• Virgin Australia Flight VA45 was forced to divert due to three disruptive male passengers who became intoxicated and refused to move from their emergency exit row seats.
  • The passengers continued to behave badly by consuming duty-free alcohol and one even allegedly vaping in their seat.
  • The incident highlights the increasing number of unruly passenger incidents on airplanes, leading to stricter policies and potential fines for disorderly conduct. The Federal Aviation Administration refers unruly passengers to the FBI.

On July 28th, 2023, Virgin Australia Flight VA45 was forced to divert after three male passengers were disruptive and put the aircraft’s safety at risk, the cabin crew said.

The Boeing 737 (VH-YIG) departed from Brisbane Airport (BNE) and was headed to Denpasar Ngurah Rai International Airport (DPS) in Indonesia. However, the commander decided to divert to Darwin International Airport (DRW) after 04:09 flight time.

The passengers started acting up after becoming intoxicated. The cabin crew asked the trio to move from their seats in the emergency exit row over concerns that they could not adequately assist in an emergency.

According to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the passengers initially refused to move but yielded after some back and forth with the crew. After the move, the 42-year-old from East Brisbane and two 20-year-old passengers from Sheldon and Wellington Point became unbearable. The trio then began consuming duty-free alcohol they’d brought onboard. The AFP said, “One passenger was also allegedly observed vaping in their seat.”

After the crew feared their behavior would worsen, the pilot decided a diversion to Darwin was the best course of action. Upon landing, AFP officers boarded the plane and removed the three passengers without incident at roughly 4 pm local time.

Virgin Australia Boeing 737 MAX 8
Photo: Virgin Australia

The AFP said in their statement, “The AFP has removed three passengers from an international flight bound for Indonesia, with an airline forced to unexpectedly divert its aircraft to Darwin to offload the group over concerns for their escalating disruptive behavior,”

The flight then continued to its intended destination, departing the airport 20 minutes after it landed and reached Indonesia with minimal delay.

The aftermath

The passengers were then given a warning and released from police custody pending fines for disorderly behavior, consuming alcohol, and smoking onboard aircraft. The men can be fined a maximum of $9000 for disorderly conduct.

Darwin Airport Commander, Superintendent Greg Davis, said the AFP would not tolerate offensive and disruptive behavior onboard aircraft or inside airports across Australia. He said:

"We know that the majority of passengers do the right thing, and they should not have their travel disrupted or feel unsafe because of the bad behavior of some individuals. We again remind the public that airports are not nightclubs. We have zero tolerance for abusive and aggressive behavior at airports and on aircraft."

Worsening behavior

According to an analysis conducted by the International Air Transport Association, the number of unruly passenger incidents on airplanes has increased from one per 835 flights in 2021 to one per 568 flights in 2022, which is a worrying 47% increase.

Virgin Australia will launch a Boeing 737 MAX 8 route from Cairns to Tokyo
Photo: Peter Gudella | Shutterstock

The majority of the incidents are similar to the incident aboard flight VA45. However, things do physical once every 17,200 flights, according to the IATA.

IATA Deputy Director General Conrad Clifford had this to say about the increase in incidents:

“Passengers and crew are entitled to a safe and hassle-free experience onboard. While our professional crews are well trained to manage unruly passenger scenarios, there is no excuse for not following the instructions of the crew.”

Many major airlines have passed zero-tolerance policies against poor passenger behavior, resulting in more diversions and delays for passengers and crew alike. The Federal Aviation Administration takes things further by referring unruly passengers to the FBI.

Sources: Sky News; Daily Mail