- Nearly 1 in 5 flight attendants said they experienced a physical altercation with unruly passengers.
- The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA surveyed 5,000 workers regarding aggressive passengers.
- The AFA has requested the federal government step in to prevent violent altercations.
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Nearly one in five flight attendants has been in a physical altercation with unruly passengers this year.
In a survey of 5,000 flight attendants by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, 17% reported experiencing a physical incident in the first half of 2021.
More than 85% of respondents said they had dealt with unruly passengers this year, and 61% of flight attendants said they heard racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs during altercations.
“This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control, and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk,” said Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA. The union is asking for more support from federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It is time to make the FAA ‘zero tolerance’ policy permanent, the Department of Justice to utilize existing statute to conduct criminal prosecution, and implement a series of actions proposed by our union to keep problems on the ground and respond effectively in the event of incidents,” Nelson said.
Aggressive, disruptive passengers have become commonplace in the air, flight attendants told Insider. As of early July, the Federal Aviation Administration proposed fines of nearly $700,000 for disruptive passengers this year.
The AFA survey found 71% of flight attendants who filed incident reports received no follow-up and a majority “did not observe efforts to address the rise in unruly passengers by their employers.”
About 75% of reports of aggressive passengers involved disputes over masks, the FAA said. President Joe Biden mandated Americans wear masks while flying soon after taking office.
But Nelson said “this is not just about masks as some have attempted to claim. There is a lot more going on here and the solutions require a series of actions in coordination across aviation.”
Several flight attendants said their mental health has deteriorated due to the increase in passenger aggression. A Harvard psychologist told Insider’s Avery Hartmans the aggression stems from the fear and anxiety COVID-19 placed on Americans the past year and a half.
“This is not a ‘new normal’ we are willing to accept,” said Nelson, the union president. “We will be sharing survey findings with FAA, DOT, TSA, and FBI to help more fully identify the problems and our union’s proposed actions to affect positive change.”