An airline pilot that’s kicked passengers off planes for not wearing masks shares what goes on in the cockpit when passengers become unruly

  • Pilots and flight attendants have been forced to deal with increased bouts of violence in the skies.
  • Tensions over the ongoing federal mask mandate have created hostile environments on some flights.
  • One airline pilot shared how he deals with unruly flyers and what goes on in the cockpit while incidents occur.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The airline industry is facing unprecedented levels of violent incidents onboard airplanes as tensions rise over issues including the federal mask mandate. In the US, more than 3,200 cases of unruly behavior onboard aircraft have been reported by the Federal Aviation Administration as of early July.

And while flight attendants are tasked with dealing directly with unruly passengers, an aircraft’s pilots have to ensure the security of the cockpit, communicate with their airlines’ head offices, and most importantly, keep flying the plane.

One captain for a major US airline spoke to Insider on the condition of anonymity so he could speak freely on the pilot’s perspective of these incidents.

In-flight violence is rare for this airline industry veteran of nearly 30 years. But during the pandemic, he’s had to personally kick off a handful of passengers for unruly behavior while on the ground, some of whom were likely banned by the airline for their behavior.

One incident occurred in Los Angeles where a gate agent notified the pilot of a potentially problematic passenger, based on her mask’s messaging. “It said ‘fuck you’ right in big bold yellow letters,” he said.

The passenger ultimately turned the mask inside out at the request of the flight’s gate agent. Once on board, the pilot left the cockpit with the agent to speak to the problem passenger and confirm that she wouldn’t be an issue.

“No, captain, I told you I got it,” he remembered the passenger as saying. But after the encounter, the pilot heard the passenger refer to the agent as a “Karen.”

She was kicked off the plane and relegated to the next available flight.

Another incident occurred on a flight where two passengers tried to self-upgrade into an extra-legroom section. They were told they couldn’t and started flouting the mask rule, trying to take advantage of the eating and drinking loophole by eating Skittles.

Flight attendants reminded the couple to mask up in between bites, to which the female passenger responded: “Well, yeah, we’re eating now, bitch, so you can just fuck off.” The aircraft was nearing the runway for departure when the flight attendants made the decision to call the cockpit and get the passengers off the plane.

“I felt like the dad driving to the resort, turning around, swatting the kids, saying, ‘if you don’t settle down, I’m just going to turn this car around,” the pilot said.

Had the incident happened while in the air, a decision would have been made as to whether to continue on to the destination or divert.

Dennis Tajer, a captain for American Airlines and spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, told Insider that a diversion would only be considered if a problem is uncontainable and the distraction was too great to continue on with a flight.

“Our goal in any unruly passenger incidents is to deescalate and contain [to] keep everybody safe,” Tajer said of diversions. “If for some reason that containment is in question, then it would be the captain’s ultimate call after consultation with [airline] security.”

Pilots also can’t leave the cockpit to deal with these problems directly as it would compromise the integrity of cockpit security and serve as an additional distraction from flying the plane. “We are on full alert at all times for all possibilities,” Tajer said of the cockpit environment.

Reporting unruly passengers takes away from that awareness, and also includes contacting dispatchers on the ground. Relevant departments and individuals are also looped in, taking them away from their primary work responsibilities.

“These [disruptive] people took attention away from several people who were just trying to operate the flight,” the anonymous pilot said.

Like many, he doesn’t want to have to wear a mask on an airplane but tells Insider that he has to ensure the safety of the aircraft and enforce the rules that his airline sets.

“I don’t like wearing the mask, I don’t want to wear the mask, I hate asking them to wear the mask,” he said. “But we don’t have any choice at this point.”

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Southwest’s weekend meltdown shows airlines are still vulnerable to massive disruptions – and hints at what holiday travel might look like

A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019.  REUTERS/Mike Blake
A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California

  • Southwest Airlines is still recovering from its weekend meltdown with cancellations continuing into the week.
  • Airlines have been experiencing these meltdowns during the pandemic after scaling down in 2020.
  • Holiday travel may be impacted as airlines have proven they’re still highly vulnerable to disruptions.

Southwest Airlines is still recovering from a dizzying Columbus Day travel weekend mired by thousands of flights cancellations that stranded passengers across the country.

