Flight attendant uniforms become “target” amid spike in unruly passenger incidents, union president says


The drastic increase in unruly passenger incidents throughout 2021 made it difficult for flight attendants to don their uniforms and return to once-friendly skies, according to the president of the world’s largest flight attendant union .

“The uniform is [a] target, maybe become a target, ”Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International, told FOX Business.


According to the most recent data from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there have been more than 5,000 reports of unruly passenger behavior since the start of the year, with an average of 5.6 incidents per 10,000 flights each. week.

A United Airlines flight attendant wearing a face mask exits the international terminal at San Francisco International Airport in Millbrae, Calif., January 31, 2020. (Yichuan Cao / NurPhoto via Getty Images / Getty Images)

At this rate, “the number of incidents is set to be higher in 2021 than in the entire history of aviation,” according to Nelson’s written testimony to the House Transport and Infrastructure Committee, in which she details “combative, abusive, provocative and violent behavior on our planes.”

However, FAA statistics are not enough to show the full impact on flight attendants, according to Nelson.

A recent survey by the union, which includes nearly 5,000 responses from flight attendants at 30 airlines, shows a “greater impact on workers than numbers reported by the FAA,” according to Nelson.


Data from the July survey found that 85% of flight attendants encountered unruly passengers as air travel resumed in 2021, with an additional 17% admitting incidents became physical.

Cabin crew with face mask showing safety demonstration. (Nicolas Economou / NurPhoto via Getty Images / Getty Images)

“It doesn’t matter which airline you fly for,” Nelson told FOX Business. “When flight attendants see another flight attendant hit in the face, bloodied, abused, we all feel it.”

Yet even with “a lot of apprehension,” the flight attendants kept going to work, Nelson added.

“We are the aviation first responder to cabin health and safety emergencies, but we are also aviation’s last line of defense,” said Nelson. “We know the security risks that still exist. And not only are these individual incidents of great concern, possibly very harmful, incredibly risky, but they also bring an additional problem of creating distractions. ”


Nelson said that such a distraction is “something that those who wish to harm can use in their tool manual to try and trick people into believing that something else is going on. But there is an attack more. important. ”

The industry cannot accept this “new normal”, she said.

A Southwest Airlines flight attendant prepares a plane to Orlando, Florida for take off on Sunday, May 24, 2020 at the Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Missouri. (AP Photo / Charlie Riedel / AP Newsroom)

Since January, the FAA has been trying to tackle the problem by applying its zero tolerance policy, which was passed after the agency saw a “worrying increase in incidents where airline passengers disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior,” the FAA said.

Since then, there have been 950 investigations and around 227 enforcement cases have been opened, according to the FAA.

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Under the FAA Reauthorization bill, the agency can offer up to $ 37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases as a repercussion. However, cases are multiplying and employees feel seriously in danger.

“I have been yelled at, cursed and threatened countless times over the past year, and the maximum that has come of this has been a temporary suspension of travel for the passenger,” one flight attendant wrote in one testimony to House Transportation. and Infrastructure Committee. “We need real consequences if flight attendants are to feel safe on the job again.”

While the FAA can propose fines against passengers, the agency cannot prosecute criminal cases.

To help, the union “calls on the Justice Department to use existing law to criminally prosecute up to 20 years in prison for any bad actor, anyone who creates harm or risk to the rest of the passengers of a theft, “Nelson said.


Recently, the union applauded the Justice Department for indicting a 20-year-old Californian for an alleged October 27 assault on an American Airlines flight attendant.

“As the Federal Aviation Administration has moved to zero tolerance policies and imposed an unprecedented number of civil penalties, the Department of Justice is the only way to really get the attention of bad actors,” Nelson said in a press release after the charges were laid. .

These consequences will serve as a “very effective deterrent,” according to Nelson.


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