A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Airlines prepared for unruly passengers ahead of return to air travel

Air Canada said it has seen an uptick in disturbances on flights since the beginning of the pandemic

After months of reduced air travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines in Canada say they’re ready to contend with what could be a turbulent summer season.

Air Canada said it has seen an uptick in disturbances on flights since the beginning of the pandemic, but did not provide any details.

In the U.S., where air travel has increased significantly in recent weeks, Southwest Airlines and American Airlines have announced the suspension of alcoholic beverage services because of incidents of passenger disruption, including violent assaults on flight attendants.

Timothy Perry, president of Air Line Pilots Association Canada, said in an interview Tuesday that there’s been an increase in disruptive passenger behaviour since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I think all flight crew have taken notice in the increase in unruly behaviour among passengers, however I do also believe that while concerning, I don’t think the flight crew are concerned about the ability to handle it,” Perry said.

Perry said flight crew training, which includes de-escalation strategies, and other protocols will help protect the safety of the crew and passengers in the event of an onboard disturbance.

WestJet also said that while unruly situations are “extremely rare,” flight crews are trained to manage such incidents.

An Air Canada spokesperson said compliance issues are dealt with “primarily through education, using our standard procedures.”

Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada Component of CUPE, did not say if crew members have noticed increased disturbances on flights but did say the safety of the flight crew was an ongoing issue for the union.

“Rowdy behaviour is never appropriate, but especially the year we’ve had, any aggression or unruly conduct onboard or towards cabin crew is just unacceptable,” Lesosky said in an email. “Cabin crew have a hard enough job as it is, being tasked with enforcing mask compliance, monitoring alcohol consumption, and ensuring the travelling public is safe.”

Air Canada and WestJet did not respond to queries about their in-flight alcohol policies.

However, Perry said restricting alcohol in some or all parts of a plane isn’t an unusual tactic on Canadian flights.

“That has happened and to be honest, that happens more than you might think,” he said. “Most people enjoy alcohol responsibly on the plane, sometimes that’s not possible and one of the very first steps in de-escalating unruly behaviour … is to cut off alcohol to part of the cabin or all of the cabin.”

Transport Canada did not respond to a request for comment on how many incidents have been reported on-board flights in the last year.

—The Canadian Press

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