Testing a rational choice model of airline hijackings

Laura Dugan, Gary LaFree, Alex R. Piquero

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

123 Citations (Scopus)


Using data that combines information from the Federal Aviation Administration, the RAND Corporation and a newly developed database on global terrorist activity, we are able to examine trends in 1,101 attempted aerial hijackings that occurred around the world from 1931 to 2003. We have especially complete information for 828 hijackings that occurred before 1986. Using a rational choice theoretical framework, we use continuous-time survival analysis to estimate the impact of several major counterhijacking interventions on the hazard of differently motivated hijacking attempts and logistic regression analysis to model the predictors of successful hijackings. Some of these interventions use certainty-based strategies of target hardening to reduce the perceived likelihood of success. Others focus on raising the perceived costs of hijacking by increasing the severity of punishment. We also assess which strategies were most effective in deterring hijackers whose major purpose was related to terrorism. We found support for the conclusion that new hijacking attempts were less likely to be undertaken when the certainty of apprehension was increased through metal detectors and law enforcement at passenger checkpoints. We also found that fewer hijackers attempted to divert airliners to Cuba once that country made it a crime to hijack flights. Our results support the contagion view that hijacking rates significantly increase after a series of hijackings closely clustered in time-but only when these attempts were successful. Finally, we found that the policy interventions examined here significantly decreased the likelihood of nonterrorist but not that of terrorist hijackings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1031-1064
Number of pages34
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Airline hijacking
  • Deterrence
  • Intervention
  • Policy interventions
  • Rational choice
  • Terrorism

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