America’s largest low-cost carrier initially warned of cancellations on Saturday, placing the blame on “air traffic control issues” and bad weather. The ripple effects are still impacting the airline as of Monday and flight-tracking company FlightAware shows 365 canceled flights, or 9% of its planned schedule, and 713 delayed flights, another 20% of its planned schedule, at the time of writing.

Residual cancellations will subside as more time passes from the incident but the meltdown casts doubt on the ability of airlines to handle upcoming holiday travel. Americans will likely be taking to the skies en masse for the winter holidays and some airlines have proven that they’re still vulnerable to these types of disruptions.

“The system’s a little more brittle because there’s less spare capacity, that’s just the nature of the beast,” Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, told Insider. “And that’s another reason to be more concerned about weather events.”

Extreme weather events including thunderstorms have been the catalyst for airline meltdowns in months past and winter brings its own challenges. Weather incidents like snowstorms, when combined with the reduced workforce airlines are experiencing, can quickly see an airline spiral into delays and cancellations.

Some airlines are already touting how much flying they’re planning for the holiday season. United Airlines, for example, plans to fly 91% of its 2019 December domestic schedule this December.

United, for its part, has been largely spared of these operational nightmares and cites its decision not to furlough pilots during the pandemic as the reason.

Southwest’s weekend meltdown isn’t the first time the airline has had to cancel a chunk of its scheduled flying during the pandemic. The recovery can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, and takes longer during high-traffic periods.

“The system isn’t designed to flex the way it’s been flexing over the last year and a half,” Aboulafia said. “We’ve never had to scale down and up as a system the way we have this time. It’s hard.”

Airlines have also had a harder time deciphering demand trends as vaccination rates across the country remain slow-growing, according to Aboulafia. Many travelers didn’t hesitate to take to the skies in 2020 but some may reconsider holiday travel to destinations with large rates of unvaccinated residents.

“Sometimes these things are hard to anticipate, everything can’t always be in sync,” Aboulafia said, noting that airlines had no choice but to scale down during the worst of the pandemic when demand dropped by around 66%.

Flyers can take proactive measures including staying near customer services centers ahead of scheduled flights, having multiple ways of contacting an airline to rebook a canceled flight, researching potential backup flights, and understand their travel insurance coverage (including insurance that’s included with certain travel credit cards).

Beyond that, Aboulafia says that “there’s not a lot you can do to hedge against [disruptions] except allow for some flexibility.” Delta Air Lines was the victim of bad weather and staffing issues during 2020’s holiday season that saw around 500 flight cancellations around the Christmas travel rush.

Aboulafia also recommends that travelers consider an airline’s geography when booking holiday travel, as airlines are stronger at their hubs and can recover quicker in the event of a disruption.

Dallas, for example, is an American Airlines and Southwest stronghold while Boston has a large JetBlue Airways and Delta presence.

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Virgin Galactic soars after FAA says company can resume flights following mishap probe

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

Shares of Virgin Galactic soared on Thursday after the Federal Aviation Administration cleared the space tourism startup to operate flights once again following a probe of Richard Branson’s high-profile trip in July.

Virgin Galactic’s stock price rose 9% from its Wednesday close of $22.56.

The aviation regulator on September 2 grounded the company – sending its shares tumbling more than 7% – after a piece by The New Yorker alleged that the company’s rocket ships went off-course on its way back to earth and failed to communicate the mishap to the aviation regulator.

“The investigation found the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle deviated from its assigned airspace on its descent from space,” the agency said in a statement. “The FAA also found Virgin Galactic failed to communicate the deviation to the FAA as required.

The agency said it required Virgin Galactic to implement changes and allowed it to resume flight operations once the required amended protocols have been put in place.

Virgin Galactic said the corrective actions proposed by the FAA were executed beginning August 11. These include updating calculations to expand the protected airspace for future flights.

The widely-watched flight carried billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and five others, taking off from a facility in New Mexico.

The plane, The New Yorker reported, did not shoot to space steeply enough, causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back down to Earth. While the two pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, were able to correct the error and land safely, they flew outside their airspace clearance zone for one minute and 41 seconds.

“We appreciate the FAA’s thorough review of this inquiry,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement. “The updates to our airspace and real-time mission notification protocols will strengthen our preparations as we move closer to the commercial launch of our spaceflight experience.”

Following FAA’s clearance, Virgin Galactic can now push through with its space mission with the Italian airforce called “Unity 23.” It was initially slated for September or early October. It’s now been pushed to mid-October at the earliest because of a possible manufacturing defect.

