Lessons From Unruly Passenger Training

I have had the great fortune over the past 24-months to have helped out in teaching some amazing cabin crew from one of the worlds best airlines, Singapore Airlines in how to effectively deal with unruly passenger behaviour.

The reality is that in 2017, there was 1 unruly passenger incident for every 1,053 flights around the world. In between 2007 and 2017 there were over 66,000 incidents globally reported to IATA. Naturally, this is a growing concern for all airlines.

REACT 1.0.

Initially I came into an existing ‘dealing with unruly passengers program’ being taught, designed and developed by Aaron Le Boutillier. This course entitled REACT has been taught to several industry leading airlines. Aaron has decades of hands on experience in the aviation security industry, and the course he designed REACT speaks to this. I enjoyed the course from the first day I watched Aaron deliver it. I was excited when I got to teach the REACT course myself and to my very own first batch of cabin crew.

A year or so on the REACT course has evolved. While REACT was an already fantastic program to teach cabin crew on how to deal with unruly passengers, Aaron asked me to collaborate with him to enhance the course even further. While I am likely biased here, I think the current version of the REACT course is one of the absolute best in the aviation security industry.

Some of the reasons I believe this to be the case I will outline below.

We Are Not Teaching Martial Arts

One of the first things myself and Aaron tell cabin crew is that we will not be teaching them, “Martial Arts.” The reality is no cabin crew member signed up to get into a physical altercation with a passenger on board an aircraft 30,000 feet in the air. While we of course teach cabin crew members a robust, tested, team based sequence of control and restraint, this is and will always remain the last option.

There are of course many ‘unruly passenger’ programs on the market. All airlines have to have one, but when it comes to choosing the appropriate package it’s really left up to the airline itself to decide. In our experience, we have noticed that many of these programs focus on what should be done, but not on what might hinder that from happening. It’s all and well teaching cabin crew the ins and outs of effective communication, de-escalation techniques, and physical restrain as a last resort — but if cabin crew are unaware of how their body, and in turn their own mind will react in a confrontational situation — non of the above is of much use.

Inner Management As First Order

Rather than starting the day of training with role playing bad guys and flex cuffs, we start by looking first and foremost at inner-management. Knowing what to do when dealing with an unruly, aggressive passenger, and being able to do it yourself when its happening, are two very different things.

We want the cabin crew we train to know exactly how their body, and mind will respond when faced with an interpersonal threat. Building off that, we then teach them real world, practical tools they can personally deploy to self-manage their inner state in the midst of an interpersonal mix of adrenaline and cortisol.

The REACT 2.0 course takes a three step inner-management to outer-management approach. Firstly, we want cabin crew to understand both how their mind and body will likely react in an unruly passenger experience. Secondly we educate them on what they can do about it. Thirdly, we impress upon them that if they are likely to feel and think in certain ways, the passenger they may be encountering a problem with is likely experiences the same.

For example, it is not uncommon for a person who is being overly aggressive to be experiencing an Amygdala Hijack. In these moments cabin crew will observe a passenger that seems illogical, and expressing an irrational overreaction to the situation. Taking note that their own ‘fight-flight’ response will be activated, crew engage self-management tools first within themselves to remain calm, focused and clear. Once they then engage with the passenger, they reverse those same inner-management strategies — working to unhook a passenger from their own Amygdala Hijack – and back to their prefrontal cortex were rational dialogue is possible.

The Outcome

As we have continued to teach this inner-management approach to dealing with unruly passengers we are gaining valuable feedback from cabin crew on how well the tools they have learned have aided them on other tasks.

Flying is stressful business. With the inner-management tools we teach cabin crew they are able to leverage them in day to day operations. Many feel the inner-management tools they have learned, especially being mindful in the action of their duties, have made them better at their jobs, more focused, improved their communication skills and overall confidence.

Coming back to dealing with unruly passenger behaviour, this is crucial. In our experience good communication skills trump all other approaches in dealing with unruly passengers. Any set of tools then that enable cabin crew to communicate more effectively is a win not only for crew, but the aviation industry at large.

Meet Aaron and Rodney

Aaron and Rodney will be keynote speakers at this years 3rd International Conference on Unruly Airline Passenger Behaviour held in London. Their discussion will be on Mindfulness-in-Action: its place in aviation security. In managing difficult situations, we need to identify problems before they escalate, see and seize opportunities to make better decisions and try to know ourselves better in order to understand others and, thereby, communicate more effectively. Before launching into an attempt to verbally diffuse a situation, breathe!

To find out more on how you can host the REACT 2.0. course you can contact Aaron directly (please cite seeing this article when you do)

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