“It’s out of control. Airlines and flight attendants want tougher penalties for unruly passengers
Flight attendants wearing protective masks pass through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday April 7, 2021.
Elie Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A JetBlue Airways flight to New York returned to the Dominican Republic in early February after a passenger allegedly refused to wear a face mask, threw an empty liquor bottle and food, struck the arm of a flight attendant and grabbed another’s arm.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which detailed the incident in a report, slapped the passenger with a fine of $ 32,750.
Reports of verbal abuse, non-compliance with federal mask obligations and assaults on airline passengers are on the rise. Now, airline industry groups, flight attendants and lawmakers want the government to do more to stop it.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it has received around 3,000 reports of unruly passenger behavior from airlines since the start of the year. The agency implemented a “zero tolerance” policy and threatened fines of up to $ 35,000 earlier this year, after a series of politically motivated incidents on flights and airports at the time. of the riot at the United States Capitol on January 6. Passengers have 30 days to dispute the fines.
The FAA has so far recommended civil penalties in excess of $ 360,000, according to airline industry figures, although recent agency releases describe incidents that allegedly occurred in February, meaning that ‘there are probably more cases and fines to disclose.
Flight attendants unions say their members have been the victims of insults and yelling from passengers, some of them intoxicated, and in rare instances of violence.
This was the case on a Southwest Airlines flight last month after a passenger allegedly hit a flight attendant, who lost two teeth as a result, her union said.
“It’s out of control,” said Paul Hartshorn, spokesperson for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, which represents more than 20,000 American Airlines cabin crew. “It really gets to the point where we have to defend ourselves.”
Airlines executives note that cases are rare given the number of passengers they carry. Transportation Security Administration airport checks recently passed 2 million a day, the highest since before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic in mid-March 2020.
But the problem adds to the stress of flight attendants after a year of job insecurity and work-related health issues amid a pandemic, said Sara Nelson, a prominent union leader and international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the world’s largest flight attendant union with some 50,000 members across more than a dozen airlines.
“Even if it doesn’t reach the level of a physical altercation, just the constant bickering, name calling and disrespect, which wears people out,” she said.
Most of the cases have been linked to the refusal of passengers to wear masks on board, which the Biden administration mandated earlier this year, although airlines have been demanding it since the start of the pandemic. The administration extended it until mid-September.
A passenger on a Jan. 7 Alaska Airlines flight between Washington, DC and Seattle allegedly pushed a flight attendant as cabin crew walked down the aisle to check to see if travelers were wearing face masks, said the FAA, which fined the traveler $ 15,000.
There is not just one reason behind the incidents, but the law is a common thread in the manifestations of anger, according to Ryan Martin, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, who has studied anger for about two decades and is the author of “Why We Get Angry: How to Use Your Anger for Positive Change”.
“What we do know is that law correlates with anger, which means the more rights you have the more angry you are,” Martin said.
Another factor behind disruptive behavior could be readily available examples of other people acting the same online, he said.
“We have seen many examples of people who have lost their temper and have had what I would call temper tantrums over the past year, very publicly,” Martin said. “Some of these things may have modeled a way of dealing with problems for people that is not really a sane and reasonable way of dealing with problems.”
Heightened anxiety about returning to travel could also have exacerbated tensions, he added, although he noted that one of the best indicators of whether a person will become violent is that they believe in violence. to resolve the issues in the first place.
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Sen. Jack Reed, DR.I., plans to introduce legislation before the end of this month “that would cover abusive behavior by passengers on board flights” and against TSA agents, the spokesperson told CNBC. lyrics by Chip Unruh.
Airlines for America, which represents most of the major US airlines, as well as several industry unions, wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday urging him to ask the Department of Justice to “commit to fully prosecute. and publicly the acts of violence on board “.
At a hearing last week, Representative Bennie Thompson, D.-Miss., Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asked about what the agency is doing to fight assaults and other unruly behavior on planes and at airports.
“We have also prepared the Federal Air Marshals to deal with any acts of violence that they themselves observe during flights,” Mayorkas said. “It is important to note that we are working with law enforcement to ensure that these acts are complied with with the full force of federal law. Those people who commit these heinous acts are prosecuted with the full force of the law.”
Nelson, the union leader, said that a TSA’s currently voluntary self-defense course for flight attendants should be part of their compulsory and paid training provided by airlines.
Southwest Airlines and American Airlines delayed plans to resume alcohol sales for much of the cabin last month, while United Airlines slashed them, at the behest of flight attendant unions, following the attack alleged against the Southwest crew member.
Brady Byrnes, general manager of flight service at American, told staff: “We also recognize that alcohol can contribute to atypical customer behavior on board and we owe it to our crew not to potentially exacerbate what can already be a new and stressful situation for our customers. “
A bar at the Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport. May 28, 2021
Leslie Josephs | CNBC
Nelson and Hartshorn, spokespersons for the American Airlines flight attendants union, said it was essential to prevent intoxicated travelers from leaving planes. Some boarding agents remind travelers that they cannot bring their own alcohol on board until they begin to allow travelers on flights.
“At the gate we can handle it, but at 35,000 feet it becomes a serious problem very quickly,” said Hartshorn.
Flight attendants are trained to defuse arguments with passengers, unions say. Nelson, a 25-year-old flight attendant at United, noted that one challenge is that flight attendants have fewer tools than usual to deal with disruptive passengers.
One tactic for dealing with a disruptive passenger may be to move them to another seat, but planes fly fuller, leaving fewer options, she said. Food services were also limited during the pandemic, so it is not always possible to offer passengers food or drink to try to calm them down.
A clearer message about the rules and consequences, from airport bars to officials, is important, however, she added.
FAA administrator Steve Dickson, a former Delta pilot, has made several media appearances, including last week on TMZ, in an attempt to warn travelers of hefty fines and potential jail time for behavior disruptive or violent behavior, and the agency frequently posted on social media. warn travelers to behave or face consequences.
A Dallas / Fort Worth International-based American Airlines flight attendant told CNBC the increase in unruly passengers had discouraged her from pressuring passengers to wear masks if they were refused.
“If I see it heating up, I will back off,” said the flight attendant, who requested anonymity because she feared it could jeopardize her job. She said she hadn’t known an unruly traveler, but added “I think it’s a matter of time.”