Shares of Virgin Galactic have swung wildly in the past 12 months, jumping to as high as $62.80, and sinking as low as $14.27.

Read the original article on Business Insider

During Richard Branson’s spaceflight, Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane blared a red warning light and flew out of its clearance zone

virgin galactic space plane firing engines flying up
A still image from video shows Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane, VSS Unity, carrying Richard Branson and crew to the edge of space, July 11, 2021.

As Richard Branson was screaming towards the edge of space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane, a red warning light came on in the cockpit.

The New Yorker’s Nicholas Schmidle reported Wednesday that Branson’s spaceflight on July 11 didn’t go as smoothly as it seemed. The plane didn’t climb to space steeply enough, ultimately causing it to deviate from its approved flight path on its way back to Earth.

The space plane’s pilots, Dave Mackay and Mike Masucci, corrected the error enough to fly and land safely, but in the process, they flew outside their airspace clearance zone for a total of one minute and 41 seconds, according to The New Yorker. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.

In a statement emailed to Insider, an FAA spokesperson said: “During its July 11, 2021 flight, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo vehicle deviated from its Air Traffic Control clearance as it returned to Spaceport America. The FAA investigation is ongoing.”

Virgin Galactic disputed the New Yorker report, calling it “misleading” in a statement to CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz. The company did not, however, immediately reply to Insider’s request for comment.

“At no time were passengers and crew put in any danger as a result of this change in trajectory,” the company told Sheetz. “At no time did the ship travel above any population centers or cause a hazard to the public.”

Virgin Galactic’s pilots kept flying instead of an emergency landing

Richard Branson in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.
Richard Branson floats in space aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket plane.

Schmidle spoke to eight people with knowledge of Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight program, according to his New Yorker article. Those sources told him that the first sign of trouble came when a yellow caution light appeared on the pilots’ console as Virgin Galactic’s space plane was ascending at more than twice the speed of sound.

The light indicated that the spacecraft was veering slightly off course – enough to affect its path back down to Earth. According to Schmidle, the plane must fall towards the ground within a particular “entry glide cone” in order to reach the runway where it must land.

The yellow light indicated that the plane’s upward trajectory wasn’t steep enough, so it risked venturing outside its cone. Then, the New Yorker reported, a more urgent red light replaced the yellow one.

Earlier discussions between Virgin Galactic pilots suggest that this was a serious issue, according to Schmidle.

“Red should scare the crap out of you,” Masucci said in a meeting that Schmidle attended in 2015.

CJ Sturckow, another Virgin Galactic test pilot who is a former NASA astronaut, took it a step further. Even a yellow light should “scare the shit out of you,” Sturckow said, according to Schmidle, because “when it turns red, it’s gonna be too late.”

In its statement to CNBC, Virgin Galactic said “high altitude winds” changed its spaceship’s trajectory.

“Our pilots responded appropriately to these changing flight conditions exactly as they have been trained and in strict accordance with our established procedures,” the statement said.

Overall, the company added, this was “a safe and successful test flight that adhered to our flight procedures and training protocols.”

But the New Yorker reported that sources at the company said the safest course of action would have been for Mackay and Masucci to abort the flight once they saw that red light. It’s not clear why the pilots chose to continue flying instead.

There was a lot riding on this event: Virgin Galactic had widely publicized it, was livestreaming it with Stephen Colbert as the host, and was flying its founder-CEO (Branson) for the first time.

The FAA does not regulate passenger safety for commercial spaceflight. For now, the agency’s job is only to ensure the safety of people on the ground and of other aircraft. A rocket that ventures outside its airspace-clearance zone could pose a risk to both.

Even when a spaceflight itself is regulated, though, it’s risky for the people onboard. About 1% of US human spaceflights has resulted in a fatal accident, according to an analysis published earlier this year. That’s about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airplane.

Branson’s trip was one of Virgin Galactic’s final test flights of its space plane. The company plans to start flying paying customers next year.

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The FAA released an ominous video with sounds of screaming passengers to warn people against unruly behavior

A blonde woman wearing a face mask puts her black carry-on luggage into an airplane's overhead compartment.
The Federal Aviation Administration has received 3,988 reports of unruly passenger behavior in 2021.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a video designed to deter unruly passengers.
  • The FAA used audio clips of shouting passengers and pilots speaking to control rooms.
  • 73% of unruly passenger reports in 2021 have involved people refusing to wear masks, it said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released a video Tuesday to warn travelers against unruly behavior on flights, and used audio of violent outbursts on planes.

