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Russia Mulls Moves To Ground Unruliness On Airliners

An Aeroflot-owned Pobeda takes off from Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport.
An Aeroflot-owned Pobeda takes off from Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport.

MOSCOW -- A brawling businessman who assaulted an attendant and forced his way into the cockpit mid-flight. An intoxicated man from Nizhny Novgorod who terrified passengers by yelling about a bomb on board. A plane delayed 90 minutes because of a drunk lawmaker who refused to get off.

These are just a few in a steady stream of stories of alcohol-fueled shenanigans and mayhem involving airline passengers that have emerged in the Russian media, often accompanied by YouTube videos taken by witnesses.

Statistics from the International Air Transport Association show that incidents of airborne unruliness are on the rise across the world, but in Russia people's patience has neared the breaking point.

"People have finally become fed up being hostage to travelers' drunken antics, and society has started demanding that more radical measures be taken against fans of 'having a few' before a long journey," the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta wrote last month.

Since the beginning of 2017, new legislative initiatives have been drafted and unveiled seeking to rein in potentially dangerous actions by airline passengers.

This week, legislation was touted in the pages of the Kommersant newspaper proposing to create a blacklist for individuals who "threaten flight security" or the "life and health of others." The legislation, drafted by the State Duma’s Transportation Committee, would see past offenders banned from flying for three years in all but exceptional circumstances, such as to attend a funeral or for medical treatment.

State Duma member Pavel Krasheninnikov (file photo)
State Duma member Pavel Krasheninnikov (file photo)

On January 31, influential lawmaker Pavel Krasheninnikov ​unveiled draft legislation that would increase the punishment for "hooliganism" on planes and other forms of transportation to five years jail, or up to seven years if such actions are carried out by a group.

The drive for the new legislation appears to have been prompted by President Vladimir Putin, who last year came out in support of more stringent legislation.

Vitaly Savyolov, director of the state-owned airline Aeroflot, suggested during a September meeting with Putin that certain offenses be subject to criminal prosecution and that fines of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,550) be introduced. He also asked for permission to use plastic handcuffs and belts to restrain unruly passengers. He said that cabin crews have to resort to tying up out-of-control passengers with blankets and that they "suffer from this considerably."

"I support your suggestion," Putin replied in a transcript of the meeting. "It's long been time to do this."

Kommersant notes that, in the past, tough new legislative proposals have often been touted immediately after particularly troubling instances of violence on planes.

In 2014, businessman Sergei Kabalov was jailed for 3 1/2 years for assaulting an attendant and breaking into the cockpit by force. Soon after, lawmakers proposed jailing such offenders for 10 years, while the Interior Ministry proposed banning drunk passengers who had to be removed from airliners from flying for five years.

Several lawmakers themselves have been involved in the types of in-air incidents they are trying to curb.

In October 2013, lawmaker Andrei Isayev was forced to quit his post in the general council of the ruling United Russia party after he and his assistant were removed from a flight for drunken behavior.

In June 2014, lawmaker Aleksandr Khinshtein was seen on video badmouthing the cabin crew on a domestic flight.

The IATA released figures in September that indicate that 10,854 incidents of unruliness were recorded worldwide in 2015, compared to 9,316 in 2014.

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