• Wed. May 11th, 2022

The airline industry relies on aggressive customers | News

the airline industry, like many others, is experiencing an unprecedented spike in unruly and aggressive behavior from customers during the pandemic.

Ken Kyle, president of the Denver-based United Airlines Association of Flight Attendants Local Council, said that in his 40 years in the industry, he had never seen passenger incidents so prevalent.

“I’ll be so happy when – I don’t know what year or what century – it’s over,” Kyle says. “It’s really caused quite a problem for airline staff, to the point where now legislation is needed for protection.”

The problem is exemplified by close national tracking of incident reports by federal agencies, which singles out airlines and airports from entities like restaurants and hospitals that must do their own data collection on verbal and physical abuse to which they face from customers. Airline officials and flight crew unions have also been particularly outspoken on the issue.

Sara Nelson, international president of the AFA, an affiliate of the Communication Workers of America that represents flight attendants at 17 airlines, testified in December before the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, calling on Congress to Enforce more protections for airline workers. .

“Throughout 2021, disruptive passenger incidents and violent events against crew and passengers were exponentially higher than any previous year in aviation,” Nelson says. “While the number of bad actors is relatively small, the rate of disruption has been so pervasive [that] flight attendants wonder every morning they put on their uniform whether it will be a sign of leadership and authority in the cabin to keep everyone safe, or a target for a violent attack.

Between 2000 and 2020, the Federal Aviation Administration opens approximately 100 to 300 investigations into unruly passenger incidents each year. But in 2021, the number of investigations exploded to 1,099, according to the agency’s data and research website.

Of the 323 reports of unruly passengers the FAA has received so far in 2022, 205 of them were related to masks, says the website, whose data was last updated Feb. 1.

The Transportation Security Administration is collecting additional data on people refusing to comply with the mask mandate on any form of federal transportation, including on airports, airplanes, and rail and bus services. The TSA numbers reflect incidents of mask denial that could result in civil penalties, before escalating to the FAA’s “unruly passenger” level of behavior, which can result in criminal penalties.

The TSA has received 6,500 reports of passengers refusing to wear masks since the administration began enforcing the mandate on Feb. 2, 2021, says Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for the TSA in the western United States, in an email. Eighty-five percent of those incidents were related to aviation, not surface transportation, she wrote.

Information about local TSA incidents, including the refusal of passengers to comply with the mask mandate at Colorado Springs airport, is not released by the administration as these incidents are classified because they are of civil and not criminal in nature, Dankers said.

The Colorado Springs Police Department responds to calls related to incidents and crimes at the airport, including those made by TSA agents working at security checkpoints, she said. Dankers could not anecdotally recall if she had heard of any significant reports of unruly passenger behavior at COS.

But Natashia Kerr, senior public communications specialist for the CSPD, said the department’s sergeant and officers assigned to the airport confirmed that “there have been instances of unruly passengers in response to federal face mask warrants. including “reports of harassment and assaults directed at airport and airline workers.

“Although we have seen these cases, Colorado Springs Airport has not asked us to increase staff, nor has the Colorado Springs Police Department assigned more officers to the airport to process mask mandates,” Kerr said in an email. “Over the past difficult years, we have been able to work in sync [with COS officials] to ensure the safety of passengers and staff.

Dankers recalls an infamous passenger incident in Colorado – a Californian, Brian Hsu, was charged by the US District Attorney’s Office of Colorado in November 2021 with interference with a flight crew and assault and intimidation of a flight attendant aboard a plane, according to a federal indictment.

Hsu was on an American Airlines flight on October 27 from New York to Santa Ana, California, which had to be diverted to Denver International Airport (DEN) after he allegedly punched a flight attendant in the face, leaving her bleeding his nose and giving him a concussion, according to an FBI affidavit.

DEN, which was recently ranked the world’s third-busiest airport and reported around 58.8 million travelers in 2021, was the site of “several” unruly passenger incidents handled by the FBI last year, including one case where a Cañon City man failed to wear a mask and urinate in his seat while on an Alaska Airlines flight, according to a press release from the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Dankers, like Nelson, pointed out that these types of incidents and the number of people who choose to defy public health rules, flight crews and safety officials are relatively small, considering the millions of Americans who travel by plane every day. But the impact of a single incident is immense, she says.

“One incident is one incident too many,” she said. “If you’re on this flight, it will stay with you forever.”


Airline industry officials say most passengers are cooperative.

Kyle, who represents United Airline flight attendants based in DEN and Phoenix, say it is one of the busiest international airports in the country, DEN presents more opportunities for airline workers to have negative interactions with The passengers.

The longer the flight — whether overseas or a four-hour flight to the East Coast — the longer passengers have to keep their masks on and the more restless they tend to be, Kyle says.

“They go hand in hand,” he says. “The longer the flights, the longer they have to keep their masks on, and the more likely they are [it is] that they have the opportunity either for the catering service on the plane, or for the food they brought, … often using it as an excuse not to wear a mask.

“Flight attendants are put in the position of parents,” adds Kyle.

Bad weather delaying or canceling flights to DEN also adds to passengers’ “overall travel frustration”, and alcohol consumption at airports and in-flight can fuel aggression, he says.

And because they are the enforcers of masks on flights, flight attendants are most often the workers subjected to aggressive passenger reactions to the mandate. In a survey of 5,000 national members last year, the AFA found that 85% of flight attendants surveyed had encountered unruly passengers during air travel, and 17% said they had been physically assaulted. , according to a press release from the AFA.

Interfering with the duties of aircraft employees has long been a federal crime, as it can be especially dangerous when flight crews, who are tasked with keeping people safe in the air, are the target of harassment or assault. .

The FAA instituted a “zero tolerance” policy for unruly passenger behavior in January 2021 – increasing civil penalties and fines for those who break the law and eliminating a previous warning policy. The new policy coincided with an executive order mandating masks at airports, on airplanes and other federally-operated ground transportation.

But the AFA continues to press for further action. Nelson, the international president, urged the Justice Department in her Senate testimony to continue to criminally prosecute passengers who disrupt air travel, and called for publicly disclosed penalties to deter other bad actors. She has promoted a ban on take-out alcohol sales at airports and for airline officials to prevent intoxicated passengers from boarding planes.

Self-defense training for flight crews should be mandatory, she says, and offending passengers should be added to a “prohibited passenger list” shared among airlines.

A common list of banned passengers was also recently approved by Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, who went further by asking the Department of Justice to add passengers found guilty of in-flight disruptions to the “d FBI ‘no fly’ used to track potential. terrorist threats, the Associated Press reported.

Nelson says, “The cause of these attacks varies, but a common thread exists between these cases – lack of enforcement by local, state and federal departments creates the opportunity for attacks to continue and increase in severity.”

Kyle says he hopes flight attendants can return to a time when “screening passengers” who refuse to cooperate with COVID rules is no longer necessary.

“We want to go back to the good old days, to a normal and hopefully positive air travel experience,” he says. “That’s really not the case these days.”