By DebbieH 26 Feb 2021 7 min read

Tactics for dealing with tricky passengers

In your role as cabin crew, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across a tricky passenger or two in your time. As there is no easy way to remove a passenger mid flight (except for an expensive diversion), it is up to the cabin crew to come up with another way to handle and diffuse the situation.

In this blog, our industry partner, Cabin Crew Wings, share their thoughts on how cabin crew can manage conflict with difficult passengers to ensure a smooth and happy flight for everyone.



Keep Calm and Carry On

One of the most important things to learn when dealing with conflict is to stay calm. This is often more difficult than it sounds! But try not to let your agitation get the upper hand.

When you’re working as cabin crew, you’re the ‘face’ of the airline and it’s part of your responsibilities to remain professional at all times.


Difficult Passengers

The most common type of conflict you’ll have to deal with are customer complaints – which can often be things that are completely out of your control. This might include delayed flights, the behaviour of another passenger onboard, or even someone not liking the in-flight menu.

It’s important to remember that when a customer is cross or upset, it’s not personal – they’re just taking out their frustration on you because you’re there at that moment! However, it can be upsetting, particularly if it’s your first experience of dealing with a difficult customer.


  • Really pay attention and listen to the passenger’s complaint, and reassure them that you understand and sympathise with their frustration.
  • Ask them what will make the situation better for them. Hopefully they will be reasonable and you can find some common ground to appease their frustrations.
  • Try to think of something you can do to help. For example, if someone is upset because of a missed connection, you could advise them on who they need to talk to once the flight has landed.
  • If you feel yourself getting agitated, take a breath and pause before you reply. Don’t react in the heat of the moment as you could make the situation worse and put your career at risk.

If a passenger displays aggressive or threatening behaviour, this is not acceptable. In this scenario, you are well within your rights to calmly and professionally advise the passenger that threatening or aggressive behaviour is not allowed on board. You can furthermore outline the consequences of their actions if they carry on behaving in this way.

If they refuse to listen, senior crew members can notify the cockpit and further action can be taken. Pilots may request for passengers to be ‘offloaded’ if the aircraft has not yet departed or the police may be called to meet the plane upon landing. In extreme cases, the flight may be diverted or passengers can be handcuffed to their seats.


Nervous Passengers

Nervous flyers may essentially be on a ‘hair-trigger’, and act in a way that is completely out of character for them. This can manifest as difficult or aggressive behaviour, particularly if alcohol is involved.

When dealing with nervous flyers:

  • Talk to them – acknowledge their fear of flying and reassure them that you’ll be there and keep an eye on them during the flight.
  • Distract them – ask them where they’re going or point out a good film which is on the in-flight entertainment.
  • Educate them – explain how stringent the safety checks are, and tell them that you’re there to keep the passengers safe.


Intoxicated Passengers

Drunk passengers is a major headache which cabin crew have to often deal with. However, it can lead to difficult and even dangerous situations.

If you think a passenger has had too much to drink, you are within your rights to not serve them anymore. You can furthermore remind the passenger that it’s a criminal offence to be drunk and disorderly on board an aircraft.

However, telling a drunk person that they can’t have anymore alcohol can lead to conflict so it is advisable to handle with caution. Your airline should have a policy on how to deal with drunk passengers, but if none of these tactics are working, you should liaise with senior cabin crew members on how to deal with it. Perhaps you advise all passengers that the bar is now closed.



If you’re a person who hates arguments or conflicts, dealing with tricky passengers can be a huge challenge but it is something you’ll have to learn to deal with. However, the more you experience it, the easier it will be to handle it; you will be able to draw experience from previous situations on how best to manage the situation.

Remember that the first few times will be the hardest; treat it as an experience to learn from, a form of character building!



Article provided by Chartered Occupational Psychologist, Hannah Vallance, Cabin Crew Wings


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