A union leader has told American Airlines flight attendants to be prepared for the worst and to use their training to defend themselves and stop “serious bodily harm” from violent passengers as a drastic rise in flight attendant assaults and unruly passenger incidents goes unabated.
The warning from the Charolotte base president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) comes just over a week after a violent passenger onboard an AA flight bound for Charlotte had to be duct-taped to her seat after she attempted to open an emergency exit and then bit a flight attendant.
“We have recently seen a drastic spike in assaults on Flight Attendants, which we cannot tolerate in our work environment,” warned Scott Hazlewood in the internal memo. “The continued verbal and physical abuse needs to be addressed now,” he continued.
“You should always be prepared for the worst and use your training to defend yourself. This may be the only recourse you have to prevent serious bodily harm.” Hazlewood says flight attendants should now accept that physical assaults are a “reality” that they may have to deal with.
In Charlotte alone, flight attendants have reported 269 passenger misconduct events but nationally the picture is a lot worse. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over 3,320 unruly passenger reports have been submitted so far this year and the agency has so far initiated around 555 investigations – the highest ever on record.
The FAA has levied more than $119,000 in civil penalties against passengers for alleged violations of federal regulations as part of its zero-tolerance campaign against unruly passenger behavior but the record-breaking fines are doing little to slow the tide of disruptive incidents.
In another recent incident, an entire planeload of American Airlines passengers had to place their hands on their heads for the last hour of the flight after one passenger falsely claimed a flight attendant had bomb components in his bag. He then attempted to charge the flight deck.
And in another recent incident involving an American Airlines flight at Charlotte, a passenger who became sick and tired of a tarmac delay opened the overwing emergency exit and slid onto the runway rather than waiting onboard the plane.
Hazlewood says the union is working with American Airlines and federal agencies in an attempt to “find solutions” but in the meantime, flight attendants should remain vigilant and be prepared to protect themselves from assault.
The TSA recently restarted crew member self-defense training after suspending the program due to virus concerns. Flight attendants who have attended the free courses have described the training as “intense”.
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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.