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Increase in drunken and disruptive passengers halted in latest airport operation

News   •   Sep 23, 2019 06:00 BST

A campaign to combat drunken and disruptive behaviour at Gatwick Airport has reached a successful conclusion.

Project Disrupt – formerly known as Operation Disrupt – was launched in 2015 with the following aims:

  • To prevent, reduce and control drunken or disruptive behaviour at the airport and on flights;
  • To raise awareness of the campaign through early engagement with passengers;
  • And to take robust action against those who compromise this.

This year, Sussex Police has worked more collaboratively with Gatwick Airport Ltd and its businesses, including retailers, restaurants and airlines, and all staff are encouraged to report any incidents as early as possible to enable officers to intervene and prevent situations from potentially escalating.

A total of 376 reports of problematic passengers were reported to police during the latest campaign, which ran from 1 May to 31 August. This is despite an increase of 106,475 passengers compared to the same period the previous year.

It also bucks the trend of recent years, which saw a steady increase of recorded incidents year-on-year (118 in 2015; 113 in 2016; 266 in 2017; and 379 in 2018).

Inspector James Biggs, of the Gatwick Prevention Team, said: “While these figures may seem high on the face of it, recorded incidents of disorderly behaviour are comparatively rare at the airport, representing just 0.001 per cent of all passengers. However, when incidents do occur, we need to ensure we are able to respond efficiently and effectively, to keep the level of disruption to a minimum.

“Identifying potential problem passengers at an early stage allows airlines to put bags on standby so they do not have to search the entire hold if an individual continues to be disruptive and is refused flight. This results in fewer delayed flights and less congestion, saving both the airline – and the airport – time and money.

“We run this operation over the summer months when typically, reports of drunken or disorderly behaviour at the airport increase. But it’s important to note that this is not all about drunkenness – of the 376 incidents reported, only 119 were recorded as being alcohol-related.”

Other factors include smoking, drug-taking, domestic incidents, assaults, baggage problems, delayed or cancelled flights and medical or mental health episodes.

There were 51 arrests, down from 56 in 2018, broken down as follows:

  • 27 alcohol-related;
  • 9 public order;
  • 6 assault;
  • 4 sexual offences;
  • 3 racially aggravated public order;
  • 2 domestic violence.

Insp Biggs added: “Of the 27 alcohol-related arrests, nine were on inbound flights, which we could not have any influence or control over. And while we endeavour to engage with outbound passengers to make them aware of their responsibilities before they fly, there will unfortunately always be a minority who ignore our advice and ruin their trip for themselves – and others.

“We hope to build on this collaborative operation to develop and improve Project Disrupt, to ensure Gatwick Airport continues to be a safe and successful destination to travel to and from.”

Nikki Barton, Head of Stable Operations, Gatwick Airport, said: “Only a very small minority of our passengers are disruptive, but it is important that we do all we can to reduce this number further.

“These figures suggest that our joint campaign with the police is working and has reversed the trend. We are not complacent, however, and we will continue to improve the measures we have in place, including working collaboratively with our airlines and the police, encouraging the early reporting of disruptive behaviour and targeting specific flights.

“It also remains vital that the public are aware of the serious consequences of being disruptive while at an airport or on an aircraft.”

In addition to the arrests made, 22 passengers received a Community Resolution, 67 were decontrolled (removed from a flight) and six were required to quit (leave the airport).

Only 146 of the 376 incidents reported required police action; the remaining were resolved by other agencies such as the airport or airlines.

Airlines have a right to refuse to carry passengers they consider to be a potential risk to the safety of its aircraft, its crew or its passengers.

Any individual convicted of being drunk on board an aircraft could face a maximum fine of £5,000 and up to two years in prison.

Offenders may also be required to reimburse an airline in the event of a diverted or cancelled flight.

Author: Sam Satchell
Ref: SXP55421/2019

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