Unruly passengers are on the rise as the airline industry bounces back from pandemic lows, according to a survey of flight attendants.
The Association of Flight Attendants, one of the largest unions of flight attendants in the U.S., surveyed its members about their experiences with passengers over the past year. Nearly 5,000 people responded, and out of those, more than 800 attendants reported at least one “physical incident,” with a passenger getting physically aggressive with another person aboard the plane.
According to the survey, most recent physical incidents have been set off by federal mask requirements aboard flights. According to the FAA, airlines have reported more than 3,600 cases of “unruly” passengers, which also includes non-physical incidents that still required action. Almost three-quarters of those reported had to do with masks.
In the AFA’s survey, aside from physical confrontation, attendants also reported being verbally harassed, threatened, or followed off of the plane after a flight. After mask policies, the next two largest factors were alcohol and flight delays.
The FAA and the AFA would both like more authority to deal with these passengers. The FAA has no authority to pursue criminal charges, but airlines and the union are trying to push for high fines and criminal charges for airborne infractions. So far in 2021, the FAA is investigating 600 cases of unruly passengers, more than twice the total of 2019 and 2020 together.
One such case involves a man aboard a Delta Air Lines flight from LA to Tennessee. Incensed over being told he was required to wear a mask throughout the flight, he tried to open the cockpit door and then struck a flight attendant. The FAA is attempting to fine him over $50,000, which still won’t cover the fees Delta paid for the premature landing the flight had to make in New Mexico, or the rerouted flights for the other 161 passengers.
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