘accident’ and/or you don’t have any ‘bodily injury’ — in the sense those terms are used in the convention — then there is no basis for a carrier to be held liable,” Lawson said.

“You would not be able to claim, for example, the humiliation and vexation of being moved from your assigned seat or, for example, as a result of having to sit next to a woman on a flight — if that was contrary to your religion — because the Montreal Convention does not provide for liability in such circumstances,” he said.

What’s important, he said, is to have clear policies and procedures for how such situations should be dealt with.

“The system is all important,” he said. “If you try to deal with things ad hoc, you are opening yourself up to an unnecessary and potentially avoidable complaint.”

Advertisement




Meinhardt said even though such conflicts don’t typically trigger an airline’s insurance policies, that doesn’t mean an airline wouldn’t attempt to soothe hurt feelings by offering apologies, flight vouchers or other amenities.

“I think airlines are doing a great job,” he said. “When they have bad press associated with these incidents where a passenger feels they were mistreated or had a situation that unfortunately got out of control, they are very proactive these days.

“They defuse it, accept it or immediately try to resolve it. They don’t keep quiet, but behind the scenes they move to resolve it by reaching out to the passenger.”

Dombroff added: “Airlines are in the business of passenger satisfaction and they want to protect their brand. While there probably isn’t liability, airlines have settled claims filed against them related to these types of issues to resolve the issue and remove themselves from controversy.

“So long as cultural sensitivity and political sensitivity continue as part of our lives, it will intrude into aviation. It’s inevitable,” he said. “Airlines are the ones caught in the middle. &

Anne Freedman is managing editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession

Verizon’s risk manager David Cammarata loves when his team can make a real impact on the bottom line.
By: | May 2, 2017 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

I was a financial analyst with the N.J. Casino Control Commission.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was told at a Christmas luncheon in 2003 that I was being promoted into a new job.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

Advertisement




I think the risk management community is getting a lot better at utilizing big data and analytics to manage risk. Significant improvements have been made, but there is still much more room for improvement.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think that the insurance and brokerage communities need to really start thinking about what this industry is going to look like in 10 years. They need to start addressing how they are going to remain relevant. I think that major disruptions to existing business models will occur and that these disruptions combined with innovation and technological advances may catch many of today’s industry leaders by surprise.

David Cammarata, assistant treasurer, risk management and insurance, Verizon Communications Inc.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

San Diego, any year.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I think the advent of cyber risk and cyber insurance. For several years it has been, and it continues to be, the main topic of discussion at industry meetings.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Advertisement




Advertisement




I think the most scary scenarios include a nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological event, a widespread global health epidemic and/or a widespread state sponsored cyber shutdown.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

We do almost all of our business through a broker.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

No. It’s a conflict.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the U.S. economy or pessimistic and why?

Optimistic because hopefully President Trump’s policies (lower taxes and less regulation) will be pro-business and good for the economy.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My dad, who passed away many years ago. He was very influential during the formative years of my career. He taught me how important integrity and reputation were to your brand and he had a very strong work ethic.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would have to say raising two awesome kids. My daughter is graduating from James Madison University this year as co-valedictorian. My son is finishing his sophomore year at Rutgers and has near perfect grades. But more importantly, both of my kids have turned out to be really good people.

R&I: How many emails do you get in a day?

A lot.

“I love it when the risk management organization is able to contribute in a way that makes a real impact to the corporation’s overall objectives. On several occasions we have been able to make real contributions to the bottom line.”

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

“My Cousin Vinny.” That movie makes me laugh no matter how many times I watch it.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Advertisement




Advertisement




My dad used to take me to a place called Chick & Nello’s. It was an Italian place that did not have a menu. They came to your table and told you the two or three items they were making that day. The food was out of this world.

R&I: What is your favorite drink?

Iced tea. The non-alcoholic kind.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

I can think of several places but for me it would be a tie between India and Italy. India just has such a different culture and way of life and Rome has breathtaking historical sites.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Well, one of the best thrill rides I’ve been on was Kingda Ka at Great Adventure. It feels risky but probably isn’t all that risky. I flew in a prop plane with my brother-in-law one time … that felt kind of risky. I have also parasailed, does that count? I think it definitely has to be driving on the N.J. Turnpike day in and day out.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

Advertisement




What about the Fukushima 50? I don’t think I could have done what they did.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I love it when the risk management organization is able to contribute in a way that makes a real impact to the corporation’s overall objectives. On several occasions we have been able to make real contributions to the bottom line.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I don’t think they really know. My children see me as dad; others just see me as an executive with Verizon.




Katie Siegel is a staff writer at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]