After increase in assaults, flight attendants are saying enough is enough
A year and a half after the global pandemic began, with the Omicron variant lurking and vacation travel looming, many flight attendants say they have reached their limit with unruly passengers, many of whom still refuse to comply with mask requirements.
“My job is not to manage you, the only passenger who needs constant reminders to put their mask on. My job is to get people where they need to go as quickly and safely as possible,” said Mitra Amirzadeh – cost bearer flight attendant and member of the Association of Flight Attendants.
Dozens of videos over the past year have shown customers attacking flight attendants, including one in which multiple passengers had to use duct tape to hold an unruly man in his seat on a Frontier flight after causing a disruption to a flight attendant.
We just want to come to work and do our job.
“Since the FAA began tracking reports of such incidents on board, we have had more events in 2021 than in the entire history of those aviation records,” said Sara Nelson, president of the AFA and a flight attendant for two decades, told ABC News . These records began in 1995.
A flight attendant walks through an aircraft before the aircraft lands at Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas on November 24, 2021.
According to a survey conducted by the AFA-CWA and AFL-CIO, about 85% of nearly 5,000 U.S. flight attendants reported dealing with an unruly passenger in 2021, and 17% reported having been physically assaulted.
As of January 1, the Federal Aviation Administration has received at least 5,114 reports from recalcitrant passengers and 3,710 reports from passengers refusing to wear a mask. Of around 973 investigations, 239 resulted in penalties.
“Unfortunately, the anger in the air is all too widespread. I stopped counting the number of times I was insulted or threatened on a flight just for doing my job,” said Teddy Andrews, an American Airlines flight attendant, during one Testimony before Congress in September. “On that flight, my colleague came into tears after a passenger refused to wear a mask and made it difficult for her. He said, ‘N-word’, I don’t have to listen to a damn thing you say, this is a free country. ‘”
A sign reading “Masks required in this area” is seen as travelers prepare to check-in at Miami International Airport February 1, 2021, in Miami, Florida.
In addition to the ongoing abuse, flight attendants also fear increased health risks for passengers – and for themselves.
“I don’t think most passengers realize that we’re not just waiters and waitresses in the air. Our main job is safety, ”said Andrews.
In January, the FAA announced a zero tolerance campaign warning potential violators in flight that they could face fines and / or prison terms.
“The truth is, every day I go to work, I risk my life. I am risking my family’s life, ”added Amirzadeh.
In July, the AFA asked the Justice Department to make the directive permanent. Although incidents have “fallen sharply” since the FAA announced, “the rate remains too high”.
The politicization of wearing masks and the passengers who consume too much alcohol has created additional dangers, experts told ABC News.
“Within our airline,” said Paul Hartshorn, national communications chairman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants at American Airlines, “we have never seen so many incident reports every day. Many of them due to mask compliance, but many of them for other reasons. “
Part of the FAA’s public awareness campaign to reduce aviation fury includes pictures to share on social media.
“What we see on the plane now is what is happening in society,” added Andrews, American flight attendant. “This mask game is so politicized and polarized that people are now acting on the plane. We have always asked people to adhere to it – we ask you to buckle up, we ask you to stay seated. “
Attorney General Merrick Garland warned US attorneys across the country to be alert to unruly passengers on airplanes during the holiday season. After Thanksgiving, the FAA fined more than $ 161,000 on eight passengers alleged to have alcohol-related in-flight disruption.
“As airports continue to promote alcohol,” added Nelson, “it only gets worse and around the holidays as more people travel and travel more in the spirit of this celebratory atmosphere.”
According to a recent report from the Transportation Security Administration, travel volumes are expected to reach or exceed pre-pandemic levels by December. Those who work on airplanes said they expect full flights.
“The holiday season is going to be great, but not without its challenges as masking requirements remain in place,” said Andrews. “If the number of passengers increases, the frequency of air strikes could increase too.”
“All we want to do,” added Andrews, “is come to work and do our job.”