Bad behavior soars when passengers return to air travel

Air travel can be difficult at its best, with cramped planes, baby screams, flight delays, and impatience.

When you fall into a pandemic, your level of anxiety can rise rapidly.

It has led to conflicts with flight attendants and other unruly actions, including occasional battles that are endlessly captured and replayed on social media.

The airline has reported about 3,000 devastating passenger cases since January 1, according to a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman who began tracking this year. Approximately 2,300 of these cases involved passengers who refused to comply with federal requirements to wear face masks.

Over the last decade, the FAA has investigated approximately 140 proceedings annually for possible fines and other enforcement measures. By the end of May this year, it was close to 400.

Things got so bad that airlines and unions for flight attendants and pilots sent a letter to the US Department of Justice on Monday urging “more to do to stop malicious behavior.”

“The federal government needs to send a strong and consistent message through criminal enforcement that compliance with federal law and maintenance of aviation safety is paramount,” the letter said, and the law allows up to 20 threatening or interfering passengers. With a crew member who said he was demanding imprisonment for a year.

The trade group Airlines for America sent another letter to the Federal Aviation Administration admitting that “the majority of passengers” were in compliance with the rules, but “unfortunately, the actions on board were assault, intimidation and crew. It continues to be exacerbated by violent acts such as intimidation of the crew, which directly interferes with the performance of the crew’s duties and jeopardizes the safety and security of everyone on board the aircraft. “

The FAA has announced a “zero tolerance” policy for destructive behavior on its return flight in January. The agency is attempting to impose a fine of more than $ 30,000 on more than 50 passengers and has identified more than 400 other proceedings that may be enforced.

U.S. airlines have banned at least 3,000 passengers since May last year, not including the two largest refusing to provide numbers, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines. Hmm.

The airline has stripped some of its customers of frequent flyer benefits, and in rare cases pilots have made unplanned landings to eliminate unruly passengers. Pilots and flight attendants are now making regular pre-flight announcements to remind passengers of federal regulations on interference with crew.

Sara Nelson, President of the Flight Attendants Association, said: problem. I have to do more. I have never seen such an environment. “

Mike Oemichen has been a flight attendant for seven years and says he has never seen such bad behavior on board. He talked about a recent incident in which he and other flight attendants had just completed a safety briefing for passengers and were preparing for takeoff when two men and a woman were accompanied.

“After 20 or 30 seconds, we were able to keep the two male passengers away from each other and tried to calm them all down,” said Oemichen. “Then we went back to the gate and had the passengers taken away.”

Oemichen suffered a concussion when he hit his head against an overhead bottle during a close quarters battle.

“We couldn’t understand what they were fighting for,” said Oemichen, who spoke on the condition that his airline had not been nominated. He also deals with dissatisfaction with union members on his airline.

Flight attendants are worried that things will get worse this summer as travel continues to grow and planes get crowded. The aviation industry passed the milestone earlier this month when the Transportation Security Administration announced that more than two million people had passed the US airport security checkpoint for the first time since early March 2020.

Airlines bookings have increased since around February as more Americans have been vaccinated against COVID-19. However, lower infection rates can make it much more difficult for flight attendants to enforce federal mask-wearing rules. This rule does not expire until mid-September.

Some security experts believe that removing the mask requirement can eliminate the main cause of tension. But it can also increase anxiety for those who are worried about sharing space with strangers while we are still in a pandemic.

“People on both sides of the problem are behaving badly,” Nelson said.

Airline unions are calling for measures such as increasing airline marshalling, restricting alcohol sales on planes and airports, and increasing sharing of confusing passenger information among airlines. They also highlight the idea of ​​a new government-maintained list of banned passengers — but less restrictive than a no-fly zone list for suspicious terrorists.

It’s not clear why there are so many airages. Airline employees and outside experts provide explanations on cramped flights, political polarization of wearing face masks, and how pandemic blockades affect people’s mental health. ..

Raymond Tafrate, a psychologist and professor of criminology at Central Connecticut State University who studied anger, said: “The pandemic has isolated people and caused all sorts of stress and problems in their lives. People are sicker than they used to be.”

Robert Bo, a London aviation psychologist who advises airline crews, accuses COVID-19 and concerns about closed spaces.

“It’s a virus, and people are very sensitive to the physical proximity of others around them,” Bor said. He added that some people have taken steps such as wearing masks more seriously than others, causing conflict. “The question is how to negotiate it in such an environment.”

In the past, air rage seemed like an unmanageable problem, but there was a time when it subsided. Longtime flight attendants say the number of unmanageable passengers increased in the 1990s. As a result, Congress has made it a crime to interfere with the crew, and the number of cases has gradually diminished, these flight attendants say.

Arjun Garg, FAA’s chief lawyer until earlier this year, said serious cases of passenger misconduct were rarely discussed at the top level of the authorities until the pandemic.

“It will happen occasionally, but it wasn’t a key feature of anyone’s thinking at the FAA,” Garg said of the pre-pandemic incident. “Airlines often solved them as” customer service issues “and everyone was on their way. “

Tabrate’s advice to travelers: “Accept that flights don’t always go the way you want, and that there are some rules you don’t like.”


David König can be reached at

Bad behavior soars when passengers return to air travel

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