Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience…
A new survey has found that 85 per cent of flight attendants have been forced to deal with unruly passengers since the start of 2021 and 58 per cent of those polled said they have dealt with at least five unruly passenger incidents in the last seven months. 17 per cent said they had dealt with a physical incident.
The survey of 5,000 flight attendants at 30 airlines across the United States shows just how common disruptive passenger incidents have become during the pandemic.
“This is not a ‘new normal’ we are willing to accept,” commented Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) which commissioned the survey. “This survey confirms what we all know, the vitriol, verbal and physical abuse from a small group of passengers is completely out of control, and is putting other passengers and flight crew at risk.”
“This is not just about masks as some have attempted to claim. There is a lot more going on here and the solutions require a series of actions in coordination across aviation,” Nelson continued.
Nonetheless, masks have been cited in many of the most high-profile and bizarre incidents over the last year and flight attendants who took part in the survey said face masks were a contributing factor in many of the unruly passenger interactions they’ve experienced.
Another major cause was alcohol, as well as flight delays and cancellations that have combined to fray tempers and send people over the edge.
But frayed tempers don’t excuse some of the behavior that flight attendants are encountering more and more regularly. One flight attendant wrote how passengers are defiling onboard lavatories because a crewmember has told them to do something, while others are abusing crew with racist, sexist, and homophobic insults.
“Our union has fought discrimination and prejudice for decades, and we are not about to allow this moment to set us back. Hell no!” says Nelson of the abusive language that features in 61 per cent of incidents.
The problem, however, is that flight attendants feel like abusive, unruly passengers are getting away with a “slap on the wrist” when they disrupt a flight. More than two-thirds of those polled said they didn’t receive any follow up from airline management when they filed an incident report. Nor did they see any effort to stamp out unruly passenger behavior.
Nelson and others are now calling on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to make a ‘zero tolerance’ policy for unruly passengers a permanent feature. The FAA has the power to dish out civil penalties of up to $35,000 but the agency can’t file criminal charges.
The U.S. aviation industry wrote to attorney general Merrick Garland last month calling on the federal government to clamp down on unruly passenger behavior by making greater use of an existing law that prohibits interference with a crew member and which carries a maximum penalty of 20-years imprisonment plus a fine.
Research carried out by Bloomberg, however, suggests that despite more than 3,615 incident reports so far this year, criminal charges are very rarely pursued. One of the reasons is because in many cases there is confusion over which agency should investigate and press charges.
In cases where an agency does take the lead, U.S. airlines want unruly passengers named and shamed in an effort to dissuade others.
“Making these prosecutions public will put a spotlight on the serious consequences when breaking the law and will act as an effective deterrent against future onboard disruptions,” a group of airlines wrote last month.
Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience at a major Middle East and European airline. Mateusz is passionate about the aviation industry and helping aspiring flight attendants achieve their dreams. Cabin crew recruitment can be tough, ultra-competitive and just a little bit confusing - Mateusz has been there and done that. He's got the low down on what really works.