I wonder who is responsible for security on an airplane, especially on a flight within Europe. In some countries (e.g. USA) sky marshals counter hijacking, but I don't know if a similar practice exists in European countries.

The incidents (in this question) are not limited to hijacking. Say a passenger's behavior is aggressive, he/she may hit someone else. What agency and staff are primarily responsible for in-flight security?

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    I made an edit to make the question about official responsibility. Primary responsibility in an official capacity is a more answerable question here. There are known incidents ranging from the victims on Flight 93 to passengers helping with drunks where people did the right thing on their own initiative. You are your own first responder.
    – Freiheit
    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:55
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    @Freiheit I've approved your edit. Thanks for improving my post.
    – user63373
    Aug 18, 2017 at 12:59
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    This would probably be better on our Aviation website. Aug 18, 2017 at 13:26
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    The wisdom and efficiency of the air marshals service has been questioned before. Even in the US, security does not mainly depend on that.
    – Relaxed
    Aug 18, 2017 at 16:33
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    jpatokal answer below is correct: the CAPTAIN is in charge of the aircraft and everything that happens on it. The Captain is also known as the "pilot in command". Aug 20, 2017 at 18:09

4 Answers 4


Ultimately everything that happens on a plane is the captain's responsibility. But in practice, if a passenger is unruly and does not follow cabin crew instructions, cabin attendants can and will physically restrain them (many airlines carry plastic cuffs or zip ties for this purpose), with voluntary assistance from other passengers if needed, and then hand them over to police at the destination.

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    +1, do you know if the passenger is under arrest at the point the cabin crew intervene?
    – Gayot Fow
    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:59
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    @GayotFow given that news reports about such flights normally refer to them being arrested on landing, presumably not. Aug 18, 2017 at 10:25
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    @ChrisH there's an exception. A friend of mine, a service English police officer flying home from holiday, once arrested an unruly passenger in flight. On arrival he handed the prisoner to the waiting police force (I assume there was some paperwork to follow). This was on a BA flight - which made it legal, I assume.
    – Aleks G
    Aug 18, 2017 at 11:29
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    @GayotFow "Under arrest" is a complex legal question. In one sense, if a passenger has been restrained, they they have ipso facto been arrested. If the passenger was unreasonably restrained, he would sue for "unlawful arrest". In another, "being arrested" is a bureaucratic exercise for a policeman. Aug 18, 2017 at 12:20
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    Some European countries have different legal categories for a citizen's arrest, arrest by a law enforcement officer, and arrest confirmed by a judge. Only the latter may be "arrest" without qualifier.
    – o.m.
    Aug 18, 2017 at 14:00

The flight crew is in charge of security and passenger control once the plane is airborne. They are equipped with passenger restraint devices (handcuff type zip ties and such). I have witnessed unruly passengers being restrained during the remaining duration of the flight.

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    This answer is unclear. Does "flight crew" include the deck crew, or do you mean to refer only to cabin crew? If the latter, this answer should include references that confirm the fact that ultimate responsibility for aspects of the flight's operation does not rest with the captain. (If the former, it's a bit of a non-answer. Who else could it possibly rest on?)
    – E.P.
    Aug 19, 2017 at 5:05
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    @E.P. - The "flight crew" is the crew working the flight and includes cabin attendants, pilot, co-pilot, first officer, purser, team leader or any other title assigned to airline employees assisting with that flight onboard the plane. Happy?
    – user13044
    Aug 19, 2017 at 5:13
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    @tom in the aviation industry flight crew means "flight deck crew", cabin crew means "flight attendants", crew or crewmembers is the word used in the industry to indicated both crewmembers. These are the terms used in manuals and policies, etc. Aug 20, 2017 at 7:59
  • @neanderthal - my apologies for not being an aviation professional and using a layman's descriptive term.
    – user13044
    Aug 20, 2017 at 9:06
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    @Tom on behalf of the industry, your apologies are accepted :) lol Aug 20, 2017 at 9:41

OP: Who would deal with this incident?

The cabin crew.

A 'violent' passenger on a plane from Dubai to Heathrow was restrained by four cabin crew and a policeman after allegedly launching a terrifying mid-air attack on staff.


Or other passengers.

A drunken British was restrained by four passengers on board an easyJet flight and dragged off the plane on his knees after attempting to open its emergency door at 30,000ft.


Regarding Air Marshals, we tend to prefer preventative measures here in the EU, so better pre-boarding security checks etc to weed out any actual serious attempts at hijacking in the air.

Pretty much everything you hear about these days is alcohol related, and can be dealt with by trained onboard crew members.

  • The US uses preventative measures, too; the Air Marshals are there as a last resort. Aug 18, 2017 at 14:43
  • Incidentally, part of the reason for the expansion of the use of air marshals on flights to the U.S. was that people with bombs got past security and were allowed to board flights from Europe to the U.S. on two different occasions. Thankfully, passengers stopped them in both incidents (and one of their devices also failed to do anything except burn himself.)
    – reirab
    Aug 21, 2017 at 17:33

By the book, it's the responsibility of the air marshals (if available) then the cabin crew, but in reality able-bodied passengers are usually involved to help. Usually police officers, firemen, etc. (if were around) volunteer to help without asking them after identifying themselves.

Why are passengers involved? it's actually allowed for cabin crew to ask for the help of the able-bodied passengers in cases of emergencies, unruly passenger is an emergency.

Regarding flight deck crew, policy usually requires them to lock the flight deck door for any kind of access in such cases until things are cleared out to make sure it's not some sort of a diversion to allow potential associates to do a more serious offense, that is hijacking! By locking flight deck door I mean even authorized cabin crewmember(s) will not be able to access using the designated code, which they can in normal cases.

Once there's an unruly passenger onboard, there's a form to be filled by the senior cabin crew and signed by the captain to be handed to the authorities after landing. The captain will usually contact the nearest airport once the case is reported by cabin crew, then the captain will decide whether to land immediately in the nearest airport or to continue the flight. Either way, the passenger will be handed to the airport security once landed. Usually passengers will be requested to hold deplaning until security has detained the unruly passenger.

Source: I'm a cabin crewmember.

  • it's actually allowed for cabin crew to ask for the help of the able-bodied passengers in cases of emergencies I'm reminded of the scene in Airplane! in which Julie Hagerty goes on the PA and announces, "can anybody fly a plane?". Jul 4, 2019 at 7:09

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