Flight attendants demand more measures
FAA calls for thousands of fines on disruptive air travelers
The Federal Aviation Administration is getting aggressive when it comes to disruptive passengers.
UNITED STATES TODAY
- The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has called on the government, airlines and airports to do more to reduce the number of unruly passenger incidents.
- So far this year, airline crews have reported 4,385 incidents of unruly passenger behavior to the FAA, nearly three in four of which are mask-related.
- The FAA is planning meetings with airlines, airports and other industry players to share ideas on other ways to limit incidents.
American Airlines flight attendant Teddy Andrews was working on a flight in mid-January when a colleague came into the aft galley in tears because a passenger did not want to put on his mask.
Andrews went to speak to the passenger about the mask requirement and was quickly greeted with a racist rant.
“He looked at me – and I won’t repeat the epithet he used – he said, ‘N-word, I don’t have to listen to what you say, this is a free country'” Andrews recalled during congressional hearing on the air rage Thursday. âI was completely baffled. I didn’t know what to say. But he continued, ‘You heard me, N-word boy.’ “
Andrews told the US Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Aviation Subcommittee that he had lost count of the number of times he had been insulted or threatened on a flight since returning to work a year ago after nearly dying of COVID-19 after a work trip in March 2020. He said flight attendants are well trained for medical emergencies, evacuations and security threats, but their “imminent danger” is air rage.
âThese days, I come to work anticipating disruptive behavior,â said the Charlotte, NC-based flight attendant and member of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants. âOur colleagues are anxious, fearful. What will happen on the next flight? How will this passenger react if I remind them to wear their mask? Will following airline policies trigger them? an escape from my homework? “
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Andrews and Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, called on the government, airlines and airports to do more to reduce the number of unruly passenger incidents. The proposals included:
- a ban on alcohol to take away at the airport,
- airlines sharing their internal no-fly lists with other airlines so that banned passengers do not disrupt another flight,
- and federal criminal prosecution in the most egregious cases.
The new measures would add to a host of efforts already well underway. The FAA has proposed fines totaling over $ 1 million as part of its zero tolerance policy and issued a public service announcement with a frightening sound of misbehaving passengers. President Joe Biden called earlier this month to “show some respect” to airline employees and doubled TSA fines for not wearing masks on planes and at airports. And American and Southwest has decided not to resume in-flight alcohol sales.
Most incidents involving passengers and crew are mask-related
“One more air rage event, one more flight attendant threatened or assaulted, is one too many,” Andrews said.
So far this year, airline crews have reported 4,385 incidents of unruly passenger behavior at the FAA, nearly three in four of which were mask-related. The FAA has opened 788 incident-related investigations, four times the number of investigations in 2020. The agency has proposed fines in 162 cases to date.
The AFA calls the numbers “staggering” and Nelson said if they continued at this rate there would be more incidents in 2021 than all previous years combined. In testimony given at the hearing, she called it a âscourge of abusive passengersâ.
âWe cannot accept this as the new normal,â Nelson said.
The Federal Aviation Administration had positive news on the unruly passenger front on Thursday, noting that the rate of reported incidents fell about 50% from the start of the year. The agency said much of the drop has happened since it launched a public service campaign warning travelers of the consequences of bad behavior in late August.
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The rate of reported incidents is now six times per 10,000 flights, according to the FAA. It’s still more than twice as high as at the end of 2020 and remains “too high,” the agency said in a statement. Press release.
The FAA is planning meetings with airlines, airports and other industry players to share ideas on other ways to limit incidents.
“This behavior stems from a small percentage of the traveling public,” Representative Rick Larsen, D-Wash., Chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said at the hearing. “But, it is disgusting, it is unacceptable and it is a danger to other passengers, the crew and the entire American aviation system. Congress, the federal government and the aviation industry must work together to protect airline crews, airport personnel and the traveling public from passenger explosions. â
Proposals from flight attendants to put an end to air rage incidents
Flight attendants have many ideas on how to reduce the number of unruly passenger incidents and have not hesitated to share them.
Among the main proposals raised during Thursday’s hearing:
âºEnd take-out alcohol sales at airports and implement other restrictions on alcohol.
House transport committee chairman Peter De Fazio said some airports had touted take-out alcohol sales during the pandemic.
âIt literally encourages people to break the law: get yourself a large take-out mug with four shots in it and take it on the plane,â he said. “So this has to end.”
âºNo BYOB: Airlines warn passengers against bringing their own alcohol on board
De Fazio said he was having a beer at an unnamed airport recently when another passenger ordered three glasses of vodka in a take-out mug, noting that it is difficult for airline boarding agents to know what’s in it.
“How are you going to say it?” he said. “Is that coffee, soda?” What is that ? “
Nelson said the end of airport take-out sales was the “handy fruit” of the extra effort needed to curb bad behavior.
Christopher Bidwell, senior vice president of security for Airports Council International in North America, rebuffed suggestions that alcohol restrictions at airports are necessary. He said FAA figures indicate that 6% of unruly passenger incidents involve alcohol and there is no way of knowing where drunk passengers initially got intoxicated.
Bidwell said take-out alcohol sales began before the pandemic and are only offered at a relatively small number of airports. He added that at some airports, efforts are underway between concessionaires and airlines to mark take-out cups containing alcohol to better assist gatekeepers trying to enforce the policy. He did not name the airports.
âºEncourage the US Department of Justice to criminalize more passengers who misbehave.
âThere are a lot of cases the DOJ could deal with and we need the DOJ to take more aggressive action,â Nelson said.
The prospect of jail time and the publicity of the lawsuits, which has been repeatedly recommended, would send a strong message to fellow passengers, she said.
The DOJ has only taken on one case so far, laying criminal assault charges against a Southwest Airlines passenger in early September. The flight attendants union said the employee lost teeth in the May incident, which went “viral” on social media. Southwest decided not to resume in-flight alcohol sales after the incident.
The story continues below.
New Southwest Airlines CEO Bob Jordan, who is due to replace Gary Kelly in February, raised the case when asked about unruly passenger incidents at a travel industry conference in New York on Thursday .
“We had an air hostess who received a punch,” he told the World Skift Forum. “No one deserves to come to work and have it happen to them so we’re not going to put up with that.”
He called it an extreme case, however, and said the majority of the airline’s flight attendants had not encountered any fighting or other headline-grabbing incidents.
âºHave airlines share lists of passengers they have banned for bad behavior with other airlines.
Airlines have established internal no-fly lists to deal with the spike in unruly passenger incidents. Delta Air Lines has 1,600 passengers on its internal no-fly list, of which 600 were added this year. United Airlines’ list goes up to 700.
In a note to flight attendants ahead of the House hearing this week, Delta Senior Vice President of Inflight Services Kristen Manion Taylor said the airline has asked other airlines to share their lists to further protect employees.
âA banned customer list doesn’t work as well if that customer can travel with another airline,â the memo reads.
Nelson recounted an incident where an unruly passenger was banned from an airline, got off the flight and took a flight on another carrier and “continued to be a problem on the next flight.”