Skip to content

How and why flight attendants restrain unruly passengers

Aug. 05, 2021
5 min read
How and why flight attendants restrain unruly passengers
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The return of travel after long periods of lockdown, combined with constantly evolving safety and social distancing policies has had an unfortunate side effect.

More than 85% of U.S. flight attendants who responded to a recent survey say they have encountered unruly passengers over the first seven months of 2021.

Further, nearly 20% of those who responded say they’ve encountered physical violence on aircraft this year, according to the results of the survey, which was run by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA), a major flight attendants union.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

While flight attendants are carefully trained to deescalate situations like these within the tight confines of airplane cabins, occasionally the best diplomacy will not resolve the problem. In these unlikely cases, flight attendants may need to physically restrain the passenger for the remainder of the flight, for the safety of both the unruly passenger, other passengers on the plane, and the crew. This will minimize the chance of any further disruption to the flight and hopefully subdue the passenger in question so that the flight can continue safely.

Read more: FAA fines passenger a record $52,500 as crackdown on disruptive passengers continues

You may have seen recent videos on social media of such situations and the various methods of restraints used by flight attendants. These can include cable ties, handcuffs, seatbelt extensions, and even duct tape.

Is there a best practice method in these high-pressure situations?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) explained to TPG that restraining a passenger is only ever used as a last resort, where all other methods of de-escalating a situation have failed.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

"Before restraining a passenger, the cabin crew will always seek the permission of the Commander (Captain) who will give their authorization if they perceive a risk to the safety of the flight, the crew or other persons onboard." Katherine Kaczynska, a spokesperson from IATA said.

"There is no industry standard restraint equipment, and it is up to the airline to consider what they install if anything."

The AFA also confirmed to TPG that the equipment used to restrain these passengers will differ from airline to airline.

Read more: Don’t be a jerk on a flight; there are no more second chances this summer

A recent viral video on a Frontier Airlines flight in the United States showed flight attendants using duct tape to restrain a particularly violent passenger, including taping over their mouth. This has sparked debate amongst both crew and travelers over the appropriate measures in such situations.

A flight attendant for Frontier revealed to TPG that restraint (duct) tape is usually the only equipment loaded onto Frontier flights and should only be used as a last resort. Their training is to apply a safety demonstration oxygen mask over the mouth if required to try and subdue the passenger. Having viewed the viral video, this flight attendant believes the application of duct tape was appropriate in the situation as an urgent reaction to the passenger violently spitting and biting the crew during the flight.

We also spoke to crew flying for other airlines. A flight attendant for a major European airline confirmed to TPG that restraints are very much a last resort and the crew's duty of care to all passengers, no matter how disruptive, is paramount. This extends to providing the passenger with basic food and water depending on the length of the flight, though they will not allow a restrained passenger to visit the bathroom under any circumstances. If they have to go, they have to go right there in their seat.

The airline this flight attendant currently flies for stocks onboard restraint kits for these situations which include handcuffs and long wide straps, but not the cable ties or duct tape you might have seen used by other airlines.

Their training instructs that a passenger's mouth and throat should not be covered, even if the passenger is being verbally abusive.

Read more: FAA doles out $124,500 more in fines as it continues unruly flyer crackdown

If a fellow passenger is making you uncomfortable you should alert a flight attendant as quickly and discreetly as you can. Remember, they are trained to deal with these unusual and unpleasant situations.

In the unlikely situation you are seated next to a passenger that is being restrained, it may well be a very awkward situation, both before and during the restraint. Flight attendants will do their best to reseat surrounding passengers, though on a full flight there may be limited options. It is more likely the unruly passenger will remain in their original seat while other passengers are reseated, rather than the unruly passenger being moved. This is because if the situation has escalated to a point where restraints are prepared, it is dangerous to try and move the passenger to a different part of a confined space, mid-flight.

The flight attendants will keep the passenger restrained for landing, assuming it is safe to do so. They will also gather evidence for the submission of an incident report for authorities after landing.

The unruly passenger is then usually met by law enforcement officials when the plane lands and can face heavy penalties for their disruptive and often dangerous behavior including severe fines.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees