U.S.-based pilots are calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Transport (DOT) to hurry up and make secondary flight deck barriers a legal requirement on all new commercial passenger aircraft after a series of recent terrifying incidents in which unruly and out of control passengers have needed to be restrained.
“Enough is enough” tweeted Captain Joe DePete president of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) which represents more than 59,000 flight crew at 35 airlines including Delta where a passenger on a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta on Friday night had to be tackled by flight attendants after he attempted to open an emergency exit.
Only a week before Friday night’s serious incident, another Delta flight from Los Angeles had to be diverted after an unruly passenger attempted to breach the flight deck. A flight attendant has been hailed a hero for managing to subdue the suspect before he was able to threaten the safety of the aircraft.
“There should be zero tolerance for airline passengers who threaten the safety of others,” Captain DePete tweeted on Saturday.
“Nearly 20 years after 9/11, airlines have failed to fully protect the flight deck and the FAA has dragged its feet implementing a law passed in 2018,” DePete continued, referencing a law that should make it mandatory for airlines to install a secondary flight deck barrier on all new airplanes.
Although the flight deck door is reinforced with bulletproof material and heavily secured, pilots remain concerned that the flight deck is vulnerable to attack and could still be breached by a terrorist or out of control passenger with malicious intent.
A secondary barrier is designed to separate the flight deck from the passenger cabin when the main flight deck door is open – say for when a pilot needs to use the lavatory or get something from the galley. At least two U.S. airlines have secondary barriers installed on some airplanes (see picture above) but they remain an exception rather than the norm.
“These in-flight incidents are increasing – both in number and severity – and at some point the flight deck door will be breached,” DePete warned. “Just a matter of time before a mentally ill passenger or suicidal terrorist simply waits for a pilot to get food or use the lavatory and breaches.”
Unusually, the FAA responded directly to criticism it is taking too long to act and said in a tweet that it was “committed to protecting U.S. workers, including keeping pilots safe”.
The issue of secondary flight deck barriers is on the DOT’s Spring regulatory agenda to be discussed at some point this year. There is still no timeline for when secondary barriers might be mandated despite the FAA Reauthorization Act requiring the relevant rules to be in place back in 2019.
The FAA says it is taking a zero-tolerance approach to unruly passengers and has the power to slap disruptive airline customers with a civil penalty of up to $35,000. So far this year, the FAA has received a record-breaking 2,500 unruly passenger reports – the vast majority of which are connected to passengers refusing to wear a face mask.
Photo Credit: Skycolors / Shutterstock
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.