The video, shared on the agency’s Twitter, features pilots speaking to their control rooms while shouting and screaming passengers are heard in the background. It is not clear if the audio clips are all from real onboard incidents.

One pilot can be heard declaring an emergency and asking to divert the flight.

“He is restrained now,” another pilot says in the video, referring to an unruly passenger.

The video ends with the message: “Unruly behavior doesn’t fly.”

The FAA said in an accompanying tweet that it had received 3,988 reports of unruly passenger behavior since the start of 2021, and that 73% of reports related to passengers refusing to wear masks.

The agency has initiated 693 investigations during this period, compared to 146 in 2019 before the pandemic, according to its website.

Read more: United, Delta, and American Airlines need pilots so badly, they’re making it easier than ever for newbies to land top flying jobs

The FAA also said in the tweet that 132 cases resulted in penalties. The agency has proposed more than $1 million in civil fines against unruly passengers in 2021, it said in an August 19 press release.

Flight crews have faced rocketing levels of passenger violence as air travel rebounds from its pandemic slump.

For example, the FAA accused a JetBlue passenger of grabbing a flight attendant by the ankles and sticking his head up her skirt on a flight from New York to Orlando in May, and is seeking a $45,000 penalty.

Flight attendants previously told Insider that passenger violence had damaged their mental health.

Some flight crews have resorted to duct-taping passengers to their seats to prevent them from behaving violently – although United Airlines has warned crews to avoid using duct tape.

Read the original article on Business Insider

United and other major airlines are rerouting flights to avoid Afghan airspace

A white United Airlines plane sits on a runway in front of the New York City skyline.
United Airlines will re-route flights around Afghan airspace after Taliban fighters stormed the capital Kabul.

  • United Airlines has ordered its pilots to avoid Afghan airspace, Reuters reported.
  • Virgin Atlantic and British Airways will also reroute flights.
  • Taliban fighters seized the capital Kabul on Sunday and now effectively control the country.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Several major airlines have rerouted flights around Afghanistan’s airspace after Taliban fighters seized the capital Kabul and took effective control of the country.

“Due to the dynamic nature of the situation we have begun routing affected flights around Afghanistan airspace,” a United spokesperson told Insider.

It did not specify which flights were affected – Reuters first reported late on Sunday that the change would impact flights from the US to India, but the spokesperson told Insider this wasn’t the case.

UK carrier Virgin Atlantic told Insider that all of its Islamabad, Lahore, Mumbai, and Delhi services, “which typically overfly Afghanistan,” would avoid the country’s airspace.

“Following the latest situation reports in Afghanistan, we will be re-routing our upcoming services to avoid Afghanistan’s airspace,” a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said in an emailed statement.

British Airways also said Sunday that it would divert flights around Afghan airspace, Reuters reported. The company confirmed to Insider on Monday that it was “​not currently using Afghanistan’s airspace.”

The Afghanistan Civil Aviation Authority (ACAA) said Monday that it had released the national airspace to the military, and advised all transit aircraft to find new routes, Reuters reported.

Read more: Biden’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan has already proven to be a terrible mistake

In recent weeks, the Taliban have swept through Afghanistan, taking control of whole cities and regions, and displacing thousands of Afghan civilians. President Ashraf Ghani said in a Facebook post Sunday that he had fled the country after Taliban fighters entered Kabul, 20 years after US forces entered the country. President Joe Biden in April announced a full withdrawal of US troops.

The Taliban said that it planned to declare an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed Taliban official.

Videos shared on social media show crowds of people at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport attempting to flee the city.

In July, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned US commercial airlines from flying below 26,000 feet in Kabul airspace. The FAA said in the notice that only flights to and from Hamid Karzai International Airport were permitted to fly lower.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The FAA has already investigated more than 600 unruly passenger incidents in 2021 – nearly double the amount of 2019 and 2020 combined

flight attendant
A flight attendant.

  • The FAA said it has investigated more than 600 reports of unruly passenger behavior since 2021 began.
  • That’s nearly double the number of investigated incidents in 2019 and 2020 combined.
  • The agency said it has proposed fines in 99 of those incidents thus far.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

From shirking mask requirements to physically assaulting flight attendants, airline passengers are acting up in extreme ways and at alarming rates in 2021.

