While the US government is currently considering implementing harsher penalties for travellers who verbally and physically assault airport workers with security duties, Korea’s flag carrier Korean Air has taken a far more active approach to subduing unruly and potentially aggressive passengers.
According to the BBC, Korean Air crew members have used electric stun guns during flights on five passengers since it first introduced them onto flights in 2002. Three of these incidents involved the gun being fired, while in the other two the device was held against the passenger to deliver an electric shock.
Korean Air has been increasing training for crew members in how to use stun guns, following criticism it received on how staff handled an in-flight disturbance on a recent flight between Hanoi and Seoul. In that incident, a passenger aboard the plane was reportedly verbally abusing and spitting at members of the crew, and on three occasions managed to get free from ropes staff had used to restrain him.
While many airlines carry equipment such as ropes or cuffs to restrain unruly passengers, the Korean carrier is believed to be the only major airline to carry and utilise stun guns. Other carriers contacted by the BBC cited security concerns and declined to comment, though some, including Etihad, Malaysia Airlines and Jet Airways, confirmed they do not carry them on board their flights.
According to a December 2016 report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), “unruly passenger incidents on board aircraft in flight have become a significant problem”. Between 2007 and 2015, the association collected 49,084 incidents of unruly passenger behaviour, and in 2015 such incidents occurred at a rate of one per 1,205 flights. Eleven per cent of these were “Level 2” incidents involving physical aggression to others or damage to the aircraft, while in 23 per cent of reported cases alcohol or drug intoxication was identified.