85% of Flight Attendants Report Incidents With Unruly Passengers

July 30, 2021

Incidents with unruly passengers have become an everyday occurrence for flight attendants.

A national survey of nearly 5,000 flight attendants found that more than 85 percent of all respondents had dealt with unruly passengers as air travel picked up in the first half of 2021.

More than half (58%) had experienced at least five incidents this year. A sizable 17 percent reported experiencing a physical incident.

The survey was done by the union, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which said the results confirm that a small group of passengers is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk.

The union says that existing measures by government and employers are failing to address the problem. More than 70% of flight attendants who filed incident reports with airline management said they received no follow-up and a majority did not see their employers take any efforts to address the rise in unruly passengers.

“This is not a ‘new normal’ we are willing to accept,” said Sara Nelson, president of AFA-CWA “We know the government, airlines, airports, and all stakeholders can take actions together to keep us safe and flying friendly.”

The incidents involve more than resistance to wearing masks. Flight attendants also cite alcohol, routine safety reminders, flight delays and cancellations as other common factors in unruly passenger interactions, with many indicating that multiple factors contribute to incidents.

Flight attendants reported facing extensive verbal abuse, including from visibly drunk passengers, passengers yelling and swearing in response to masking directions, and often aggressively challenging flight crew working to ensure compliance with federal rules. Crew members recounted aggressive incidents, including shoving, kicking seats, throwing trash at flight crew, defiling the restroom, and following flight crew through the airport to continue yelling and harassment.

The union is calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ad the Department of Justice (DOJ) to do more.

“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,” the union said.

The FAA’s own recent public reporting included 3,615 incident reports and a record number of enforcement actions. In March 2021, the FAA extended its “zero tolerance” policy for passenger misconduct, and the FAA has since run a public campaign to communicate consequences of violations.

It is a violation of federal law to interfere or disrupt the duties of a crewmember. Federal regulations state that “no person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.”

For the survey, nearly 5,000 responses from flight attendants across 30 airlines were collected from June 25, 2021 through July 14, 2021 through an online survey.

Source: Association of Flight Attendants

Topics Aviation

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Latest Comments

  • July 30, 2021 at 4:36 pm
    John P says:
    Gate agents need to exercise more authority to prevent unruly passengers from getting onboard and too much alcohol is served on all flights.
  • July 30, 2021 at 1:15 pm
    Regular reader says:
    Having flown a few times this past year, I would say most of the conflict is created by the flight attendents, especially on Delta flights. When they make statements like if y... read more
  • July 30, 2021 at 12:14 pm
    SWFL Agent says:
    The entire flying experience is a recipe for disaster and there's too many areas for conflict - Confined spaces, cramped seating, delays at airports, people with oversize carr... read more

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