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration said airlines have reported 3,715 incidents involving unruly passengers since the start of the year, more than 75% of which have stemmed from people refusing to wear federally-required face masks on planes.

Of the nearly 4,000 reported incidents, the FAA said it has started investigating more than 600 – nearly double the number it investigated in 2019 and 2020 combined, according to the Associated Press.

The agency said it has proposed fines in 99 of those incidents.

Earlier this year, the FAA began cracking down on unruly passengers in an attempt to assuage the rampant misbehavior that seemingly spiked during the pandemic. In May, the agency proposed a combined $100,000 in fines for just four passengers who refused to follow the rules.

Then, last week, the agency sent a letter to US airports asking for help protecting travelers and flight attendants from disorderly passengers. The FAA, which prohibits passengers from drinking alcohol on the plane that isn’t served by the airline, asked airports to ban travelers from bringing to-go cocktails from airport bars on aircrafts.

FAA chief Stephen Dickson also asked local police to help hold unruly passengers accountable once an incident occurs. While the agency has proposed several civil fines against dozens of passengers this year, Dickson stressed that the FAA has no authority to file criminal charges.

In a survey of 5,000 flight attendants conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union earlier this year, more than 85% of respondents said they had dealt with unruly passengers this year. Sixty-one percent reported having heard racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs during altercations, and 17% said they had experienced a physical incident in the first half of 2021.

Five flight attendants told Insider’s Allana Akhtar that they want passengers to stop directing anger toward them. The airline employees attributed the rise in unruly behavior to a heated political climate and fear and anxiety stemming from a year-and-a-half of COVID-19.

The 3,715 unruly incidents reported by airlines in 2021 so far already mark a nearly threefold increase from years’ past, and there are still four-and-a-half months left in 2021.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX could be ordered to take down its huge Starship launch tower in Boca Chica, the FAA has warned

Elon Musk
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

  • The FAA told SpaceX it could ask the company to take down its Boca Chica rocket-assembly tower.
  • SpaceX is already building the tower – but it doesn’t have FAA approval yet.
  • An FAA spokesperson told Insider that “the company is building the tower at its own risk.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has warned Elon Musk’s SpaceX that it could order the company to take down its new rocket-assembly tower at its launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, Reuters reported.

The tower is being constructed for future launches of SpaceX’s Starship rocket, which could begin in July, according to the company’s president Gwynne Shotwell.

An FAA environmental review of the Boca Chica launch site including SpaceX’s proposed Super Heavy rocket and tower is still underway and therefore “the company is building the tower at its own risk,” an FAA spokesperson told Insider.

The FAA sent a letter to SpaceX in May saying that work to build one of its proposed towers “may complicate the ongoing environmental review process for the Starship/Super Heavy Launch Vehicle Program,” Reuters said. The FAA needs to complete its review before SpaceX can obtain a launch license for the Boca Chica site.

Read more: These 4 companies are leading the charge in ‘space vacations’ – from giant balloon flights to orbital hotels

“It is possible that changes would have to be made at the launch site, including to the integration towers to mitigate significant impacts,” the FAA letter said, per Reuters. The FAA added that it had only learned that the integration tower was being built “based on publicly available video footage.”

The FAA said SpaceX told it in May that it doesn’t think the review is necessary because it plans to use the launch tower “for production, research, and development purposes and not for FAA-licensed or permitted launches,” per Reuters’ report.

But the FAA said that SpaceX documentation “indicates otherwise,” including one document saying that the towers would be used to integrate the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle, the report said.

The FAA had completed an environmental review of the Boca Chica site in 2014 but it told SpaceX in the May letter that the “480-foot-tall integration tower is substantially taller than the water tower and lightning towers” it had previously assessed.

SpaceX and the FAA did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

This is the latest in a series of clashes between SpaceX and the FAA.

As part of the agency’s environmental assessments, SpaceX needs to ensure that the Starship-Super Heavy system won’t harm nearby wildlife or ecosystems around its Boca Chica launch pad. Without FAA approval and a launch license, SpaceX’s first Starship orbit mission could be delayed, a source told CNN in June.

Musk blasted the agency in February for canceling SpaceX’s Starship flight following a reported launch license violation, and claimed that “humanity will never get to Mars” under new FAA rules.

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Flight attendants will get self-defense lessons to protect themselves from violent passengers, the TSA said, as reports of unruly flyers reach record highs

flight attendant mask covid
Flight attendants they have gotten sick less due to pandemic-era cleaning protocols.

