Be tough and throw the book at the worst unruly airline passengers

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If you’re an airline flight attendant, chances are you’re already dreading the next holiday travel season, and for good reason.

Thinking of the prospect of crowded flights disrupted by unruly passengers, often upset about putting on a mask, maybe drunk and verbally abusive, maybe even angry enough to punch – well, we’d dread the job. too.

Air travel can be stressful in any case. Abusive and violent passengers make it even more so, and also endanger flight safety.

We therefore applaud the Federal Aviation Administration for taking a tough stance last week to hold travelers to account, referring 37 cases involving the most violent passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution.

Good. Throw them the book, as the law allows.

“Let this serve as both a warning and a deterrent,” FAA Administrator Stephen Dickson said in a joint FAA-FBI statement last week. “If you disrupt a flight, you risk not only FAA fines, but federal criminal prosecution as well,”

The heavy fines and zero tolerance policy announced by Dickson earlier this year were not enough to deter the worst offenders. Reports of unruly passengers continued to soar to record levels this year.

Most often, the abuse comes from passengers who, behaving more stubbornly than an old mule, insist on defying the federal rule requiring face masks on flights and at airports to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Some passengers even physically assaulted flight attendants, such as the young man who became so violent that the flight he was on from New York to Orange County, California had to be diverted to Denver.

Apparently some people need more than a fine. Interfering with the duties of crew members is a violation of federal law, the FAA points out.

Expect to see more cases referred to the FBI, “if any,” an FAA spokesperson told us.

Flight attendants request action

The numbers for 2021 so far are much higher than in previous years: 5,033 reports of unruly passengers were made by airlines to the FAA, of which 3,642 – 72% – were related to wearing masks. The FAA has launched 950 worst case investigations and has already taken 227 enforcement actions.

Under the FAA’s zero tolerance policy, this means immediate fines. No more warnings or orders to follow advice, joint sanctions before unruly passenger reports start to skyrocket this year.

The Flight Attendants Association-CWA / AFL-CIO, the union that represents flight attendants from 17 airlines, says unruly passengers have too often fled with violence in the past.

The union wants to go beyond prosecution, with a central list of worst offenders who would be banned from all airlines.

Consider some of the findings from the union’s survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants:

  • 85% of those surveyed had encountered unruly passengers in the first half of 2021.
  • 58% had experienced at least five incidents during this period.
  • 17%, or nearly one in five respondents, said they had suffered a physical incident.
  • 85% of the incidents experienced by the attendants were related to the respect of the mask.

“Many respondents recounted aggressive incidents, including shoving, kicking in seats, throwing garbage on the flight crew, soiling the lavatories in response to crewmembers’ instructions and doing so. to follow the flight crew through the airport to keep yelling and harassing, ”said AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson. testimony before the House Aviation Subcommittee in September.

Ground crews have also been attacked or threatened, Nelson said.

There is a good chance that vacation travel will increase this year. The federal requirement for face masks on flights and at airports remains in place, as it should be given tight aircraft limits and the stubborn refusal of far too many Americans to get vaccinated.

Passengers who prefer violence to obeying the law must pay the price.

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