  • The Transportation Security Administration will restart self-defense classes for flight crews from July, it said Thursday.
  • The training, paused during the pandemic, would “deter assaults against officers and flight crew,” it said.
  • Flight attendants told Insider earlier in June that they felt burnt out from dealing with aggressive passengers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Flight attendants will get self-defense training from July to stop violent passengers assaulting staff, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced in a Thursday press release.

The voluntary training, led by federal air marshals, was paused during the pandemic, but the TSA said it was bringing the classes back to “deter assaults against officers and flight crew.”

Flight attendants told Insider earlier in June that they felt burnt out from dealing with aggressive passengers as travel bounced back.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has so far reported more than 3,000 incidents of unruly passenger behavior in 2021, most involving travelers refusing to comply with the federal mask mandate.

The FAA has opened 487 investigations into passenger incidents – more than triple the number from 2019, before the pandemic started, and the highest number since the agency started listing its investigations in 1995.

The TSA said passengers had also assaulted security staff, noting two separate cases this month where it said TSA airport officers were attacked. In one incident, a traveller bit two officers and faces a $13,910 civil fine, the TSA said.

The TSA said in the press release that it may “pursue criminal charges and a civil penalty up to the maximum allowable by law” for unruly passengers.

Airports welcomed 2.1 million air passengers on June 20, up from 590,456 for the same day in 2020, and the highest number since March 7 last year, according to TSA data.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Airline check-ins won’t turn into a ‘Weight Watchers-like’ scenario, despite passengers being heavier, say industry experts

Managing Director of investment bank Cowen Helane Becker wears a blue top with a large green necklace
Helane Becker, an airlines analyst and managing director of investment bank Cowen.

  • Airlines won’t weigh passengers to stay within safety limits despite being heavier, says experts.
  • Airlines can conduct passenger surveys and use CDC population averages to calculate weights.
  • American Airlines told Insider that its average passenger is now eight pounds heavier.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Airline passengers have gotten heavier, but companies are unlikely to weigh individual passengers at the check-in desk to help keep an aircraft within its safety limits, two industry experts told Insider.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which regulates commercial airlines, told Insider that while weighing passengers was “an option,” most companies would use other methods.

Henry Harteveldt, president of travel research firm Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that this was highly unlikely to happen.

“The airline check-in experience is not going to turn into a Weight Watchers-like scenario,” he said. “Airlines do not ask passengers how much they weigh, and they’re not about to start doing so.”

American Airlines told Insider on June 10 that its average customer now weighs 182 pounds in summer and 187 pounds in winter, an “eight-pound increase for both seasons,” a company spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Unnamed airline officials also told the Wall Street Journal that average passenger and baggage weights had risen between 5% and 10%, but did not specify over what period.

The FAA gave companies until June 12 to submit new average passenger weight estimates, a vital part of an aircraft’s weight and balance calculations needed for safe travel.

The agency gives airlines options for how to calculate passenger weights, including weighing customers before boarding, or by asking them to volunteer their weight – in this case, the FAA’s advisory document says that operators “should make a reasonable estimate” of a passengers’ weight if they believe that it had been “understated.”

But Helane Becker, airlines analyst and managing director of investment bank Cowen, told Insider that she doesn’t see this occurring in the US.

She said the trend in rising passengers weights is not new, and that she expects to see “airlines adjusting charges for overweight bags.”

“It is likely they will accept less mail and other small packages to be able to stay under weight limits,” Becker said.

Other FAA options include conducting random passenger weight surveys, or using official population weight estimates from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

American and Southwest Airlines told Insider that they use figures from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to calculate weight and balance.

The most recent NHANES published in January shows the average US adult male weighs 199.8 pounds, up 4.1 pounds from the previous report in 2016, while the average US woman weighs 170.8 pounds, an increase of 2.3 pounds over the same period.

American also told Insider that there would be no changes to its customer experience, despite the revised weight estimates.

Industry body Airlines for America, which speaks on behalf of ten major airlines, said in an emailed statement it didn’t “anticipate there will be any noticeable changes” for customers.

Delta Air Lines said they had developed an “implementation plan” to minimize any impact on customers, although it did not share any details.

Alaska Airlines told Insider that the impact of weight changes would be “negligible” and would only “effect select long-haul routes during headwind conditions.”

United Airlines declined to share their FAA weight submission with Insider. JetBlue did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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